Henry Mitland: journal-II

From the journal of Henry Mitland

13. On the Fifth Circuit

Further notes after an Archeological Society meeting, undated

[continuation of entry 12; should be read in conjunction with 12] 

One hearth inside, two outdoors, the former sheltered in make-shift housing, branches made fronds, perhaps as much or more vegetation than the immediate locale supports, more tramped into the place. The interior hearth has a hard residue of ash heretofore unencountered by the archeologist: layered, desiccated ash, condensed repeatedly into a hard, clean breaking strength.

Repeatedly. The hearth would have had to be reused many times, ash uncleaned, allowed to layer. Coupled with no evidence of enduring habitation, I conclude that the make-shift housing was allowed to remain, ash left untouched; site abandoned, the ash dries, protected from the wind, until its creators return to burn on top of the remains. The site enters the archeological record because it was used, re-made, many times, the impossibly condensed ash clearest indication of re-use.

A hearth left untouched, artifacts of diverse, far locales radared there as well [see entry 12, ed.]. Hearth the focus of consumption, common, essential creative act. But hearths later become other things: crematorium of life lost or abandoned; seed of pit houses later made kivas; bonfires of social excess which contour humbler days. We may all acknowledge the necessity of making remains, but what remains become divides heaven and hell and makes many inbetweens. We fight over exits, as though exits are our entries in other form.

At this site this hearth is culturally stopped. Those arriving for days to week trade symbols received in essential mutual ignorance. The hearth is stopped at common consumption and gratitude, the what must happen later, ever present exit of death which makes life, here forever delayed. For these traders come from different worlds, perhaps of different languages. Hearth left untouched perhaps to stop petty fights which could disrupt future trade, then becomes symbol of its own, hearth unfinished, housing for return, promise of future benefit, trade a new home, a burning without consumption, where loss is replenished before one’s eyes through exchange.

Future, restricted benefit: those who made hearth continuing have license to return. Departing their make-shift housing left aright, they have one more home to make their world, home inhabited in diverse tongue of meaning, sustainable because not really understood, understanding a hindrance. But homes are never universal: restricted to those of unfinished hearth, trade made of greater value through that restriction.

So symbol here begins in pettiness: delayed fight over what hearth is becomes platform from which cultures can be seen.

From the journal of Henry Mitland

14. On the Suzuki Court

Four Corners 

[Four Corners, the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and its surrounds, houses many ruins and artifacts of the Anasazi, prehistoric pre-Puebloans thought to have collapsed c 1250-1350. “Anasazi” means “enemy ancestors” or “ancient enemy” in Navajo. This has often been taken to mean “ancestors or our enemy,” presently resident Hopi and Navajo being historically enemies, but this need not be the meaning, as noted shortly. The Navajo, numerically and geographically dominant in much of the area, are of uncertain origin. Anthropologists believe they are migrants, placed as early as the 1300’s, as do many Navajo themselves. Some Navajo, however, entertain the possibility that they are as locally old as the Hopi or Zuni, both “Puebloan” peoples considered descendants of the Anasazi. While “ancestors of our enemies” facially seems to mean “ancestors of the Hopi,” etc., another interpretation, based on the blunt as is translation “enemy ancestors,” “ancient enemy” is possible: that the enemies of the Navajo were indeed derivative of the prehistoric culture–as are the Navajo themselves. That is, “enemy ancestors” can mean “(some of) our own ancestors are our enemy.” Anthropologically profoundly mistaken, this latter view might nonetheless have meaning at the marginal encounter of present origin stories among the various resident peoples, Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, etc., as Mitland discovers. Each culture has an origin story placing neighboring peoples derivatively. Sharing “enemy ancestors” across peoples could create a meta-origin housing the people specific origin stories.

Anasazi Four Corners extends far deeper into Arizona and New Mexico than Utah or Colorado. Far Northern Western New Mexico contains the remarkable Chaco site, with buildings meant to last hundreds of years. They did so, surviving in outline even into the present, more than 700 years later. Reasons for the collapse of Chaco have varied within southwestern archaeology; presently, evidence of violence accompanying the abandonment of Chaco gains more notice. Among some Navajo, Chaco is taboo; one is not to go there. Yet other Navajo work and reside at the Federal Government Welcome Center there. The Hopi seem to consider Chaco an abomination; but whatever stories cultural agents (e.g., elders) have are kept to themselves. Archaeologists have been told that whatever happened there will never happen again, but nothing else. Since Hopi and Zuni are thought derivative of the Chacoan collapse, Anasazi as “enemy ancestors” might be appropriate, for the Hopi are clear in their rejection of these ancestors. Whether or not the Navajo are as old as the Hopi, their term “Anasazi” may be telling us something of the Hopi.]

Silence supporting shifting sand, trickle stops of movement, each space propping grain as still and complete as canyon surround. Fractals of solitude supporting greater fractals. A universe not grand but exterior to any concept of completeness mustered. We walk, cascading worlds unfelt, our feet divinity incomprehensible even if properly explicated.

