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Dawn Pendergast

So I'm a creative writing student and (having not finished Silko's enormous Almanac) I've been working on a poem inspired by Libra. I take a quite different angle on the book, looking at the notion of secrets as a truth-machine, a way of generating knowledge or implying that knowledge exists (even when it doesn't). Secrets seem to exist without a human brain to carry them--it's a kind of pure knowledge, disembodied. (I'm not making a claim, I'm simply interested in what kind of implications this might have) I was also very interested in the procedural aspect of the Marine's manual--Oswald's scientific and even religious fascination with it. Anyway. Successful or not, here's the poem:

After Don Dillilo’s Libra


Secrets bite at our toes. I'd have seen them—snapping like capes, making things disappear. There's power in disappearance.

When you work for the government, officials visit your neighbors. A man in a suit invites himself in. They take tea in the kitchen. Through the curtains it looks like one person talking to himself.

Mystery hides in the crawl space. It breathes economically. Its tongue, stashed in its anus.


Someone unfolds the schematic. It’s a body—blue in its whiteness, stamped with veins. The men mash their hands into it.

The most important part of the plan is unspoken. Men nod when they understand and nod when they don’t.

Scalpels hang from the ceiling, chance-like.


History is made of sweat and paper. It’s a name-changer—but just when you glimpse the tail sweeping clean the footprints—you know, like you know yourself, that there were no feet in first place.

You arrange old photographs into The Map. This is when… and that was where… Your arm is drawn across the shoulder of an entire country. It’s Cuba. You belong to every state of affairs—the shadowbox, the duck and cover.


In the 1950’s, Savannah River Site began production of tritium and plutonium-239, in support of Our Nation’s Defense.

In 1953 the R-Reactor went critical. 1954, the P-Reactor, L-Reactor, and K-Reactor went critical. I955 C-Reactor. Critical.


When a hand slips into a pocket, it creeps between existences.

One and two.

The instruction manual was a triumph of the scientific method. The Cubans did practice-rounds on oranges in Florida. The sightlines were thin as needles.

There was no horizon.


a gun with a long barrel that is fired from the shoulder.

to search vigorously through something such as a drawer or room, often leaving things in disorder


No one used the money. Castro had no idea how to grow sugar cane, so after he burned the fields he returned them to his family.

It’s just dirt.

Stable state ecology exalts in the dirt. People become dirt. Flowers grow in this round-about way.


Via satellite, we can gage the productivity of nuclear facilities but studying the atmospheric conditions. The plumes.

Nuclear material mathematically resembles chicken shit.

This mistake was made only once.


Radioactive water does not move, though you’d think it would. Before dropping me off at Sunday school, my father explained the secret of ice.

It’s the H-bond. It loosens molecules that should, according to physics, cling coldly to each other and sink.

But ice floats.

If it didn’t float, oceans would be cold as Russia underneath. Nothing would melt or grow.

He said water was a mutant. Water, above all things, proved the existence of God.


Psychologists call a traumatic loss “terrible knowledge.” It is an accident to know some things.

Thomas Kuhn described the history of scientific revolutions as a series of accidents.

The first time it happens, the accident doesn’t really happen. We clean the instruments and do it again.

The second time the probability of an accident increases. But wait. We are careful now. We seal ourselves in the room.

After that, we weep, smash beakers. A queer eye lodges in the face like a bullet. It is a question of more questions. Nothing is testable.


In 1988 SRS began to treat low level radioactive wastewater. Posters began to appear in every building.

Safety is a race we can all win.

Safe Operators are Smooth Operators.

Safety starts with S and ends with YOU.

2001 was a safety milestone: employees worked ten million hours without an injury resulting in time away from work.


A gyre is the spiral Hegel used to illustrate the circular progress of history. When I was old enough to learn this, I also learned that my father’s job was confidential.

He departed at approximately 5:30am. Arrived 7pm. Dinner rarely waited due to the oscillations of these temporal parameters. The parameters ate his dinner.

His work was de-classified in 1999 and reclassified three years later.

A gyrene is a soldier in the U.S. Marine Corps. A marine’s schedule is like connecting the same dots with the same lines. Days don’t pass.


Secrets feel like sand. During the day, they pass through your fingers. At night they soil your pants.

A helicopter drops you out of the bed. You are lonely—you are best so. Desperate men give solitude a destiny.

Knives are called “lights out.” Machine means gun.

They know you from the aerial photographs. You’re the point where two lines disappear. You’re an accident of knowledge.


When my father retired from SRS, he bought golf clubs and a visor.

You can swing knowledge over your shoulder. Carry it. Don’t carry it. It’s cold for no reason.

The grass looks like nothing happened. Tiny whiteness spot the grounds—they’re in the air, the sand. A bit of blank.


I am not sure how many people went to the last session of the Arizona Quarterly Symposium on Saturday, but I thought I would comment a little on it to see if it would provoke any discussion. The speaker was Dana Polan, a short mustached man from the USC school of Cinema-TV. He spoke about Professors (with no colon--just "Professors"). It was, to say the least, entertaining and occasionally very thought-provoking.

Eric Hayot did his usual close reading of the presenter during the question and answer session, and Hayot's observations were hyper-aware and reflective toward the way professors transfer information as well as the professor's unconscious professorly ethos. However, that is not what I wanted to talk about (but the memory of Charlie emptying out his leather bag for the class the other day seemed poignant at that moment), what I really wanted to comment on were some of the comments Polson made about history and context.

He said something to the degree that arbitrary and discreet facts have become the sign of the popular information transfer, and with public "professors" like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg, the job of university professor (especially those of history) appears to be at a watershed moment in a shifting "information age." The information age is one of discreet "facts" devoid of metanarratives, or any kind of context, and therefore those blurbs of knowledge can be considered "cocktail party learning." Anyway, the current job of professors, as Polan might have it, is to provide the context, the movement, the intertextuality, and the narrative of these supposed discreet historical facts. In other words, professors would teach methodologies, processes, and culture to be relevant in the information age. Is this not what historiographic metafiction is all about? It seems like there might be an interesting connection in all of it.


For those interested, there's a pretty good article on Almanac and the borderlands (a lot of historical info) with a bit of stuff on Geranimo's photo available online. The title is: Almanac of the Dead: the Dream of the Fifth World in the Borderlands. It's by John Muthyala and its published in Literature Interpretation Theory 14 (2003). I don't think the url will work so I'm not posting it, but you can go through an MLA search or ask me and I'll email you the PDF.


oops - that would be Geronimo not Geranimo. Geranimo is one of the men they didn't catch.

Opzioni Digitali

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