The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2017

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JUNE 2017 Issue

LOST AND FOUND ANIMALS a misplaced bestiary
Part 9: The Transfinite Direwolf (Canis infinitis)

“But man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes and pompous in the grave, solemnizing deaths and nativities with equal luster, and not omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature.”—Sir Thomas Browne


It has been definitively established that the Ice Age mammals, which disappeared around l2,000 years ago, vanished for clearly climatic and perhaps predatory reasons.  Man may have hunted some (or many) of them into extinction and climate may have, alas, done the rest.  This is as true of the Direwolf (Canis dirus) as it is of the giant sloth or the saber tooth cat, but it is definitely not the case of the so-called Transfinite Direwolf (Canis infinitis), which has seemingly disappeared far more recently, in fact, within the last forty or fifty years, and whose “gradually sudden” disappearance is linked with the growth of an unseasonably flowering fear among our own species, Homo sapiens, and its resulting trend toward exponential explosion in all areas, including the overproduction of the artificial, up to and including the psychic and all its numinous and numerous branchings.

Though a close relative of Canis dirus and sharing some of its predatory traits, the Transfinite Direwolf managed at some point in its development to move into an entirely different trajectory, a more fundamentally deepened order of existence. Though utilizing the voracious habits of its cousins and continuing to employ a social organization far greater and more subtle than that of the present day wolf or coyote, canis infinitis suddenly, around 2524 BCE, disappeared from its normal habitats, ceased to prey upon smaller mammals, and undertook a prolonged journey toward an unparalleled insight and growth unknown in all living species, including our own.  And it is its complete disappearance so very recently which signals, like a flag of doom, the fatal flaw in all the recently appearing two-legged, upright bipeds with a digitigrade locomotion, a forward binocular vision, a recently expanded, binocular brain, and a binary, yet fruitfully unbalanced intellect, in short, our own, a much more recently appearing and, perhaps, soon-to-be-disappearing species. 

As much as we have been the agent for the extinction of whole groupings of other animals, and especially recently, the apparent extinction of the Transfinite Direwolf appears to be a conscious act on the part of that unique animal and not a result of our own single-minded, destructive visions, for we, although falsely, believe, in the illusions of our nature, that we are or can be in control of our destinies, though the species now looming before us, and soon to appear within us may offer proof that our lifetimes have been more governed by illusion than we suppose.

Yet though its disappearance so short a time ago can not now be entirely and satisfactorily explained, (and yet will be explained here), its projected appearance within the next twenty-five years seems all but inevitable, for return it will.  And when it does, it has been succinctly and providentially said, the whole numinous nature of our intensely integrated perception of the physical and psychic world will be dramatically altered, even effaced.  This is no apocalyptic vision of a second coming of the animal kingdom, creatures avenging themselves in the face of their mass extinctions, as some have erroneously supposed, but rather a unique phenomenon inherent in the theatrical (and dioramic) field of Ice Age mammals and their single, major, projective artifact, a message for the future—the transfinite direwolf.

Bones of this hairless mammal (or at least its very distant relatives) we have in abundance, strewn across the world from Siberia to East Africa, from Pernambuco to the Urals, and therefore we may accurately reconstruct its bodily shape as we have assembled those of the dire wolf (canis dirus) or the saber tooth cat or the giant sloth. Though shorter than its cousin, canis dirus, it had come equipped with a thicker, richer exterior and a more soft-boned, delicate skeletal presence. Its sense of smell was greatly in advance of anything we know of today—it could discern a whole history of activity from a single meeting place, a mud hole or a hurried crossing of season-driven, migratory animals—and its sight was equally as acute. It would be correct to say that it did not think, it saw; it did not smell, it touched; and where it saw and touched, it altered the properties of the past, leaving its spoor of memory and the expectations of its own future within the leavings of others, pure animal gesture raised to a level of conscious intelligence!

Its actions, at first, seemed to have been an unknown evolutionary reflex, an aberration in the growth of sensible intelligence, a widening of at least two of the senses without a corresponding atrophy of the others. If progress had left its mark in the grinding, bitter struggle for existence and continued in the face of several long-term advances of ice descending upon the northern world in massive proportions, it had focused its efforts, like that of a magnifying glass, determined to burn a hole equally in water and rock and air, focused its magnifying presence into one species (and, in fact, as we shall see, toward another) and had, in its massive efforts of re-absorption and change, discounted all the others who had died such an empty and unheroic death, or so it thought; and as it sharpened its insights and re-altered its potent brain filters, its thought was to rise in all directions to galactic proportions. 