I walk with a Hopi, mid-thirties, old enough to know escape is a word mostly useful only against itself. We walk a canyon where we should not be, the vastness of city elsewhere revealed here through desolation, our constant talk of world which is the only world dispersed into silence. Individual reified through the severing of speech, existence raw awaiting its coming helplessness, existence known in the failing fall. We ride a vast force which rides us as well, our being a fractal pause, a Leibnizian monad, a point necessary so integration can come. But perhaps not to come, does not come, our fractal being just a pause before loss.

I come out here to pause the integrations which lose my self. Perhaps self arises through a surfeit of time, time so abundant it absorbs all of evolution’s necessities and still remains unfulfilled, we the remainders after evolution’s compulsion. In this canyon there is no reason for my existence. I step and change a world soon forgotten. I become caprice, existence’s other name. I am the nexus of my causes, causes which have no place here. Yet here they as I are. Destroyer creator which is Being, as fickle as the word God.

This Hopi walks here often, severing himself from reason, from all the propelling are’s that are. Walks outside his past, apart from his ancestors. Yet his ancestors encountered this same land, fled it in reverence, made it refuge in reverence, in mesa and clan; impotent in themselves, always needing others, flew from the existence of I am into the saving net of we are. Ran from this land to live with it. Ran from their ancestors because–well, maybe that is all we can ever do, the act of running the signature of existence.

He pauses, worlds collapsing to support his feet, points in a direction made meaningless by the canyon.

“Chaco is that way.”

No introduction to comfort this presentation, to tell me not to worry because, really, I already know what shall be said. No, Chaco is that way, through that cliff and whatnot else, through trivial unimaginables which block meaning, which distance us from something we would, in terror or not, call us.

“An elder was invited to a conference on Chaco. Paid in food to act ancient, mysterious, silent. Asked what Hopi knew of Chaco, it’s fall. Some know, he says. Some are told. It was wrong, what Chaco was. It will never happen again, he says. Make a paper out of that!”

Here, his words fading outside human existence, my walker is a rebel. He speaks to me because no one will listen to me in his world. Standing outside all worlds, he speaks what he doesn’t know, what no one can really know. He speaks doubt, doubt always of foreign home.

It will never happen again. What built Chaco we forbid. We forbid our anger of origin. We forbid that there be only one place. We forbid centrality, grandeur. We forbid what you are still trying to become. We await your fall, your exodus from yourselves, your run towards us. You still build grand and expect people to come to you. What will you do when there are too many feet to stand in one place? It has already happened. You called it Holocaust. You called it World War. You call it yet still walk towards it. Our origins never saw world war. Ours saw something weaker, and that was enough. But you, you’ve seen more and still want your eyes filled.

“We marched in lock step as you ever rehearse. Imagine the kiva foot drums calling as you, we circling, true place underneath all, circling the underneath, waiting to go back, all circlings to the same one place.

“The Chacoan Great Houses have many kivas. Some grand, for the many there. But many are small, to accommodate visitors of a single place. From a single place they come to one place. Many places told each to come to one place. Each Great House proud to be closer to one place than it’s rivals. All places pulled to one place until there was nowhere to stand. No circling around the one underneath. Just standing in one Great House or another, unable to move, unable to find a circle for all the people block each other directionless. Unable to circle they come to think their place one place, each Great House the only place. So many feet, soon climbing on each other, soon the vault of heaven replaces underneath. Climbing on backs, only a few can be on top.

“Underneath pulled back to show where all finally go. People fell from one another, the Houses collapsed. From this the ancestors of our ancestors were made. Not our ancestors. Our ancestors are the remains of these. Our ancestors turned from the strife of fall. The fallen, lost of place, knew world war, but were blessed of feet. Only feet, no wheel, no animals to slave us forward in war. They fought mightily, but smally, slowly, stumbling further and further to find enemy.

“Then came those who made our ancestors.”

This man yet forty is lying, too young to know secrets, still thinking secrets are powerful in their telling. No, their power lies in the belief that they are there, esoterica in the crannies we overlook to live. Elders, bound mostly to the coming end, they look, nudge something secret subtle here and there, sometimes doing so in public watch, magicians nudging under misdirected eye.

Yet forty, yet he speaks. To know your place is to destroy the place of others, their only defense not to listen. Self-silenced or be silenced, both a suffocation. Every place submerged in silence for the sake of other places, no place left, this final, objective knowledge known to none, our final solace, but solace unknown. He would not die of place for others’ place–so he tells his tell to me. Grand Justice I am, yet of no import here, impotence through which his words can flee. Words are made for no single world, yet can only reside therein. Their being lies in encounter foreign, where what is said is not what it heard, where meaning is chain untethered, unhinged, lost, anyway, to the sight we have. He tells me because I am new, different, futility.

