Tag: Process

The alien past

There are shared themes between the science fiction and archaeology books I’ve been reading lately. There’s a sense of otherness, of alien intelligences glimpsed across a void.

Göbekli Tepe

Photo by Vince Musi from National Geographic

As little as we know about the builders of Newgrange in Ireland, we know even less about the builders of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. What we do know about these monuments is that the first were built about 11,000 years ago, during the earliest years of the Eurasian Neolithic. In other words, Göbekli Tepe predates our current understanding of when agriculture began. (And yes, it also predates Stonehenge — by six or seven thousand years.) It’s hard to imagine what motivated tribes of hunter-gatherers to create such monumental architecture, full of animal sculptures and mysterious standing stones. It’s also hard to conceive of why each succeeding structure grew smaller and less sophisticated over time.

So this is where archaeology, science fiction, and poetry all converge. As a poet, archaeology enables me to explore that alien otherness while remaining grounded in the scientific reality of human experience.

More about Göbekli Tepe:

Renovating Building 112

Workmen are remodeling our office.
     They gather by the dozen
          to eat breakfast – sock caps low
over foreheads, face masks slung
     around necks. One tells a joke
          I can’t hear, and their laughter
rumbles over plastic chairs, cash registers,
     condiments, the salad bar.
          From my corner booth I can see
cranes that tower over evergreens
          marked with bright pink ribbons
               for the chainsaw. I look back
and they’re gone – nothing left
     but napkins stacked neatly
          on the center of the table.

I wrote this poem almost exactly four years ago, when I frequently stopped for coffee or breakfast in a Microsoft building between my bus stop and my own building. My product group has moved to another satellite campus since then, but I was back in Building 112 this morning for a meeting and overheard a team of corporate movers swapping stories about their accident-prone supervisor. I finished my coffee, looked up, and they were gone. I immediately thought of this poem.

I owe the poem’s current form and other improvements to feedback from David Wagoner while he was the Poet in Residence at Richard Hugo House.

Karl Marx on writers

“The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money.”

National Library - Dublin

National Library, Dublin

“The writer may very well serve a movement of history as its mouthpiece, but he cannot of course create it.”

Happy May Day!