Underfoot: nameless, unremembered
Shining no where, but in the dark
Hammered gold and gold enameling
William Butler Yeats didn’t at all enjoy getting old, and like a Silicon Valley frat boy of the twenty-first century he tried to do something about it. One of his projects was to construct, elaborate and describe a model of himself as a poem self-transmigrated from a mortal body with ink-stained living fingers to an immortal mechanism: a prosody fabricating itself to carry out the work of eternity.
But Yeats also had a more practical project in mind. That one wasn’t an original poem; at the time, it was current in such other texts as the lyric of Irving Berlin’s song “The Monkey Doodle-Doo.” Its key word there, however, was not gold but gland, and that G-word wasn’t a bejeweled utterance gleaming in the air but a soft, flesh-muffled sense inside the body, warmed with the blood of mortal life and comical and shameful as life is comical and shameful. The joke is on you, sings gland’s song there through a mouthful of meat. I am going to give out on you no matter what, and so you are going to die.
In Ulysses, gland takes on the comically anti-transcendental form of a pork kidney in a Zionist butcher shop. But Yeats’s gland was delivered to him on what he conceived of as an altar, even if the altar happened to be an operating table in a zoo filled with funny animals. At the end of this note you’ll find the animal joke’s sacerdotal history, with medical illustrations.
And now, a century post-surgery, the air over the island of Oahu is filled with the descendants of escaped cage birds. This one, a Java finch, lives with her family in the shadow under my eaves. But my eaves also shelter a Photoshop workshop, and Photoshop has joined with the feather-warmed bird to bring a simulacrum of light to bear on her image.
And see: gland has become jeweled artifice, and a beak has become an artwork claiming for its rigid boniness the fleshly attribute of smiling human happiness.
A history of the monkey-gland operation is at uroso20-history
Hart Crane, author of “White Buildings”
Her mother sleeked her hair, forever. She looked down, forever.
Not much history seems to have survived this remnant. It is a daguerreotype, apparently American, apparently dating from about the 1850s, and that seems to be almost all we know about it now. The Library of Congress’s catalog link at https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/dag/item/2014655145/ notes that the image was acquired in 2014 from a Dennis A. Waters, but Waters
( https://finedags.com/about-us/about-dennis-a-waters/ )
was a commercial dealer, not an archivist. In any case, this isn’t one of the pictures in the Library’s daguerreotype collection that are archivally identified by name and place and date. Almost all that remains to be known about it now is almost all that remains to be seen. It is almost nothing but picture. Almost nobody except a fashion historian or possibly a medical historian could articulate a word about it now. Because all the words that were once spoken over it by the people it depicts have fallen away, it has become an abstract idea of what was once flesh-round and warm to the touch.
Consider a lens, then. It seems to be a portal through which life goes into the past and brakes to a stop.
Days of 1908: proof of Cavafy concept
In addition to land and water, some globes are printed with a kind of map that looks like a skinny numeral 8. This is called the analemma, and it charts the apparent path of the sun up and down and across the sky as the seasons change. For the northern hemisphere, the analemma teaches you that in summer there’s a lot of sun and it soars high toward the north.
One more marking, right around the middle of the globe, shows a belt of latitudes called the tropics, bounded north of the Equator by the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Equator by the Tropic of Capricorn. The word “tropic” means “turning point,” and it’s at the two tropics where the sun changes its course along the analemma: from northbound to southbound when it’s directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer on the first day of northern summer, and back again from south to north when it’s directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn on the first day of southern summer.
So in the tropics, and only in the tropics, there are two days in the year when the sun at noon will be directly overhead on its way up to and then back down from its boundary tropic. On those days, at the brief moment when the sun is at the zenith, a vertical object’s summer-short shadow will dwindle all the way down to nothing. In Hawaii, America’s only tropical state, the first of those days is always in May and the second is always in July. For today, May 26, 2022, the celestial event in Honolulu was this.
The moment of zero shadow is called the zenith passage or (specifically in Hawaii) Lahaina noon. Before that moment this month, the sun where I recorded this composite image was a little clouded over and the shadow of the boom on the pole wasn’t intense enough to be educational, but you’ve now seen the teaching aids from just at and then just after the climax. Notice how the invisible shadow of the speed limit sign becomes visible again as Hawaii’s sky swings back to ordinary. You were looking northeast.
To time the shadow, the preferred chronometer will be Frances Cornford’s (1886-1960) mood watch. It goes tock tick, not tick tock, and you see that that’s the correct right-to-left astronomical order.