“Those who made our ancestors, who came to our ancestor’s ancestors, these drunk with death, all vessels broken, all grain scattered, the act of planting just those grains trickling through our fingers as we gorge our mouths with all remain. Came kachinas to these, telling that rape of place was just to make another only single place, minute mountain in imitation of Chaco, Great House no one sees. No place may exist in its own; for your place to be there must be other places to go. Only rage made exhaustion offers existence unstarved.

Stay where you are, they said, those who fly the ground unexhausted, who know no step of gravity, pulling us down to the one place where we cannot but consume each other then each ourselves. Stay where you are, do not roam to consume the horizon which ever escapes your mouths, leaving you emaciated desperate, so full of promise but never in any here. Stay where you are; but when horizon push roams towards you, go out to greet it, go and tell that place is made of many places, that place is inexhaustible when search is abandoned for stay. Tell them horizon is a trickster, as leeching as Chaco; tell them that this side of horizon they are your salvation, they your defense against horizon, far guard in sight, as you can be for them.

“Horizon is false escape where only desperation goes. Guard yourselves against travel; in that guard being is.

“So came clan, so came mesa, so came mesas, so came I.”

This canyon has no horizon, only wall. His words cannot entice a flight into forever; they in I are meant to stay, making his place shifted but still a here, through my presence place. I, Associate Justice, am not to leave, canyon trapped, walking far yet mazed in ground ascending to beat horizon. I could walk long here and never see outside, trails nuanced with marvels subtle, tales springing surfeit in my pauses, exhaustively free for accepting a trap as grand as horizon. In canyon you keep a place, no monster come unbidden into others’ sight.

Free for trapped impersonal. No mesa come calling to guard the world; no, I can walk unending and no guard will confront. My place is, but not of their theres. A rebellion against kachinas? Looks so:

“So came I, in my place. I guard my guards. Our paths are secure, well formed, our footsteps placed securely before us. Want to see? Look at our monied barter with you, our kachina carvings, our jewelry, well formed of symbol, clearly known, but not by you.”

He looks canyon walls surround, not for exit, looks as though exit where never known or rumored, looks to confirm what world is.

“Clearly known of symbol. We know what must be done and where, this the gift of kachinas, gifts we brought to each other; the mutual bringing making Hopi. Our ancestors so gifted made us.

“To know us, look at what we do not do. Rarely do we give you turquoise. Look at Chaco. Whole rooms were full of turquoise there, piled up, hoarded, made one place. We avoid what they stored to return to one place. We fear it; it does not fly, it falls toward somewhere else.”

There is no we here, only him. Which is why he speaks. He would break out of his people, but into a canyon, his voice ricochet until lost, guarding his people against himself.

“Look at the Navajo, their jewelry so centered on turquoise, presented, not made, found in symbol unwritten, no gods to draw the lines. Some Navajo say they too are as here as we, they too from the ancestors of our ancestors. But they refused the kachinas, refused yet did not continue the unending eating. They say the turquoise should be released, not abandoned. Released, sprinkled far, into you. What do you see in turquoise? What does it tell you? What can we not say we see?”

What can we not say we see, a place common to all salvations. Salvation is a policing, inhabiting no single man, always of men, an awe as commonplace as common sex owned of none. Salvation is evolution stilled, timeless yet extensive, so as foreign to self. He is in the trap which can become endorphic release, the giving up of what was never had, the submission to purpose otherwise called salvation, salvation a trait of Homo, not self, victory of language against the crying infant who tried to command through words nascent. Holiness is of people, not persons.

Yet he turns, French turns, staid arrogance which denies all finality of ownership, turns to the enemy of his people, more populous, surrounding prison, too dominant to be ancient, as are the white turning brown against their will.

“The Navajo speak of Spider Woman, first weaver, who looms culture from the elements, human world from greater world, looms story and places people within that tapestry, taught people how to weave so they could do the same in humble form. Yet their jewelry bursts from this. There the rock controls, still surging forward from the heat; no tight lines of only meaning to present to the world and ourselves. No jewelry of symbol we will not completely reveal. No, the best Navajo Jewelers are not certain what the rock is saying, but know it is saying, their economic necessity pushing pulling threads into tapestry far unknown, we too grounded to see.

“Spider Woman is as vast as Navajo land. She confines us, but we do the rest, we glued to the fine lines of our story, beautifully, reverently drawn. She is no spider overhead–we make that spider ourselves. Hopi walks the web, we its strands. We are caught in what made us, us walking on our bodies for support.”

What escaped Chaco is still in flight, skimming across money’s flow. Symbol incomplete, waiting to be held in mind, growing, attaching, exploding into our caverned lives. Then thread pulling thought, making a beyond akin to species. Or so the kachina fear. Chaco and kachina are not so far different, both preventing something from fleeing into its making.