Something was on its side, some force beyond with which it was powerless to contend. It had merely accepted it, like a sign of grace or a gradually recognized mark of fate, or genetic drift, a gift from the sifting drifting dusty curtain of endless tidal perception which is the blurring presence of the unknown, and gone on with its accepted mission, though, at first, far from knowing it had a mission. Intoxicated at the beginning with a sense of power, like a brilliant child left alone to play with its new tools (or weapons, or the paraphernalia of the world), it glided effortlessly through the landscape, looking and smelling, mentally devouring what it could mentally, physically, and psychically devour within its expanded and often pantomimic senses, but then, later—growing tired of hunting and finding no comparable companionship outside of its species with which to share itself or contend with what it had found in itself and the world—it settled down to its long, solitary wanderings or mental walkabouts, going as far afield as it could possibly roam (to the very edge of itself) and propagating rarely, though decisively, with a growing sense of purpose, a constant re-evaluation of valueless perception, as it acquired, through its exploded senses, more and more information, rather more and more visionary power, more particularized history rather than more generalized theory, more perception of what that something it had recognized even more dimly in its inchoate body was about, as it began to focus the long-distance unraveling of  possibilities inherent in its “gift”, an in-breathing of a larger moral purpose, it seemed, a breath lost and absorbed in more than the body, in more than the mind.  A knowledge of that unknown shadow silently slipping between canis infinitis and its projected consciousness drove it silently and relentlessly onward into its destined super-moral clarity, hiding from its looming and desperately intangible fear and, at the same time, integrating that printed and super-potent fear with the tangible, the real world that it touched in mind and body, luxuriating at rare but important moments in the trembling oases of accurate clarity, and,  with its far-flung others, in solitude delighting within its more and more private ability, its more and more integrative intelligence.

It had learned, and rightly learned, to distrust the powers which had been thrust upon it, and so had husbanded them, for a long time, in its offspring, caressing the smell and savor of the animal world for extended periods of adolescence and youth, breathing into itself an integrated and prolonged period of perhaps over-absorbed life in sense and essence, an almost, one might say, conscious, deliberate neotony without a firm sense of always expanding direction, delighting in the rough and deliberately roughened edges it created in its animal toying with the unknown (and its positive fear), a sensibility heaped on itself in its deliberate acceptance of that unknown.

Had it invented a beyond?  Had it discovered, in its animal nature, a sense (a sniffing out) of God as we have, purposely, invented this conceptualizable creation in our perhaps equally inchoate dispersal, in-venting particularized characteristics where, and when, they were needed?  Though there is no denying that this outward swelling from a biological center left its ripples over the whole of its existence up to and including its disappearance—the expanding into artifact, the founding of domination in others—the deliberate creations of mental "bones to gnaw on" or the regressions into helplessness which characterize our species, such we may say, and say with a certainty we sense in it ourselves, these projections, placed on it as a kind of intentional clothing, were cast off long ago and therefore absent in the transfinite direwolf.

After the disappearance of a long-familiar animal landscape around l2,000 BCE, it had had to adapt to new conditions, a changed climate, another floral world, a changed faunal and climatic landscape.  The larger animals were suddenly dead, either slaughtered or frozen or starved to the bone and eaten.  It had, in proportion, grown in stature, physically and perceptually, integratively and perceptually. 

At this stage, a new era in its development began to emerge everywhere it journeyed, one during which, for the first time and in a deliberate manner, it had looked at and smelled out our own species, homo homo sapiens, the fire builder, the artifact creator of consciously offered things and their consciously offered after-shadows, the houser of unhoused bodies and the parallel resurrector of the fire-dancing dead inside us and the yet to be born (the yet to be conceived dancing in the desperately lit future fires), though it had, in passing, noted or taken note of our species, this strangely artificial one so lately emerging from the animal world  and remembered clearly at times the long parade of our origins and then, suddenly, remembered its own over-layered and fully cast off one, a history with more than projected destinies and with a purpose to be searched for and yet to be revealed. 

