A Mirror, or Else a Stone

Teotihuacan in Memory and Image

Terrain Vague, Marcelo Moscheta

When I was a child my father often found rocks in the ground, digging them out for me and my brother to see. He would ask us for a name. Do either of you know what this is? Pyrite! My brother would yell with glee. Obsidian! I was silent in these moments. I didn’t know how to identify most things, let alone an esoteric rock, a vestige of a bygone time. I couldn’t comprehend the material facts of these pieces, their contexts in a world that I sensed had come before me, either in another life or earlier in my own. 

George Oppen writes, We tried to imagine that we belonged to those times—It is dead and it is not dead, and you cannot imagine either its life or its death. 

In January of this year, I stood among the vestiges of Teotihuacan, the early Mesoamerican capital,  an hour’s drive from Mexico City. Our tour guide held an obsidian disc just above his brow. This might be the only time you can really stare at the sun, he said, drawing out the words only and time. He distributed three flat and glossy stones to our group of eight. They were black and glittering in the mid-day light. We reached out toward them, each of us, before understanding that we would each have to wait our turn. When a stone reached me, I held it, peering up at the black orb, searching for the sun’s reflection. Where is it? I asked, turning around. My friend grabbed the disc and held it above his eyes, to deduce whether it was the fallibility of the light trick or my irises. It’s here, see, he said, holding up the stone, and presently I caught a faint vermillion glow, like a decaying mandarin orange, wavering in the reflection of the rock’s sheen.

I grew up in Texas, a state in such close proximity to Mexico that at times I would imagine that I was living in Mexico, transposed. In time I began to travel to Mexico every now and then, and on those early trips I recognized that I was not, in fact, living in Mexico. My memory attempts to remake India, my mother’s country, as my first foray out of the United States, but in actuality it was Monterey, Mexico. I confused these two trips, my first trip to India and my first trip to Mexico, in my mind. I don’t remember much of it except for the aura of the dusty streetlamp at night and Disney Channel dubbed in Spanish. But Mexico was the first place by which I understood where I was from: by comparison, by relief.

Let’s continue, the Teotihuacan tour guide said, promptly returning the obsidian discs to a hawker who squatted nearby on a rug of sundry wares. It was covered with trinkets of the same material, miniature animals, jewelry, totems, and more. We followed his lead, turning our backs to the tchotchke-seller and pressing on.

Obsidian is a material formed of igneous volcanic rock. Lava hardens so quickly there’s no time for crystals to form. The material is found in the soil around erupted volcanoes; it is shiny and brittle and sharp. It is a rock of multiplicity: it is a mirror. It is a blade, it is a weapon: it kills. Obsidian is a marker of the underworld, of the cave. It was used to make effigy figures, figures of serpents and of humans. Obsidian, in the time of Teotihuacan, was worn by rich folk, by elites. Obsidian was used to peer into the future and also into the past. When shamans used obsidian to warp time, they were looking into a mirror, a reflection of themselves. They saw their long faces in the shiny stone and discerned something primeval or else something no human had yet seen.

As I grew older I became more aware of the rocks and their valences. I teetered between interpreting the rock as pure material or as a holder of energy, as symbolic of something else. 

Over time I came to recognize that the concept of “my homeland” was a flawed and fickle one. The rocks that my father had plucked out of the ground were evidence of this. They were without context. I didn’t understand them for I couldn’t understand what they in essence were. They were a literal instantiation of place, the pyrite and obsidian and mica and feldspar, and yet at that point in time I couldn’t grasp this. In Texas, I plumbed an earth the color of eggshell. I looked across the border and saw a land that looked the same, but was called something else. 

In Mexico City, my friends and I had been in the habit of comparing the landscape to \ Mumbai from the second we stepped out of the airport. Strolling beneath a canopy of trees, eyes agog at the stylish cubed homes set behind slick gates, my friend Bianca asked me if the place didn’t remind me of Bandra. I replied that the streets did recall Bandra, the popular Mumbai quarter where both of our extended families live, as did the light that filtered through its various trees. I thought this might have to do with latitude: Mumbai and Mexico City are both nineteen degrees north of the equator. 

I was primed to compare the light in Mexico City to Mumbai: they were the first two places I had ever traveled to as a child, my first two forays out of the United States. In Mexico City we spoke as if we were ambling through a mirage of Mumbai, transposed onto another continent, a separate history. It was this way in opulent spaces as in penniless ones: Mexico City’s slums recalled Daravi, its guarded domiciles something of the gentrified bungalows of Juhu Beach. Still I winced, uneasy at our predilection to view this place in the terms of another.

There were four Indian travelers in our group, and I only half. On the bus ride to Teotihuacan, on the the heels of a one-liner about Indian tourists, which I only half understood, the sole Korean member of the group, Jiyoon, remarked limply that she wished there was another Korean in the group who could understand such culturally specific jokes. There was a friend who is half Mexican, a white woman, and a white man. Despite our extra-national affinities, we were all citizens of the United States, and the salient characteristic of our appearance as an ensemble was exactly that: lured by cheap flights and accommodations, we were Americans with enough disposable income to convene in Mexico City on a weeklong holiday. 