We are all caught in what made us, Hopi. Why else would making make, child pleasure of its creator, God asking us to return Being a good long while. Yet something some Navajo throw into a far; something we have long tried to force into a before. You do not think the Chaco war done, placing your declaration in this canyon never heard. But by me.

This canyon silent contains his thought. His prehistory need not be accurate, merely acceptably ambiguous. Story of now is what he confronts, truth the resolution of story to story. He tosses his story far, into me, he Hopi made Navajo jeweler, something not of men placed in me for display. Crystaled silence he would have me be, containing something to marvel at. And after marvel–well, he will be gone by then. The jeweler does not know the later discard.

Canyon filled of silence, we two standing, said all gone, as silent as the space between grains of sand; what greater, grander thing unknowable does canyon space support, our talk the perimeter of that support. What does our desperate, futile understanding keep at bay from collapsing this space? We talk and listen to keep space here, then move apart, perhaps to expand its domain against collapse, perhaps this the jeweler’s function beyond all pay.

From the journal of Henry Mitland

15.  On the Suzuki Court

In Chambers.

“I come into Here!”

Into my Chambers comes the avatar of impertinence, immunized as Chief Justice.  Immunized, someone else to blame:  my clerk left the outer door open, off to recover words dislodged from what they were, corralled into Law Reports, wayward children before the hand that penned them gone, petitioner and respondant dead to page, birthing words not their own as they die.  The petitioners, not the words:  words take a while to die, then come back:  proof of divinity which we deny, for we make them, they not us.  No, they’re not us; but they make an us just fine.

I left my inner door open.  While my clerk performed the archeology of quotation I sat reading an archeology of another kind, Jan Assmann’s Mind of Egypt, watching academia reconstruct lost faith–what else is it for–sometimes somewhat shouting to my outer clerk some statement of Jan’s, or the ancient words direct, well, after several translations, but that’s mostly always the case.  My clerk would grunt something distant or remain silent–and now I know the latter why–he had left.

“What happened to the awe of Justice, Ben?”

“What!  Where was it before it happened!”

“I could have been concentrating to solve the day.”

“Door open!  Doors open!  Besides, day meanders beyond all concentration.”

Silence.  Long since not awkward, but signature.

“And you are here because…”

“Door open!”

He sees Assmann on my desk:  “Sphinx!”

On the cover, that is.  He grabs the book, turns to my bookmark.  Squints, pokes at his glasses, surveys ancient words meant to–what?  Then quotes a few, to make them live or him live, all the same to the Zen Buddhist working overtime to meet the standard, not goal–no, there are no goals, that’s the standard, or stand.

He has inflicted new suffering/on the bank of This.”

The book closes forcefully, returns to my desk.

“Ah!  The bank of This:  ground at the edge of chaos of water.  That is This:  Being at the ever edge of chaos.”

“Ben, ‘This” is a place.”

“Of course it is!  It is This!  We can never escape it.  Show me where there is no This!”

“No, Ben, ‘This’ is a place-name.  Northern Upper Egypt, by Abydos.  Here, a map…”

“Map never gives This! This follows you across all maps!”

I pause.  “In ancient Egypt creation was earth rising from the chaos of water…”

“Making a This!”

“No, the text is about the god of disorder, Seth, creating discord at the place ‘This.'”

“Making place!  Such is This.  But not place.  Ground.  Text says on the bank of This.  Bank is ground, wet ground, but not place.”

I stand, mouth slightly ajar in acceptable decor.  Ground.  Burial.  Burial making new ground, to stay above the chaos of water which eats everything into itself.  We stand on the deaths of others, their last act our propping up, showing us sky.  The tombs an adding of ground into the world upon which we can stand.

“Read text correctly!  Translation very important!”

He surveys the room.  “Why am I Here?”  A pause, he looking to the floor.  “I am always Here.  Among This!  Disconcerting!  Saw door open, went through to avoid Here, then other door, open, went through to avoid Here.  Didn’t work!  Openness lead to Here!  And you ask why I am Here.  Torturer!  Here will take me to my end.  Proof of non-Here will be when it cannot be said. ”  A pause.  “But I have gift of leave.  Somewhere in that there is non Here.  I give it to you now.”


An arbitrary association of word sound, millennia apart, grounds my private archeology.  Death is that upon which we stand, burial the means, ritual the elaboration, to firm the ground, words dropping from our mouths so we may walk astraight.

In pokes the head of my clerk, trepidacious:  “Is he gone?”

Gone? Yes, not Here.  As dead as any body, pathing a ground, until he comes again.

From the journal of Henry Mitland

16.  On the Suzuki Court

Embrasures of Ancient Egypt.

[Editorial noteThis, the first of private speculations on Ancient Egyptian religion, seems to intentionally misuse the word “embrasure,” which refers to an opening in a protective wall for shooting.  Derived from old French embraser, “to cut at a slant, make a furrow”, one may think of the slant as a wedge into inside as much as a portal for firing without.  The character of these entries suggests allusion to “embrace,” making the wedge from outside a slant assaying a held past.  The portal of weapon becomes vulnerability for the assayer, looking in.]

