Averted Vision Charles Messier, 1730-1817 Averted vision as technique and not evasion. What hangs in the dim world of the glass, the trembling infinity under the eyepiece, is not easily resolved, will not surrender to the brute endeavour of a stare. But nonetheless is real: comets swinging through the boundless space that hair or spider's web upon a reticle defines, and measures. Look. Look through this small unsteady lens, after your eye's accustomed to the dark. What do you see? A world of lights so tenuous they might be dreams hung on a thread of thought inside the night. This is the Universe. France is in flames. Saron computes my orbits in a dirty cell waiting for them to come and kill him. The numbers are still right. It is cold. I walked from Cluny to Lalande this afternoon to beg for oil -- for I must have a lamp. How long? How long will all this carry on? Foolish questions. I avert my vision, make my observations. Know that I cannot heal France or the stars. Set down what I think I see in a neat, legible hand; words husbanded in darkness: 'Nebuleuse tres faible qui ne contient aucune etoile.'
Wood The forest is full of words. There are those who say it is not. That there is nothing in the forest but trees moss darkness rocks. That you fall and your hand reaches out into space till it strikes an object, and the language is absent from that impact, that loss of balance. But it isn't. The palm on the rough bark speaks, the sun ripples through the leaves in syllables. You cannot tear the language loose from the pain, the character of light. You keep on making poems, tables because you need them but nothing is ever separate about wood or words. The tongue moves like an axe through your life.
VLA The VLA, the Very Large Array, the world's largest radio telescope, consists of twenty seven dishes running on rail spurs up to 13 miles long across the plains of San Agustin at an altitude of 9,000 feet, 50 miles from Socorro, New Mexico, the nearest town. The signals from the dishes are combined, processed and recorded in the facility's buildings, situated at the centre of the plain. As the brain moves the hand in a far country the great white antennae move upon the plain. Cattle and desert rat start as the endless wind beats like horizontal rain like stuttering time across the plains of San Agustin. And the dishes move like deaf-mutes seeking their lost loves in the long, painful web of geometry. Focus. The storm increases. Snow is already falling to the north. In the control-room the operator tunes the bleats of software into a shimmering glass -- a single image cast upon a wall of noise. The brain eats numbers, does not understand them, chords waiting beneath the fingers, underneath the keys. The tape drives click and gather up the unseen vision on their satin sleeves. Out on the plain the wind exceeds 40: the dishes swing to 'stow' as the safeties kick in -- riding the weather, aerodynamic, each in isolation. The data flow stops at the glowing screen. The cattle turn buttocks upwind, head down. The rats burrow. The hum of the Galaxy falls through the night flake by flake. The snow.
Translation from an Imaginary Language It is too late in the year now for journeys. Darkness comes early and each morning is a little colder (intervals -- like the steps descending to the river bank). Already the carts that enter the Northern Gate have snow upon their backs. A flight of birds (I do not know what kind) scatters overhead: some white, some black. Openings and closings -- fingers upon the stops of a flute. Despite the cold I leave my window open, sit at my desk hearing the sounds from the street: hawkers and prostitutes, the steel boots of soldiers. Things that were measured by the power of a coin to buy, a word, a glance command. When we were young we thought it this we lacked, arithmetic of having. But now the words spill like grains of sand through my hands, fragments of order arranged in the wind. In which of them is what I missed? What shall I cast upon this page that the river may carry it to you in the Spring?
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