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ENDS OF THE EARTH
When Siduri saw Gilgamesh coming up the road,
her inn, despite his protests. Imagine:
one by one in the wooden rack; pots cleaned for that day, at least; gulls shredding
the last scrap of meat from the stew tossed in the yard. Tonight, a glass of wine
by the fire, by the shore, perhaps; perhaps with a guest, but ideally alone, humming
some melody she can't label as minor,
• * *
My old GPS doesn't work in Alaska, so I've reverted to paper maps, which I love: their soft rustle, the requirement that you have at least a general sense of geography before using them.
I spend a great deal of time nodding along while people tell me about driving to X or Y, then run home to look up which side of the state that's even on.
What's fortunate: most places are reached by one road, if any at all.
• * *
Donne writes in "Hymn to God, My God, In My Sickness" of his movement toward death in cartographic terms:
doctors become mappers, body
Great liberties have been taken in constructing Alaska to one's own specifications — my favorite, a map printed in 1593 in Antwerp within a collection of speculative charts. I suppose the inaccuracy is part of the charm, as in a child's grasp of botanical fact in a drawing of daffodils. Alaska was not even spotted by Europeans until 1741, when a Danish explorer left eastern Siberia and saw it by accident.
Gilgamesh said: Tavern keeper
when you saw me why did you bar your door
I will strike down your door;
He's looking for the underworld, and its signs.
• * *
In Alaska, unfamiliarity often seems undercut with a little danger. For instance, I meet Lydia on the Chester Creek Trail in August,
carrying two fistfuls of mushrooms and offers me one.
moving from Russia anyway. She next reappears in March by the lake, her pink windbreaker suit now swapped for a blooming purple, waving some plant with wild gestures at a man in hiking boots who clearly wants to get away.
• * *
The Antwerp mapmaker had some fun with names — he marked the top half of the landmass Anian Regnum: anticipation of the Northwest Passage,
The lower half: Quivira — moving target of Coronado's search, a North American city of gold. A mask for error — if the gold isn't in Kansas, it must be in the one place we haven't yet touched.
• * *
Alyse and I walk the trail along the mudflats —
The inlet ice has begun to shift in plates — lips jutting underneath,
At the end of the world, mountains form a barrier against invasion, she says.
• * *
In his grief, Gilgamesh lets his hair grow out and dresses in furs. I let my hair lengthen, too, but for a much less glamorous reason: it's cold.
In what is either a compulsive or a thrifty act, I use the same five bobby pins every day during the awkward phase, tucking them into a pocket when out of use, fingering them lightly on walks.
• * *
On early maps, boundaries are sites of inquiry rather than edges,
Mount St. Elias, the smaller brother, soon taller than Denali.
• * *
The mapmaker's sea is occupied by a unicorn-mermaid creature, not particularly ambitious
about the ships approaching her from all sides.
one is firing its cannons to the opposite side of the monster. It seems the kind of creature capable
of afflicting the coast with apocalyptic acts,
to rescue the land — not quite Four Horsemen,
• * *
Some Alaskan grocery stores carry big barrels of dehydrated food products.
• * *
J. wants to practice at the range with his bear gun before he leads summer hikes in the Wrangells,
• * *
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
Is this the land of riches, swift passage —
• * *
I meet a man who lives off the grid and gives me directions to his home using the mountains and a creek. I have a general sense of the location,
I have chosen an apartment at 22nd and A.
• * *
When the scorpion advised him to travel through the mountain, the darkness was so great that Gilgamesh could not look back.
Siduri said, we have drink, food, music,
Life, which you look for, you will never find.
As if the name isn't enough,
to look at the beaver moon,
around birches along the river, or bright enough to light them, and barely obscured
by the early evening streetlights and sirens,
in regimented curtains. Here and there, one takes an abrupt turn
where it's been dripped on —
My friend says nothing can be done about the icy intersections except patience,
but he also recommends wrapping a turkey in bacon, so take your best guess.