On the edge of stillness, grains once mountains trickle onto lived land, abrasing to whittle down as they were whittled, to cover into nothing, a sea of particles nearly large enough to see, waves moving and pause, patterns unknown and remade, a soft chaos that drowns so slowly you don’t know when your dead.  But here, at the edge, just a few grains, to itch the eye and hand, to rub you down to them, foolish miniscule imperatives.  Here, on this edge, bodies were brought atimes.  Perhaps their stillness called for the desert still, living hands taking them to a place like them, where no living will interfere with their desolution, no animal dig them up, no insect burrow into them, no putrid topsoil to remind the future.  Dig them into the dissolving sand, away into their own land, stilled, with the respect which denies decay.

Then come back to find, in the mayhap, that the stilled have stayed.  Body desiccated, not torn asunder as in the lived land, shrunk but yet a vessel whole.  Look out into the greater stillness and see death survived, not life eating life but the vessel by which we are made and make intact.  That desert which would die us in the stride preserves the vessels that we be.  Djet:  the lasting, unending; permanence; earth that cannot be walked, symboled by stone and mummy; that vast unto horizon of covering finality which preserves the forms of life; stillness made ground, made space, upon which we would dare to stand.

Those first natural mummies wedged their way into the ground of eternity, not the eternity of the end of time which wails loss of all record, but ground upon which time flows; Being before Heidegeer was born.  Those mummies stayed this side of disolution to port us into eternity, first portals into tomb, tomb root into ground.

If vessels can be preserved they can still flow what is.  They carry, carry what is also vessel.  So return to the desiccated image, say its words still here.  Bring others dead to be channeled into desiccation, vessel making vessel making ritual which walks the lived land to return to where stillness laps its shore.   In life you are a vessel consuming life; in death you will be a vessel channeling life, which is all consumption is, the eating grin of skull no stranger than fleshed teeth.

To return to the desiccated yet whole, depart, return anew, death no terminus stumbled from but curve of cycle made neheh:  eternal recurrence through perishing, striding atop djet, stillness made space, anchored by corpse.  Neheh glyphed by the scarab, dung beetle, whose life is to collect the consummation of life to make life anew.  We become scarab, carrying our dead in ritual, making more to carry.

From the interface of forever desert and Nile come the two core concepts of Egyptian time:  djet and neheh, each making the other–as long as the corpse stays whole.   At first the wonder of the almost face, taut over remembrance, brought them back, that face tool used and using for group endurance and control.  The longer that face lasts, the more enduring the ritual of return–and all the antecedent necessities in the lived land.   When face fades or cannot be found, anchor gone, group may fission or direction change.  An early science to keep that vessel whole, for anchor and control:  the evolved practice of mummification, genius through social struggle over the dead.

With enhanced desiccation/preservation bodies could be interred elsewhere, kept in the lived land.  Many burials arranged in circular groups are known, most with traces of reed matting, often several layers thick, sometimes the body in a linen shroud or even confined in a leather sack.  Pre-mummification by binding body parts, mostly hands and feet, with several layers of resin soaked linen as preservative (all known cases female, early Dynastic Period); resin soaked linen was also used to pad parts of the body, to retain shape and structure [David Wengrow, 2006, The archaeology of Early Egypt].  The same preservative techniques have been found applied to other animals, including cattle, given burial, meaning preserving itself.

The portal to djet thus removed from the stillness, boundary now policed among the living.  The ritual of return to the edge of stillness become regular acknowledgement of the portal among us, becoming provisioning of the dead, at first in votive, then symbolic provisioning, that which keeps the living bound to one another now pulling the dead back in ritual.  Ritual to find become ritual to keep a time become ritual to sustain, the latter’s repetition in neheh becoming place in djet.

But the human vessel, preserved by humans, still decays.  There were two responses.  Enhance the efficacy of preservation techniques.  There is a sense, over a millennium and more, that embalming could be improved and so was not ever lasting.  The hands of science could not secure djet.  But later tombs bored into the stillness of stone with ritual relief chiseled into walls employing stillness to keep stillness.  The tombs were not for mummy but the ritual surround, image of the deceased pictured and worded, frozen ritual, stilled yet in all its moving neheh aspects, process made structure.  The dominating finality of the Old Kingdom tombs covers a hysterical fear of the decaying mummy.  Pharaohs raced their predecessors in grandeur of tomb, the Pyramids raised stillness of ground, of stone, to surround the limits of mortuary science.  With every embalming experiment on some hapless animal the final breaking of vessel recurred.  Tomb was the ever response.  Not housing of vessel but vessel itself.  Personal immortality was correct placement in ritual.  From the rituals of embalming and internment to carved relief to placed objects, the mummy, as when formed at desert’s edge, was the lynchpin of ritual, so much to do ever around it until it decays into fade.

