Monday, December 7, 2009
White Flashing Tails
How tiny might life be before we fail to consider it life?
It seems plausible we might reach this conclusion, all evidence to the contrary, through the very vanity we exhibit in the presence of the smallest living things – from the snail to the louse, the book midge to the facial parasite, the microscopic worm, the cell, the sperm – the white flashing tails descending on our creation – Tom Thumb undressing Thumbelina, Rick Moranis shrinking his kids.
We have learned that size determines much accumulation of power, be it true physical stature, Charles Atlas pimping his biceps in comic books, or a persona magnified through illusion and threat, the Wizard of Oz plotting behind his curtain. We have applied this to those that watch us from the dark – the twinkling eyes of the raccoon, the traveling S of the snake – the quickness of their retreat.
With one hand we crush the tiniest, Terminix applying the final solution, while with the other we feed the small that live in our homes, Morris taking his finicky time, all the while throwing nets over the largest, Melville’s whale sliced on a beach, Babar beaten into a boxcar – displaying them as icons of our own great achievement – Adam and Eve dominating Goliath, King Kong beating his chest, chained to a studio door.
We wage war on the invisible and the furtive, the serpents of science and medicine flying on twin flags as antidote and poison charge the door, vanquishing the bacterial hordes salivating outside the walls of our technological castle.
We are so busy conducting this futile campaign, detonating the fruited vaccine of our dreams on the populations we house, that we fail to see our role in the whole, that the vermin feasting on our epidermal desert exist in proportion to the health and abundance of our follicles.
We provide for them, not they for us.
We are the cattle in the pasture, the poultry stunted in their boxes, the lamb bludgeoned for her flesh, receiving a smile from Bo Peep as she ties another ribbon to her crook.
On the other hand, how large can life be? How can it ever be measured?
Just as the nesting eggs of cellular division can never been exhausted, neither will the vast galaxies ever find their fingertips, their span the very measure of continuance – one hand stretching forward, the other reaching back, a breathless H.G. Wells playing his own time machine.
We seek to embody this impossible duration in our gods and goddesses, in the men and women we deify by the prints they leave in the sands of time, Jesus of Nazareth staining his shroud, Neil Armstrong scraping his boot on the moon. We construct giants, monuments who put us in the middle of our perceived lot, seeing ourselves the good-hearted pilot of universal change, the instructor of wisdom – all the while being nothing more than the farmer of self-satisfaction plowing his fallow field.
But just try telling a man this is so.
All you’ve receive is an eyebrow rising – a bomb dropping – the horizon aflame.