Encounters within the Aurochs’ Gaze

“Ten thousand years ago, a wounded prey is running away from its hunters. Three arrows of a material that is not yet flint are stuck on its side. The beast stumbles, gasps for air and closes its eyes one last time as the frigid waters of the lake claim it. The hunters pass it by, the prey forgotten.

After a violent pause and millennia of silence, a bunch of bones are unearthed and reassembled on top of a wooden dais surrounded by glass and unfamiliar air. On the other side, a stranger stands, lingers for a moment, and walks by.”

Very often, we think of cultural encounters as a clash of civilizations and colliding world-views. These encounters bring to the fore differences and complexities through the alien familiarity and the uncomfortable closeness of the other. We see on those who are not us the quality that brings us closer to them, and as a result, a vast array of at first irreconcilable and often inconceivable differences is laid before us like an insolvable abyss.

Very often, too, we disregard such encounters happening around us, specially when those encounters happen within the eyes of the dead.

The Aurochs of Vig was uncovered in 1905 in a turf digging nine thousand years after its death. Its remains, rescued and rearranged in the most natural of ways, now rests within the Prehistoric Period section of the National Museum of Denmark. Poised in a casual resting position, it seems as if the aurochs head was to turn and look at you at any moment, waving perhaps the remnants of an invisible tail, or scratching the echo of a disappeared ground with its exposed hooves.

It is the eyes, though, and the markings on the side where the arrows hit ten thousand years ago that raise the questions. What is the last thing the aurochs saw? Who pulled the string of the bow that fired the arrow? Who made the arrow that hit the beast? How did they learn to make them?

When the almost perfectly preserved bones of the aurochs were discovered at Vig, those who found the remnants of the beast uncovered with it a cultural encounter that began ten thousand years ago. Such encounter realizes itself every time a visitor stares into the hollow eyes of the aurochs and wonders about its impossible journey through time, the markings of arrows on its side, and all the little things still unknown about the beast and the hunter’s chase.

In this encounter, however, there is none of the friction, conflict or even violence that arises from the meeting of living and dynamic world-views. In this encounter, there is no dialogue but reflection.

When we stare into the aurochs’ gaze, we find only ourselves staring back.

Aurochs

The Aurochs of Vig


This was a blog entry I wrote in 2018 for my MA in English and Cultural Encounters in Denmark, when the sun still shone and one was allowed to go out and bask in its life-giving radiance. It was a risky gambit, written in a hurry, referring to no other academic sources or bibliography. The professor loved it.

Ten Sights Of Glanfath

I

The beast jumps at your throat with gnarled teeth and ferocious expression. Years later, a memory strikes you as moonlight licks your blood-soaked hands and you realize the unbearable depth of its love. Knowing that you would kill it again, you curl up and cry.

II

Faces on trees look at you from distant times. The forest goes silent and you find your face among them. Somewhere very close, mites keep gnawing at your brain, a chip at a time. Sap runs down your cheeks as someone else walks away.

III

The husk of a woman stares at the moon, gaping at a memory she used to remember. But the weight in her chest is too much and the thing sucking from her dry breasts makes too much noise. She holds the baby with a hand made of bone and skin and plunges a rusty dager into its heart.

Silence eases a minuscule mind.

IV

A fire has found a way into the forest. It has heard of the souls trapped there and wants to save them. Trees grow legs and jump into it by the hundreds. As it dies, the fire ponders.

A smile in the ashes.

V

Something stirs at the core. It dreams, but it knows no sleep.

VI

In the morning, the crows welcome the taste of untainted flesh. Eyes blink for the last time before opening again.

VII

A swarm of three-eyed mice scurry through the undergrowth. They have been everywhere, even in your thoughts. They were born with the forest and have been fleeing ever since. Today, one thousand and twenty-four years later, they finally reach its core.

VIII

Injured beyond understanding, the river tries to remember a time before the thing that fell from the sky. It tries to rise one last time, but its bed is long gone, as well as the rest.

Mostly.

The pitiful thing gurgles as it dies forever.

IX

All the fear, all the fury, lives still within jet-black eyes. Arms like twisted branches caress your heart and leave a trail of splinters. Now, only one remains.

But one is more than enough.

X

Welcome home.

 

 

The World Is Dead

The entirety of the human population has woken up today to a deafening silence. Puzzled by the unusual nature of this stillness, authorities from around the globe have embarked on several diagnosis tasks in an attempt to determine what the hell is going on. Although experts do not seem to agree on the cause of this standstill, all their opinions converge, unanimously and unerringly, on the same point:

The world is dead.

The wind, ashamed perhaps of its now noiseless presence, has retreated into a millennia-long age of contemplation leaving only a bunch of rusted leaves and a paralyzed wind-swept hearth behind.

As a result, most migratory birds have been forced to stop all motion, afraid of their own useless, inconsequential wings. Perched atop the nearest tree, fence, railing, wire or post, they gape in silent frustration in a sort of motherless infant regression. Some have been reported to bite at their own wing joints in a mixture of primal rage and impossible confusion, trying to free themselves from their former evolutionary blessing suddenly turned burden.

Penguins, kiwis and other flightless birds remain unaffected by the world’s demise.

After a massive gathering of unprecedented proportions, all the seas, oceans, lakes, pools, swamps and marshes of the planet have decided, almost unanimously, to turn to stone within the next century. The Petrification Process will take place in stages, the first of which will consist of a series of increasingly violent storms with the goal of shedding all remaining waves and getting rid of the surplus of stored tides that most water masses kept within their depths. However, to show that there is room for dissident voices within the Flowing Realms, an agreement has been signed to preserve the last wave in liquid state somewhere beneath their stony surfaces. All oceans but one have sealed this pact with their own sea foam.

Meanwhile, the Dead Sea grins knowingly from its isolated corner.

Speech, the most basic and ancient for of human interaction, has been temporarily banned in most nations and countries for an unspecified period of time. Since the world’s untimely demise was declared, the population has grown more and more paranoid. The police keep getting emergency calls regarding “the scratching noises outside my window” and “that voice inside my head.” To appease and reassure the masses, governments around the globe are studying the possibility of banning rational thought and keep neuronal processes at the bare minimum necessary for survival.

In the meantime, the deaf are taking the streets with renewed faith in this promising new period for humanity as they intone chants of hope with booming clarity and joyful tears rain down their faces:

“Don’t you see?”

Feeding on Echoes

Again I wear the bones
that in killing Time we found:
first we stole Its thrones,
then we broke Its crown.

(These are not my bones.)

Among leaves of anger
Its blood flowed like dust
as we clang in ecstatic languor
to our impotent lust.

(This is not my blood.)

At some point we fell asleep,
between cracks of ruptured space,
hanging like strips of desiccated skin
tied to mouthfuls of yawning Abyss.

(This is not my skin.)

Eye-lid blankets
Pillowed teeth
Bed skirt lips
Tongue-like sheets

Who will wake us up
when we no longer dream?
Who will wake us up
when we start to scream?

We killed Time.

(And now we’re feeding on echoes.)