Pharaoh made dung, carried by scarab into ground, there to birth ritual made still, each tomb total an addition to ground, made djet upon which future neheh stands.  Pharaoh entombed, vessel of ritual, ground raised frozen hysteria against decay, life standing thereon, dynasty the imperative of future.

From the journal of Henry Mitland

17. On the Suzuki Court, during Nonacs v Selten, Secretary of Defense.

Materiality is that which does not need us yet is compelled to let us be, unable to know, yet known by us, cradling us even in our destruction, always further than we will ever be.  The archive of science is our attempt to become it in a way it can never be.  So the archive sits, not us, not it yet within it, we finding the archive another materiality creating us, we alienated from our success in understanding creation.


From the journal of Henry Mitland

18. On the Court, after the death of Suzuki.

The world is posthumous in horizon where sky is ground, ghosts traveling toward us into reality, departing again into the view from nowhere never reached.  The world is sustained by death and resurrection, Christ’s trick perpetual.  Death cocoons our worlds, insulates us so all can be, we supported by life in ever echo from elsewhere.  The world is a collection of elsewheres never travelled by any one of us.  Existence is in the horizon of elsewhere beyond reach, a posthumous of others, yet each of us is that elsewhere for some others, this our humanity, not totally connected, fragmented into a grace we rarely understand.

Science shatters this topology which transmutes life and death, an iced snapshot which is not while grounding all that is.

From the journal of Henry Mitland

19. On the Court, after the death of Suzuki.

A Phoenix cannot rise from ashes dispersed.  This the purpose of burial.


From the journal of Henry Mitland

20. On the Court, after the death of Suzuki.

At a Lakota funeral

For all our Southwest summers on archaeological  trek I could never get Benjamin to attend such as this.  We would walk the after ground of life centuries gone, but when I turned to an extant pueblo culture he would walk on, tramping ahead with his staff, thought with nowhere to reside.  I’d watch him, a Justice in desolation; he might stop, stare at rock formations, rising cliff, cactus singular or clumped, pull out his pocket notebook, scribble, move on.

“Can’t harm life beyond the trace of ghost,” he would broadcast talk, as though perhaps too bravely refusing some god’s demand, “but life now might flow differently by my presence, damn principle of human relativity–probably Heisenberg cribbed from it.  Besides, I contour flow from the Bench; should leave individuals alone as much as possible.  One shouldn’t ask bits of water how they like the stream.  Bits blend; who do you really ask, who really speaks?  Do people determine our judicial decisions or People?”

I think he left them alone for fear of them.  He intoned protection of their lives, but didn’t want to be in their line of flight; as though an immune response therein might wipe him out.  To protect is not to embrace; indeed, one might have to protect hatred directed to that hero.  He was alien, and the antibodies of group life staggered toward him, thanking him for his efforts, and this last, as they munch at his funeral.  Anthony said Benjamin chose perpetual fall for our sakes.  Perhaps such fall was perpetual push–or at least long learned expectation of such.

“Ben,” I’d say, “you walk the sacred of the long gone but won’t watch such in its making.”

“I walk on past belief.  Belief in the making too vertiginous.  Embarrassing and painful, me on the spongy, squishy, in the making ground, sinking after a fall past my ears–face up or down no matter–they floating above, always in perpetual up of bounce, so sad for me I don’t get it.  Belief like that.  Float in bounce, be the squished ground for those bouncing; you choose.  I choose neither, watching outside the fence, making “oooh” and “ahhh” noises as heads surpass fence’s height in bounce.  “Oooh” and “ahhh” from afar–best way to look at culture.”

What he saw in the dead ground of centuries past was that stomped down to make a bounce high into lived meaning.  Sometimes such falls and settles into the waste of culture, stomped in its turn.  The missing bit is how one feels high in the culture made sky–how to infer belief from the forced residue of bounce.

I would enter bounces of today and hope not to fall.  Perhaps my judicial robe guarantees flight out, I a winged people whose dance portends as I leave–unless, as some anthropologist say, one becomes snared in the web of belief, one’s mind no longer one’s own.  Or, rather, immobilized into realization one’s mind is never one’s own.  But law lets me fly high, its incantations escaping any lesser vista.  Anthony would smirk:  “Incantations are not escape but flap of wings to stay fall a little while longer, fall onto a peopleless ground.”

Today happenstance lets me see final fall in Lakota culture–or at least so I thought until a conversation therein.  I am called the archaeology Justice.  A chance visit to South Dakota led to an on the cuff invite to a simple Lakota funeral, perhaps I would take its tragedy into my heart, for what end none could know.  All they have is what they show–reason not to show all.  Yet without show we bury them.  Presence is costly; non-presence, retreat from all sight, more so.  So let the Justice attend a funeral in a school gym for a mid-twenties man, killed in car crash, blood tested as legally drunk.  Some looked at me as though I were responsible for the outcome.  Some seemed to see my presence as joke in a long line of jokes.  Others were clearly uncomprehending, blotting me out as they have so many other things.  But some see no coincidences, welcoming me as if always expected.