Plunged into this later interglacial age, it began and continued to look at, examine, and sniff out our hovering spoor, which pointed always, it knew through its perceived odor of fear, at a death-defying desire for immortality, watched, in the clearings of its protective integration, the most ordinary movements of our bodies, both male and female, and quietly, without the least mental construction, went on with its growth, its easing of perception into the unformed, and now deliberately unformed, maw of its existence, alone and roaming through the necessarily vague landscape, alive through a lack of projected, and indeed infected, intention.  And it kept to itself, more now that it knew about the other emerging consciousness, as a new neighbor is suspicious of someone it knows it will meet some day and indeed wants to meet, as it wants to meet a part of itself, yet chooses, deliberately chooses, the exacting time and the deliberately formal place of that meeting.

In our own history, though obliquely, the Transfinite Direwolf appears as a magnificently mythic magnification of our senses, as if our smell and sight had expanded to include a world so great we could only float in it as into another sea, an ocean which was and would be neither water nor air nor space nor time itself, an ocean, truly, of over-mastering and therefore over-invented events.  In the "O vast, vast, multitudinous layers of the tongue upon the mind", words broadcast over the thawing earth of its time in the famous l2th millennium Neolithic Ice Cave Dweller Epic Melant, A Final Vision, or, from that same collective epic, in Panteste's lament for the sum of the dispersive animal senses which had gone with the hunting of the mythical "big beasts of the heart", we hear that conscience, watching us from a distance, bleed into the tissue of culture and form us out of what we are not, out of what we crave to become, form us toward its coming and becoming, its morally, overfilling, sense-filled, exacting ocean. 

Thus, the worship of the hero, in the abberative reduction of our fear to the graphic sense-mapping of the breathing and expanded soul, leads us deliberately to that adoration of our desire for the “blended” beyond, for the extinction of our solitary selves into an unknown, unknowable world, which preys on our imagination like a total beast of existence.  The constant desire throughout history to reclaim this beast may be said to be the direction of our omnivorous rapacity, though it was not, in any way, the unplanned, but rather the planned or scheming heart off balance and falling through the transparent parade of events which it pushed aside to look beyond to enter and to absorb and then to go beyond, as if a hedge of latent instinct  had obstructed its view, as if the air of a Red Sea rising against it or the galactic turnings of vast vibrating star systems had intruded themselves as a part of our beings.


But the transfinite direwolf waited to leap. It had been preparing itself for intolerable ages, preparing its crouch, its position in the total sum of things, even  waiting while the maligned whispers of its own, still unconscious and unformed histories passed through it without the least resistance.  But in order to leap into the beyond, to extend itself into the integrative landscape through a total shaking and shivering of its collected and collective being and becoming, and thus to transcend itself—its growing innermost unwished for wish—it needed a reason, a total reason, body and mind together and fluidly inseparable, a magnificent folly, a neural twitch with which it would then begin its journeys.  It, we say, knew this, and it waited.  Time was not important.

Our species, however, had been developing its tessellated dwellings of distance and its dependent proportions, an artificial sight and an earth-buried sense of smell, embodying them in the outward artifacts of culture and slowly inwardly absorbing what it had made from the growing insights of its dispersed and complexified nature:  The natural lake or the cave as a defense against the known and the unknown, then the wall, built through and upon the mind and laden with static, muscular intent, then all of this, constructed before it in imitative motion and movement within the language of gesture, gesture and gestation, gesture and gesticulation, and then the creation of an object of fear outside and within its own species, the imagination projected to become as real as the constructed, tangible world, then the simple tool compounded on itself, the long, straight branch pointed with death-defying vigor at the sun or the moon, still trembling in our hands—these, and more, more and more inventions heaped on the shipwrecked raft as the confused body was buoyed up through pure invention, heaped mountains upon ourselves by the layers and layers of buried, boundaried sense, earth sense, air sense, and the sense of water whose flow we felt within us because we were water and had been born of it—these singed the fire of consciousness, the armaments shaped and forged of anger and active alignment which trembled at the boundaries of creation and were seen by a trembling dissembling darkness with a power immeasurable to anything that could be known and seen, sniffed, groped for and groped into as another dance of life, of native, nervous energy pitying itself through its glory and gloriously parallel degradation.

