Cavities in bones
The earth groans in lithic tones
Listening to stone
This composition pairs a photo taken under North Window Arch at Arches National Park with a contemporary haiku. It expresses an Anthropocene attention to the earth, one attended by tension arising from a sense of fragility, vulnerability, and collapse. Standing below a large boulder barely clasped in an exposed groove in the arch overhead, the hearer’s ear anxiously listens for any sound from above, having been alerted by signs in the park.
There is a suspense, a dread, in anticipating the moment when changes along the deep timescale of arch formation from erosion will reach a tipping point, and the effects of wind, water, and gravity will free the rock from the arch. One regards unsuspecting visitors below the rock as unwittingly playing a game of Russian Roulette.
While geologic deep time is often seen as antipodal to mortal life, the haiku expresses an intersection of earth and human timescales. Both bodies are fragile: the first line echoes the Chinese Taoist view that “stones are the bones of the earth,” and here a cavity within an arch, itself a cavity worn away by erosion, exposes the perishability of rock. The line also evokes the delicacy of ossicles in the ear’s tympanic cavity. The rhymed lines mark a break from traditional Japanese haiku, which is grounded in a harmony between humans and nature. Similarly, the conventional reference to a seasonal time in classic haiku is replaced by a moment in Anthropocene time, an imminent occasion when geologic volatility would crash into a human present, with crushing consequences.