One such is my focus.  A man in his sixties, who made the invite at a chance encounter in the local county seat.  He did not seem surprised upon encounter.  He must have known of my  anthropological interests and so made the invitation for funeral day next in late morning.  I had to stay the night anyway and could push back events for my annoying hobby.  I have heard some say since Benjamin’s death I have become even more annoying in my hobby of necessarily unfulfilled search.  Perhaps I search for where Ben went.  Perhaps, given death has said hello so direct to my constructed importance, I’m searching for where I will or will not go.  I cancel for culture and dig and ruin more often than before.

This Lakota twinkled at me in firm clasp of hand and said come watch us bury our dead.  I couldn’t quite believe him.  That twinkle said I faced a trickster.  He offered what he wasn’t offering, and he did so precisely because I saw myself as a Justice informing his thought through anthropology, perforce, where I lived, much of it Native American.  I was close to the vampires of meaning who converted tradition to money and position, leaving trajectories unaltered, either of impotence or some principle of non-interference.  If the focal group has a drown, we can’t be certain of our findings upon a save.  But there are many drowns and few saves.  And, for some, a save is a new drown.  Oh–could you speak a little more on that earlier topic, to ensure my publication?  Humans use each other, universally use, don’t you think?  Let’s speak of that next.

A trickster tricks to create–if you can bear it.  I nod to twinkle and give honored acceptance.

At gym I stand back not so much from funeral than from coffin.  For two hours people have been speaking softly amongst each other in groups, some distinct, others fluid, with chirp of laugh and sob of wail, chanting intermittent, some quite localized to those closest to the death, others joined, in personal choice, by those further out.  Once, a chant by the closest is joined by a man who comes to these and sits, declaring himself of them.  Whether there might be cost for him, either from them or from those more distant, I cannot know.  There is negotiation here, but among what parties I cannot say.  As Ben said, a bit of water can as well be part of a larger bit.  Community flows in particulate people; the non-reducible person is really not a bit, yet person exists through its flow from one bit to another.  In quantum mechanics particles are made of quarks, yet a quark cannot be encountered isolate.  Well, a person can, but perhaps the isolate desiccates, implodes.  Perhaps that happened to this young man.  But perhaps desiccation even in death is not permanent, he quark being combined anew as must be at funeral.

Without formality a woman calls for potluck.  Perhaps she thought the sporadic chanting spent or in need of rest.  I had nothing but perhaps–perhaps true for locals too.  What controls here seems to flick across people.  I’m not certain roles are individually specific at all, although there are undoubtedly rules restricting where a present flick can go.

People shuffle toward the food, almost tangentially, as though they might miss–but don’t.  Each, once gathering food, pushes some off into a box said to be for the deceased’s journey to the afterlife.  Not only am I not asked to do this, I seem dissuaded by the bodily position of my host.  A community act; the dead needs to know whence the gifts come.  Or so I surmise.  Actually, as I will soon be told, I am being saved.  Or perhaps trapped in trick.

My host barrier turns to me, walking slowly toward a corner, dragging me along through conversation and cultural isolation.

“Our last meal with the dead.  Sort of.”

“Sort of?,” I echo prod.

He smiles distant, twinkling to the wall.

“The journy in afterlife is not in the food we deposit.  It’s in the hands depositing.   As we scrape food into the deceased’s bowl, that one may scamper up our hands, trot up our arm, position on our backs.  Some say they can feel the brief scurry and weight, so light as to quickly become part of us.  The journey to the afterlife is the ride we give.  When we in turn die, it is done.  Oh, some strong ones scamper up the hands placing food for the ridden’s death.  But there is not much time nor room for scamper; the rider may displace the ridden’s chance of journey.  Such is a haunting, made so by capturing the ridden’s chance.  When this happens over several deaths we say the community is haunted.

“You see, gifting risks contamination.  Perhaps to let the deceased ride, but perhaps a prior rider.  That is community.  I saved you from chance of being one of us.”

“Can the ridden climb the next depositing hands?”

“Some say yes, others that the rider, to grab the chance of further ride, pushes the ridden off the chance, into oblivion.  That’s the haunting.  A haunting is capture at the expense of another.  It happens all the time among us living.”

“A haunted community–dangerous?”

“It takes great power to ride another.  True death is exhaustion through the ride, an ultimately humble vanishing.  Stories of our dead help them fade after ride, they hearing thereby that they shall ride otherwise in memory.  Captured rides can say something is awry amongst us.  One saying they carry a capture may be prophets for us.  Such speaks for fear of losing its own ride.  Community survives on memory, but too intense memory, forced by many rides, sacrifices many for one.  A hierarchy outlasting death forms, a slavery of ridden and lost rides.

