Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the shrine of the muses

5th century scroll which illustrates the destruction of the Serapeum by Theophilus (source: Christopher Haas: Alexandria in late antiquity, Baltimore 1997)

it begins when you are four or five. you realize that your inheritance lies in the vaults of drawers and under beds and folded between crisp sheets, what those around you have forgotten or have ceased to value. you alone recognize the importance of the singular, transient object--the I Like Ike pin, the fading photograph, the scratchy record--it is time slipping between the fingers of God, and you want to hold it, catch the sand before it disperses. these last few days you sit at tables and wait as box after box is delivered to your solitary desk where you are only allowed a pencil and stamped paper. you are looking for something specific, something definitive about place and landscape, something that may have slipped through the hands of time; but instead of sifting through the sand for gold, you are distracted by each fragment, the day is cold, windy…January, visited Eileen, warm, sunny…

it is exactly like a dream--you are wandering the cool depths of the library at Alexandria, looking for the words of the saints, and though you never find what you are looking for, you keep finding more than you are looking for. it is hot and sunny, or it is raining like hell, and still each moment of waking, normal life you are thinking about the archive, thinking about what lies in those vaults that you may never know exists…every moment of the day limned in the longing for the clean, desolate table where you wait for another box.

if you wonder at humanity (and you often do) you wonder most about this--this trait of documentation, of cataloguing, of searching for what is gone. you are not perplexed by the violent, the desirous, or the boisterous or prayerful or banal--you are perplexed by the card in front of you, the identification of a box that contains nothing but the itemized expenses of a trip to a place of no consequence.