The term fishtailing makes me wonder what it would be like to be propelled
by sudden shifts from behind or to wade across a street completely submerged
in fins. The ice seems suddenly preferable.
from the roof and compete, perhaps not as safely as one might, at hurling them
into a snowbank, where they remain wrapped in snow as though modeling
the rule for treating impalements:
Even in the moment, I'm disinclined to think my end will be this: watching the kitchen
shelves shed themselves while I sit cross-legged under a chrome-rimmed table, a relic older
than this oil-age apartment dispatching its contents in the quake. It's still dark, morning
when we've parsed glass from the rug, righted the shelves sprawled on the floor, extracted
medicine bottled in the sink. In some organized street tracked by tires, a pulsing plow may be tossing
a thick birdseed of salt to the ground to draw us out. The ravens may have taken their place
on the electric lines along 15th. It may still be that our boots would puncture the thin lip of ice
on snow like a tin window ornament pressed from behind — but there remain no guarantees
in the cold. It may or may not be the day frost gathers in my eyebrows, or the day the postal worker
leaves another nudging note to shovel better,
in a chill-choked cough, and this — despite the streets and streetlights, the city blocks aligned
with each other — is perhaps the only explanation we can hope for: when the walls around us bend
like knees toward rapt radiators, their reflexes are shocked as ours to find the earth moving again.
The man downstairs begins singing Springsteen at six, as the one upstairs sings prayers until interrupted by the one of us who has not yet adopted a practice: the baby,
The length of a human baby's vocal cords is two to three millimeters. Babies vibrate them very hard — harder than an adult could without injuring herself — to produce a grating sound, designed like the roar of a lion to generate response.
To replicate this effect, you can purchase training videos for rock vocalists called The Zen of Screaming and The Zen of Screaming 2.
In an interview, the proprietor says, "A scream should never feel like it sounds. It should never feel angry," before recounting an anecdote in which she yells at a woman in a parking lot.
After much exploration, Alyse finds a pair of earplugs that allows her to sleep through the baby's crying: Skull Screws, which have a "tough look" intended for musicians to wear while playing.
Alyse wears them to bed. They claim a protection level of 30 decibels.
Baby's cry: 110 dB.
Rock concert: 110 dB.
A sensation level of 110 dB is rated by sound proofers as "deafening." 130 dB means "physical pain." But they have an interest in the matter.
The bel was proposed by Bell Telephone Laboratories as a unit for rating the efficiency of telephone transmissions, but the decibel (one-tenth of a bel) is the most commonly used variant.
Bell, of course, for Alexander Graham.
The decibel has never been adopted by the International System of Units as standard, although petitions to include it have been considered.
Decibel ratings of things in our apartment:
40 dB: conversation
Decibel ratings of things not in our apartment:
10 dB: rustle of leaves
In the room with a chimney, we hear songs in the night that begin like wailing but rush into praise in the early morning,
We imagine her progress. We find a clip called "What Is in My Attic?" and play the squeals of squirrels and the sharp tugs of birds on the hearth for comparison.
We decide: bats. The landlord installs a one-way flap, and one by one the voices soften, become more distinct as others emerge outside, gasping: I have forgotten
my keys and now I'm outside in a towel. But it isn't that. We have never needed keys, nor locked the doors.
• * *
As a child, Bell realized that if he was playing a piano in one room, a piano in an adjoining room would begin
playing the same chords. Of course, we know
of whether he or his partner made it to the patent office first. Minute differences in their models are evident
in the six-page application (two pages of drawn models)
• * *
I have guilt about my suspicion of this baby, since I, as a baby, was both jaundiced and colicky — a delight, I'm sure.
• * *
Once, I had a cold and my father mailed me a neti pot. The attached note said that he did not usually put much faith in Eastern medicine but thought I might like this, "since you're a communist."
• * *
Let's take a moment to imagine Bell and his bushy hair trotting down the street toward the patent office, bursting in the double glass doors, and thrusting the application into the hands of the first available clerk, some befuddled young man
with wire-rimmed glasses and a keen interest in chemistry,
You see how this problematizes things:
My father/Madame Curie dies of radiation sickness.
My father/Tycho Brahe experiences kidney failure after attending a dinner party.
My father/Watson & Crick discovers the structure of DNA.
My father/Robert Bunsen blows out his right eye with cyanide.
My father/Carl Sagan explains the universe.
My father/Jane Goodall roams the rain forests.