“In scraping food into the dead’s bowl we say we need something of the one leaving.  We each offer our backs, the dead choosing; sometimes the dead says no, out of life disruption or fear of what it might do–this a gift to the community which is blind.  Community is oft blind.  But the dead can see further, which is part of why we offer our backs.  Sometimes what they see has them say no, a gift that can make us angry for years.

“Rides should not outlast those who knew their life, for then a stranger is ridden, a stranger rides, and who knows where each wants to go?  This is the worst form of second capture.   Past then tries to speak without the mediation of the living.  Such is slavery.

“Sometimes great events give some great power.  Such power comes from the breaking of vessels normally holding power, causing it to flow in flood, looking for a stop.  These breakings are harm, and when one gulps the resulting flow, willingly or as in a drowning, there is great danger, even when the holder uses the summation for salvation of others.  This kind of accumulation pushes against all containment.  It demands rides and more rides.  When this happens, we are slaves to history.”

“How do you stop the rides?”

“We don’t talk about that.  Here–have more food.  Scrapes are over.”

He looks at me in wicked smile.

“I’ve been joshing you.  If you tell any of this to us, they will laugh at you, say how gullible you are.  But in our language.”

He steps back from me, twinkle replaced by dark eyed abyss Nietzsche never saw, saying, before pivoting away,

“I am culture; what I say is real.”

Stunned, I pivot too, eyes swinging to bleachers across the gym.  Underneath the tallest stands shadowed Suzuki, staff in had, face saying silent

“You wouldn’t pass by, now we must walk this spongy ground which makes its own earthquakes through the walks of all.”

We, Ben, you said we.  I turned direction, you left us all.  But you come back, a welcome haunting in time of distress.  May I offer adequate ride.



Soon after my host turned away, another approached, man in his forties, as though he anticipated I would be left adrift.  He offered ride to the interring.  Perhaps–always perhaps–this a matter of decorum; having been invited, invitation must be complete.  My eyes telescoped to where Suzuki no longer was, then found my host, staring at coffin.  I accepted transport, not knowing what I wanted completed nor what complete would be.

Internment was hardscrabble:  ground not wanting to give a place, shoveled lumps not wanting to combine into covering dirt, refusing the echo of life which had walked upon it.  I stood somewhat distant from that, as did, rather polarized by line of grave from me, my former host.  After chunks of resistance had been pounded into smaller resistance, falling into each other until something like a covered grave made, my new host came to reel me in for return to town.

“Ed,” referring to host original, “was Jason’s,” referring to the deceased, maternal uncle.  He works for BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], as liaison with  South Dakota authorities.  Standing Rock hit him–and us–hard.  He tried to find a way out, tried to soften state reply to protests.  No one died.  A few injuries, unnecessary frost bite.  But we lost.  Water defenders–no one cares, least of all that we sought an active cultural defense.  Ed–many call him “apple” now–red on the outside, white inside.  He talked to both sides; neither heard.”

A pause.  “Shall we return to your hotel?”

As we walk to the car he goes on:

“Ed and Jason–both maternal ancestors of those who reinterred Sitting Bull.”


“Sitting Bull was an early–a pre–casualty of Wounded Knee.  He had agreed to consider the Ghost Dance.  A night raid by Indian police–that is, by Indians sent by reservation authority–left him dead.  How is by bullet.  The extended how of why the trigger pulled unknown.  Maybe nerves, accidental finger spasm; maybe someone who hated what I guess now might be called refusenicks.  Indian police and family were ensured rations–and better ones.  Sitting Bull refused them.

“In any case, the body, with a few others, was buried immediately, unmarked, to avoid a rallying point for Ghosters.  Didn’t stop Wounded Knee.  Those associated with Sitting Bull, and Ghosters, fled.  One is not allowed flight.  Followed by cavalry, they were massacred at Wounded Knee.  Of course, word of Sitting Bull’s burial site leaked out.  It was informally marked and attended.  Later, redirection of water threaten to destroy the site.  Sitting Bull’s relatives disinterred him, burying him on their land’s remainder.”

We walked on.

“He had there a full ceremony, including the scraping of food for afterlife.”

Stunned, I force myself to keep walking.  Why mention that part of the funeral whose tale would leave me gullible and foreign in language not my own?

“So Jason and Ed are descendants of Sitting Bull?”

“No, not directly.  A few others–I guess you would call them of other clans–participated in removal and ceremony.  It was later a point of pride.  They are maternal descendants of these.”

At car’s door I turn and spy Ed himself spying this land which refuses all our walking games.  Find somewhere else to deposit the tabooed power of accumulated history.  Keep carrying it; I will not let you inter me with later eruption.

We are slaves of history, Ed had said.

How do you stop the rides?

We don’t talk about that.

Turning into car I hear Ed one last time:

I am culture; what I say is real.

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