For we had invented ourselves, pulling the partials and overtones, the fundamental fundamentals from the unmade mental ore drawn out of the indefinable things of the passing world with our indefinable thrashings, demanding—like an amplified infant who had stood up, shadow and shape, before its time—demanding to be loved, pitied, admired with an infinite compassion and an unrelieved and yet venerated tenderness, yet knowing it was false and hollow, empty as the space between the atoms, all that demanding, all that swelling of the parts within it, which produced both music and terror—involutions and invented horizontal and vertical rendings and renderings, ziggurats, pyramids, towers, long barrows, edifices of mind and the trainings with it of the wands of water and wind and fire—the other hair of our head, the other heads of our body, the other bodies of our endlessly completed wish for endless completion.

Can we ever "unravel the miles of nerves" (asked the poet), the trails of wished-for, remembered events, like the seeds we dropped in the forest in order to return to our primal, our huddling, homuncular shelters?  For the building, the construction, the inward and outward shapings of our history—these had lead us outward from ourselves to seek, apocalyptically, “the coverings of mountains”, the accumulating and virtually immortal mountains of concrete and paper and pen-pointed power, the swarm-bands of hive-fed words and numinous numbers, in all their conceptual clews, in all their tones and tonal flavors, licked at, devoured, and re-pasted onto the world in our own image, and even had lead us, blinded with belief, to the resurrection of the newly minted, atomic light which burns us into disappearance and leaves no ash in its wake (only a hint of our foot-stepping presences, the shadow of our alterable existence on the walls of the unalterable air), the cleared, far-reaching  thoroughfare with  its own opaque pathways and side-currents and its particularly exact and exacting pure destruction, all of which, the transfinite direwolf knew was there from the beginning, a growing breath that filled the world with its always multiplying transformations. 

When we were baptismally dipped into the seething sea of light and the mistaken false or seemingly false siftings and driftings of appeasable knowledge (or the “pride of inward ascent”), a piece of unfolded darkness remained there within us, embedded in the core of the inner eye, in the cellular pulsing we felt all over our bodies, led to by an original optic and somatic nerve stamped in us with its necessary blind spot and its reversal of the supposed one directional world, placed at the end of that projected pathway, in order to see—alive with that vision we were equipped, stamped in and into the very atoms of the world from the acclaimed beginning.  And at the end, we will have enacted it within the scenery of our existence (which was created for purposes we did not understand), the ritual flailings and failings inherent in the overly-toned and-bone-shaped strict strictures and  stone-hardened structures of our world-stained, world-sustaining bodies, in the expanded and atrophied senses created through the culture of an unbalanced childhood, precociously speaking in an arrogance of projected pride, a reed of pride which stood up too too quickly, speaking before the words it knew had an object and the object stamped upon them, a source from which they came, and was forced to prop itself up with anything it could find, scarcely older than an infant in the history of living things and filled with equal parts of daring and danger and trailing its listings of ancestors behind it, like a parade that faded into more and more dense memory.

The transfinite direwolf waited to spring into its beyond, waited and watched.  It wanted, and without projective desire, to observe what we would give as lagniappe to and within its observable absorption, its whole species, which now were reduced to a few ten thousand shadowy representatives, each sharing the accumulated territory of the earth and its tactile graininess, its granular texture, touched, its awakened and often mistaken senses, its partially omnivorous abstinence. 

The transfinite direwolf waited.  It had given up time for the living perception; it had become more than spaceless, more than a grid-controlled, expanding purpose. It had smelled its evolutionary branchings and its slowly falling, slowly descending roots as a spot on the immaculate moment, a spoor of some hinted and haunted direction, and known that time and space, when they existed, were only a vertical tilting of suspended sense, and all the disparate, loose (and now loosened) things of the world had rolled down over its own still uncreated and ageless absorption to be dissolved in the infinitely fluid maw of nothingness, in the web of the universal cosmically inspired and conspiring spider, weaving, without mix and measure, the extensionless dust of a darkness that soaked through and saturated its existence.

Even before the development of the mathematics of transfinite numbers by George Cantor in the late nineteen century, the mind was prepared for the elimination of particulars, the leap into an abstraction in which particulars merge, like a totally unstable water, into one another, into an unknown quantity, given a name without number and manipulated for their own unknown aims, a transcendent, absolute quantity given a name and manipulated, and, in the end, remaining and re-aimed in its becoming, to become, in infinite transition, something that stuck to the bones of recognition.  Even before the mathematics of Cantor, before and within the tunings and turnings of the metamorphic imagination, in the protean myths of a fruitfully transformed and angularly unbalanced world, in the edgings of the calculus and the resulting calculus of variables and the railings against time and its enclosures and the sense of a transparent, almost calm clothing which turned out finally to be the world in disguise, the transfinite existed, but was unknown to the transfinite direwolf, who had merely and simply waited in the lair of the world, in the center of itself and, in its untrammeled innocence, waited for the mind of our species to discover its purpose so it could fulfill both itself and our species, the creatures it had observed for so long and longingly, and therefore, beyond any posited or accidentally acquired logic, leap into the completely shared and unshorn world pageant, voiding from itself its own and our own creation and providing, through its sacrifice of identity, the birth of the integrative consciousness. 