I considered other places: India, mainly, and the reasons why those of us with roots there couldn’t give it up. To us the sky in Roma evoked the sky in Santacruz; the trees did, too; the sliced mango on the street recalled alfonso mango, though ultimately inferior, for unquantifiable reasons. I considered why India, a place our parents had lived or we had lived only contingently, emerged as a point of comparison over the place from which we had come and of which we called home, that being the United States.

Ambivalence breaks apart into ambi, meaning both. Derived from the Latin word ambio, which means to go round, to visit in rotation, to inspect.

Now it was early morning when we settled into our plush bus seats, my aimless thoughts the backdrop to the sleepy jokes and stilted car games we attempted to pass the time. I nestled my head against the seat cushion and watched the hills rise beyond the buzzing highway lines. Telephone wires hung in slack half-moon shapes as the sun beat upon the glass windows. I took in the uninterrupted miles of patchwork pastel-colored homes lodged on the hillsides of old volcanoes, set atop the soil littered with minerals undetectable to the human eye.

We disembarked near the gift shops, which visitors must penetrate in order to reach the ancient city. Drifting through the open-air chamber of hats, obsidian turtles, and bloated bags of red potato chips for sale, we swiftly understood that the sun was dangerously brilliant and we would need visors. We bought some, our palms extending meager pesos to the vendors, before pausing at our alacrity to pay American prices. We asked, belatedly, if actually they might be able to bump their prices down.

Teotihuacan is the center of a once-dominant empire now wholly undone. No one, not even the archaeologists who study it, can say with certainty the manner in which it happened, for what reasons the former superpower rose in rank, or for what reasons it collapsed. Little is definitively known about the city, including its actual name. Teotihuacan is derived from a word from the Aztec language meaning the place where men become gods. The city’s ruins were deserted for centuries when the Aztecs arrived and reckoned that their ancestors had divined its rigid layout, grand temples and esoteric tableaux. 

The identity of those ancestors, however, is an abiding source of speculation. It was, after all, so long ago: at the time of Teotihuacan’s beginnings, Punjab was ruled by Indo-Greek king Demetrius III Aniketos, the War of Heavenly Horses raged in China, and Julius Caesar was born. This was centuries before the Aztecs happened upon the remnants of this abandoned metropole.

The city’s origin stories hinge upon volcanic eruptions that made far-flung tribes migrants to Teotihuacan, or less dramatic tales of volcanic ash and dense soil or of the allure of trade and work. Whoever the city’s progenitors were, they are now thought of as a multiethnic populace — of immigrants, war captives, elites — under the tight control of the Teotihuacan state, which has been modeled, in turns, as a city, a city-state, a hegemonic city-state, and an empire. 

Now it is a ruin, and people travel from all over the world to place themselves, for a day, in the past. It is a past that is heavily guarded: in 2021, after local farmers razed their fifteen acres of land to build an amusement park adjacent to the ancient city, 250 members of the National Guard shut it down. 

In 2004, Walmart skirted the local city’s zoning laws and erected an American supermarket a mile from the pyramids, in a quiet alfalfa field. When it was revealed that the local mayor was accepting bribes from the multinational to build on a historic site, a teacher and poet concocted a homemade bomb and set it off in the store. Its detonation threw him to the linoleum floor, where he was handcuffed and promptly taken to jail. That day the Walmart near Teotihuacan reportedly lost $68 of merchandise.

Corporations and their corruptions are constant inflections across Teotihuacan’s past and present lives: the empire was built on the trade of obsidian. It was once a currency for the Teotihuacanos and those who were touched by the frays of empire’s reach.

Now the material sits in the gift shops and museums and on the tongues of tour guides and sometimes in the hands of hawkers in the sprawling complex: it has an added valence now as a currency of the globalized world: it is a turtle, it is a single bead, it is a domino piece falling down. It is a necklace, it is the mask of an aggrieved god, it is a mirror, it is a stone. Tourists buy these pieces and fly home with them carefully wrapped in our luggage.

The thousands who stream across the flat valley floor today are also largely lured by the idea of Teotihuacan as a cypher, the city’s unknown aspect constitutive of is perennial pull. My friends and I happily paid for a tour led by a Mexican archaeologist and her son: we wanted to learn something, as most tourists do. 

Archaeologists interpret grave offerings, strewn across Teotihuacan’s neighborhoods, as clues to the socio-cultural stature of its inhabitants. In this vein they take the materials of daily living — ceramics, vases, grave sites, apartment layouts, jars — as keys to the precise identities of the Teotihuacanos themselves: where they were originally from, and who arrived later to change their sense of who they were.

