Volume 13, Number 9—September 2007
Midnight Cave, Texas: The Experiment
A man descends into a cave
long abandoned by bats. For six months
the electrodes and wires of science
bristle from his head.
in the dark chest of the earth,
a hundred feet beneath the seasons
and with no clock but
the wound timepiece of himself,
he seeks his own rhythms.
Above him colleagues monitor
his vital functions
and turn the lights on
and off at his request.
His dreams, of course, are his own,
part of the self's short-circuit,
not to be monitored by the surface crew.
After the 130th cycle
there are no days), after waking
in panic in absolute darkness,
he writes, "When you find yourself
in a world totally without time,
face-to-face with yourself, all
the masks that you hide behind——
those that preserve your own illusions,
those that protect them before others——
finally fall, sometimes brutally."
The man sits on a rock
in the circle of light
around his pale-blue tent
for a succession of eternities
swaying mindlessly. He daydreams
of the dense jungles of Guatemala,
the sunlight filtering
through wet leaves. His boyhood
fantasy of finding Mayan relics
somehow sustains him:
"I will go to Central America
and I will regain control of my soul."
On the floor of the cave
the dust of ancient bat guano
filters, particle by fine particle,
Lessons from the History of Quarantine, from Plague to Influenza A