Where did it go then fifty years ago if not into abstraction, into the space of our minds, which hangs like a spider throughout the visible and invisible world, and which has hung from one deliberate darkness to another, from one impossible hope to another created one: hung with the stitches of need to another impossible hope: a transparent involution, a mobius strip which faces outward always. 

The fire of the turning world burns down the constructed house of the day each day in its turning toward light and darkness equally, through each chink, each eye-slash of a revelation; still, it grows back at night, in dreams, in absurd affirmation, grows back, as the world turns, silently inward towards the new and always changing surprises passing through us within our retrograde memory.  The need for the mind’s pageant is inherent in the light and promised from the beginning, as the optic nerve and the buds of the nose will open some oversaturated and yet some clearer day to reveal a world that until then could not be seen without the destruction of its own impatient searchlights, its own inpatient tongues, its own built-in successions and parades of temperate darkness.

The transfinite direwolfhad "leaped into the desolate heaven", and when it leaped, we had gone looking for it, wandering with our tongues and our smell and our eyes, looking, and discovering our folly everywhere, the folly of pride, the folly of fear, the folly of longing and of mind, that thing we so bravely created and nailed to the cross of the world.  How do we know it will return, to at last be completed by ourselves and our undriven acceptance, who are and who have always been its other mistaken half?  We have, in our despair, invented a world for it; we have peopled the beyond with fugal figures and painted its edges with openly opaque wings, printed the wind’s curve-stained sails on the oceans of the eye, with lazy and lambent movements of all kingdoms and kinships, almost to the point of worshiping it as a lost ghost of a god, who, like our parents and the backward trails of all the ancestors, we wanted returned to us in triumph, and had wanted, with the slack tide of regret, to return to us with the intensity of a hand-shaking possession which has made us grip the ghost-lit world in an all-consuming embrace, at once possessive and loving, at once constructive and re-constructive.

Its reappearance we know only as a suggestion, growing stronger as the years of its approach sound their dramatic, piercing notes of verbal and aural and olfactory arabesques. It takes shape within us, shifting us around toward the maelstrom of directionless love, turning us inside out, slowly, as if the suit we had been wearing all this time was not the wrong one, the wrong, one, mistaken identity, but was on backwards or inside out or had not even been noticed, had scarcely been invented. 

The fires in the hearths of electricity grow dim, the sixty cycle hums in the amplifiers of the imagination have begun to purr, the geologic cards of the earth have turned up all the spades which found them, the mountains have been slowly turning into camels and the camels into slowly wandering mountains, the dirt has begun to shine with its own over laden eyes, and the heavier and heavier eyes have begun to reflect some other silvered silence polished deep within their clarified yawning, opening with a slow blink onto the turnings of night and day.  Clocks lie around like shattered bags of timed and tempered dust, rain, in its particulates, holds a drenched image of ourselves in each dependent drop, like the homunculus of crowds; the old have gone on opening the dawn in their hands; the young have started to fall down and cry for the lost memories of their birth, worshiping their pools of tears where the images have been deposited into a new, inwardly polished sighting; and more and more has gone on, every day more unfolding, more variable simplicity, more believable slight of hand; and the lingering smell of the past has opened up a history into which we will float some day, and the eye as well, pondering the spoor of the living world.


Sid Gershgoren

Sid Gershgoren has published six books of poetry and prose: The books of poetry: Negative Space, Mutual Breath (a book of 65  villanelles), Symphony (a medium long poem in a "symphonic" form), Through the Sky in the Lake (a book of "lines"), The Wandering Heron (a book of haiku), and two prose works, Past Rentals (a fictional "catalog" of a company that rent its "customers" space, place, and situation in a particular area of the past within a particular time, place, and situation), and The Extended Words (an imaginary dictionary). Sid Gershgoren has published widely in various magazines and anthologies. 


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2017

All Issues