Apertures of Periphery
“A man was hanged who had cut his throat, but who had been brought back to life. They hanged him for suicide. The doctor had warned them that it was impossible to hang him as the throat would burst open and he would breathe through the aperture. They did not listen to his advice and hanged their man. The wound in the neck immediately opened and the man came back to life again although he was hanged. It took time to convoke the aldermen to decide the question of what was to be done. At length the aldermen assembled and bound up the neck below the wound until he died. Oh my Mary, what a crazy society and what a stupid civilization.”
– letter from Nicholas Ogarev to his mistress, in regard to news from London newspapers around 1860
Taken on the morning of March 27, 2011, by the author. This crow has hovered on the periphery of my daily walks for years now- one wing is badly damaged & droops, but he appears to be honored & guarded by a group of five other crows. Noble and unique, I’ve come to call him Sir Brokenwing.
Standing in the center of the small silt-gravel plain I took the end of the umbrella and stuck it into the pliant little desert, at a point just outside the realm that I myself occupied. Slowly, firmly, I dragged it around me etching a faint spiral. I thought of the eerie orderliness of certain Japanese rock gardens, with their gravel imitations of pond ripples. The spiral completed, I decided I wanted to leave it there, an anonymous transient gift to the diurnal folk who passed by later. Let them attribute the hand that scratched the lines to whatever credit, force or apparition suited their purpose best, I’d thought. Let this inconsequential mystery, as they so often do in my own experience, inspire & detract from the machinations, battles & urges so enticing in their charms that echo hollow through the day. So resolved, I planned to leave, covered in that familiar dust of flour, oven ash & the grit of the walk as I was. I thought of the meal, the hot water that waited and took refuge in these tiny blessings, glancing up at the mountainside I’d soon climb. I realized though that to step in any direction out from the center of this spiral would be to alter & mar it. There was no way to leave or separate myself from this playful creation without defacing its simple design. The problem was that I was in the center. Peripherally, from any outlying side, the possibilities of harmony were practically limitless. But in a place of paramount centrality, there were no options left, no aperture from which to see the creation as something alone & complete unto itself. Just the mar of this balance with bootprint. I knelt then and with my hands, smoothed out the spiral. Starting again, this time from an edge of the creation I wished to conjure, I made a spiral free of my own centrality. How clear, how harmonious this gift had become once I’d gotten out of the way.
This was the mistake of those English aldermen, a mistake constantly made in a realm where things naturally happen that hierarchical structures take credit for, claiming that they granted permission for it to happen; the event exists not of its own merit but because of their power, their centrality, which concurrently only exists because they announce it as such. What seemed most important to them was not particularly the death of the man who slit his own throat, but the fact that they controlled & chose the death; that it was decreed and therefore only exists as an event because they existed as a power to grant it to happen. When such centrality is deemed the only important thing, there’s no room left to preserve harmony, nor even the original intent of that which they feel they are the center of. In this way the logic of self-important, centralized power & control which places itself above all leaves its sloppy bootprint on all balanced spirals of human expression everywhere. It’s on the periphery that the eye takes in, the ears twitch & perk in anticipation, the heart resonates. On this periphery one could talk with the suicide survivor as an original context, a primary source devoid of outside commentary. The inner tsunami of such an attempted act is a ripple, albeit a huge one, radiating out from elements as random as a fallen meteor, or as inevitable & slowly building up as friction between tectonic plates that’d been clashing for centuries. These elements though became obscured in the tangle of decree & self-centrality which sweepingly judged this profoundly personal event in the man’s life, the edge of which is often electric with spiritual import and obviously must be addressed if anything resembling prevention is to be actualized. The aldermens’ original hierarchical intent, that of a moral ruling against suicide, became a mockery of itself and was totally obscured by the weight of their boots upon the matter. The preservation of life for the sake of loved ones or of society as a whole, as a truth owned and meted out by positions of authority, ends up not preserving life at all. The only thing preserved was the power of the aldermen.
I hadn’t realized I’d placed myself impossibly, catastrophically at the center of the spiral until I could open the aperture of periphery and effectively get out of the way of the creative event itself. Often such realizations come at a tipping point in existence, when the dewdrop finally descends from the leaf tip on its cyclical way to nourish the ground. For as long as I can remember, I’d taken crows for granted. Their movements along the North Carolina interstate highways, slow & stark against the woodlands; their flighted dancing & convoluted playful acrobatics among each other; their inherent dignity. The day the crows began their dance with me I was walking home, engaged in a phone conversation which rattled & heightened my heartbeat, my senses, my awareness of things outside myself. A group of crows had followed me all the way to the mountainside and I’d just realized it, looking around at the world as if asking it to bear witness to the horror, concern, nausea & heartbreak that was taking place through the cellphone. The crows looked back with an air somewhere between curiosity & somber warning that I will never forget, can’t fully describe & may never be able to convey clearly to one who has never been struck by such intimate kinship of living creatures. Unlike the unfortunate Englishman I’ve been soaked but not yet drowned by inner tsunamis, and I survived the trauma of the interaction surrounding that fateful cellphone conversation. But from that day hence, I left the center. I began noticing the crow-realm that had surrounded me every day, that I’d failed to notice before merely because of my own assumed centrality. As long as I occupied the center of it, the spiral of daily intricate magic was tramped flat. But seen since then through the aperture of periphery, the spiral remained intact without my central presence. In this way I am nourished by the fallen dew of spirals created by countless hands.
Within the realm of the crows I’ve gained vital insight into the sanctity of what may seem simply broken, specifially in the case of Sir Brokenwing. His hobbled perching & awkward short flights signify a lifting of shame about being what others may call abnormal or dysfunctional. He is precious to other crows around him, guarded, handed food, fiercely protected by the healthiest of the murder. He has become instantly recognizable by my gaze, and I look for him to cross my path with the same tingly intrigue I’d feel for a woman I adored; a feeling not of urge to own, nor dominate, but of a peculiar glow somewhere between intimacy, solidarity & the sensual rich dew falling upon my shoulders which I refer to as days, nights.
The aldermen & their various incarnations in human society will never see these spirals; only the bootprints of what may once have been a spiral, absurdly warped from its original intent into something that no longer resembles meaning, merely power at the hands of those who hijack events & creations & justify it by self-reference as the official, sanctioned hijackers who must be there in order for what has been hijacked to obtain permission to exist. By placing self at the center, there are no options for further motion, nor apertures to gaze into the realm of things in themselves in all their complex glory. I hope for all these aldermen in this realm a day in which the dewdrop falls; a day in which they leave this artificial center which was never even really there, and move to a place where their bootprints no longer mar what they pretend to be a product of the self’s expertise or ownership. The awe and mystery and sheer import of a world that is no longer just us, no longer centered by us, will unfold into a sprawling grace that has room to buffet any tsunami within the self; room to honor any playful spiral that may emerge from the mind; room for the odd, stubborn broken-winged songs that surround, untrammeled.