My father/Henry Ford says that if he could be reincarnated, he would like it to be as Henry Ford.
My father/Nikola Tesla tests alternating currents.
My father/Rachel Carson takes a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.
My father/Galileo blinds himself by staring into the sun.
There's a song in the musical Street Scene, which Langston Hughes wrote the libretto for, in which two nursemaids bring their charges to the scene of a murder so they can compare the tabloid pictures to the actual building façade where a man climbing down was shot by his lover's husband.
The nurses offer baby phrases, like "Drowse, tiny tot. It shows how they got shot" before the second baby starts crying and they switch to "Shut up, you lug!"
Alyse believes that the baby is too old to cry so much, and so frequently. She thinks she can identify the baby's age based on the cry's volume, and proposes one: eighteen months.
We begin a surveillance effort to observe its size, since it rarely leaves the apartment.
One day, we witness the baby looking down upon us on the sidewalk as we carry in groceries.
As soon as it spots us, the blinds flip shut.
Alyse notes that it is large, and can close the blinds — too old to cry so much.
Infant age, and its associated acoustic features, seems to be a more important determinant of adults' perception of emotion intensity than are such adult characteristics as gender or infant-care experience.
I only have dreams in short intervals of half-awareness in the morning —
I drag a piano to Chicago using a piece of string,
• * *
The actual transmission of a sound through a wall varies greatly depending on the sound's pitch.
The system of sound rating designed in 1961 for building materials,
For sounds below that threshold, materials with a lower rating may actually be more effective. It's an algorithm,
• * *
Bell's father was a professor of elocution.
One might assume, therefore, that no sound was lost in the initial transmission due to human error.
One might also assume that no relationship can be derived from this relationship at all.
When the device reached the public, Edison's model was initially more popular because it was louder.
I LIKE THE MUSCLES ON THAT ONE
A. takes us to the Phillies game to watch the players slam balls toward the outfield.
The muscles are the active organs of locomotion,
endowed with the property of contractability.
to pick up a friend of a friend in the sports bar on the second level of the stadium,
so he wears the tightest shirt he owns.
In man or woman, a clean, strong, firm-fibered body is as beautiful as the most beautiful face.
He allows us half an inning of pump and release,
before we finish watching what remains from the panoramic screens above the bar,
just over the head of our friend and a series of impassive women.
According to an online quiz and the personality I imagine for Walt Whitman,
he would not sit through the innings, either.
which I like because I once knew a point guard from Walt Whitman High School,
which was not nearly so remarkable
as the way she slunk down the court and plunked the ball in the hoop over and over.
Whitman expresses an interest not in swimming, but in the swimmer:
his luscious romp through the salty bay,
over his opaque muscle through the green-shine.
Examine these limbs, says Whitman,
Stripped, they are formed of bundles,
The ultimate fiber of animal life
is capable of being either excited or controlled by the efforts of the will.
If Whitman were a woman,
he would be inclined toward
None of his rapidly swinging woodmen,
Just enough to keep the flesh not flabby,
breast muscle, a pliant backbone and neck for the bending
forward and backward of rowers in rowboats.
The universe is a procession with measured and beautiful motion.
According to the quiz, I should play tennis.
After winter, quiet except for logs settling in the fire, the men begin to pick their way
up the ice roads, now mud, now earth again.
with need — the next closest camp at least two days' walk, although
that family claims the edge of the world.
your name in — but settles for allowing travelers to wedge coins between the planks of the ceiling,
a memento before their crossings.
do you think is up there? Not enough to get me to hell and back, she replies.
Excerpted from "Ends of the Earth"
Copyright © 2017 University of Alaska Press.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Ends of the Earth 1
I Like the Muscles on That One 18
Babylonian Commercial Company Interview, Excerpt 24
Intended American Dictionary 25
M 4.0, 21 km S of Knik-Fairview 47
A Range of Manners, or Rather Lack of 48
#14 Visits the Gallery 50
Shocking, If You've Seen the David Attenborough Documentary 54
Resurrection Bay 55
Upon Seeing Her 56
The Fall 62
Taking Stock 63
Babylonian Commercial Company Interview, Excerpt 64
Drunk Again 65
Three times on the trail, I looked back for you 66
Earthquake Park 67