They unearth these traces from multifamily apartment compounds, which at the time were a singular contribution of Teotihuacan to Mesoamerican societies. There were more than two thousand of these, and my friends and I walked through one of them, its walls reddish and dust-laden. Our figures felt large and nearly monstrous against the doorways, which were deep-set and almost subterranean. The structure’s integrity, conjoined plaster and stone, was scant — very much remains — and still standing. For this reason the building struck me as beautiful, though I could not, in that moment, envision its relation to its inhabitants.

It is thought that, in the early years of Teotihuacan, its neighborhoods and barrios were inhabited first by multiple diasporas of central America and then, in the final years before Teotihuacan’s collapse, by a hybrid people who clung to certain facets of their homeland identity while leaving others behind. This has rendered many of these inhabitants invisible in the archaeological record.

Yet plasticity is a feature of ethnicity: it denotes the capacity for transformation, and it is for this reason that many of those who lived after Teotihuacan’s fall have become archaeologically invisible, their ethnicities, as evident in material culture, lost in the annals of time. When Teotihuacan collapsed, its neighborhoods hollowed, and it isn’t clear, still, where all of the inhabitants went.

Archaeologists argue that inhabitants of the Mesoamerican empire couldn’t have just become invisible to the archaeological record, that their traces must exist somewhere. But this supposes ethnicity to be a stable and tightly bound thing. If the fall of Teotihuacan didn’t spell the near-annihilation of its peoples via famine or slaughter, archaeologists surmise that survivors simply changed their cultural identities, thus becoming lost on the basis of their material cultures, in the traces of their weapons, pots and pans.

It is difficult to reckon with this, while strolling within the “multiethnic” barrios, because tours are designed to delight: its multiethnic people are ghosts, and the tour guides decline to revive them. The people from this time period are posed as anomalous, their societies transcendent of the tools by which we measure our own.

For this reason my friends and I sauntered about in silence, mostly, remarking upon the vastness of the structures, the ways they enumerated beneath the surface of the earth in byzantine shapes. This, in combination with the unintelligibility of their design, increased our general awe. We had nothing to hold up in comparison to this place: no Harappa nor Mohenjo Daro, no back pocket homeland we could easily reach for, aeons and aeons into the past.

Teotihuacan’s past seemed, as we emerged out of the living quarters and walked toward the triangular temples, on a plane of its own. In its specter, the facets of one’s life, like ethnicity, were subsumed by the tendrils of empire: Teotihuacan ethnicity, like much of the singed civilization, was spottily marked. But the power of the place, its status as the first metropolis in the Americas, as the seat of power and industry for its time, was stable, tightly-bound, fully laid bare. For its proximity to obsidian reserves, the city became an urban giant and the centripetal force of Mesoamerican trade; its currency, obsidian, which my friends and I used that day to view the sun, was the crux of everyday life and military prowess. 

Still Teotihuacan’s remnants betray a wealth disparity that ballooned ahead of the empire’s collapse: excavations from the Yayahuala apartment compound, for instance, disclose deep layers of refuse accumulating in the streets. Other neighborhoods contained streets blocked by gates. Power and ascendant currency sit atop loss, no small amount of pain. 

Outside the city center, I was later told, excavators found fragments of adobe and wattle-and-daub. They are thought to be the former homes of families who existed outside the social units housed by apartment compounds. But the structures could also be outposts, or second homes, of those living within the urban center. This is further complicated by the fact that it’s hard to tell the difference, in the archaeological record, between trash sites and these sorts of homes. 

The faces that adorned the facade of the first temple were frenetic, and somehow locked in time: eyes blank unpupiled orbs, brows eternally raised. A snake chomped a figure that resembled a screw. A guide shared with the a crowd a factoid that seemed to be the most widely circulated and unequivocal about Teotihuacan, which is its predilection for ritual sacrifice. 

In the 1980s, a crew followed a tunnel into this temple and found the remains of one hundred warriors, outfitted in necklaces of real and artifactual human teeth. Some of them sat facing the exterior of the pyramid, arms tied behind their backs, wrists crossed, obsidian projectile points beside them, as well as mirrors made of pyrite and jawbones made out of shells. 

They were likely war captives, killed to convey power and will. Excavators uncovered one hundred more sacrificed skeletons. At the center of the pyramid, oxygen-isotope ratios suggest, were laid individuals who did not come from Teotihuacan at all, though some lived within the empire’s reach long before their deaths.

Much is made over the fact that the Teotihuacanos were a multi-ethnic people, made out of both immigration and conquest. Some archaeologists believe that the scenes of subjection unearthed at the temple were sites of camaraderie and unity for a population that could have otherwise been fractured, without a common language, origin, or faith. Archaeologists find evidence of human sacrifice across several early cultures, including Germanic, Arab, Turkic, Inuit, American, Austronesian, African, Chinese and Japanese. The practice, they say, entrenched social hierarchies and strictly inherited class systems.

A few nights earlier we had been patrons of a rooftop bar called Cityzen. Seated at our table, looked out beyond the glass screen that contained us, at the lit-up signs marking the skyscrapers around us, hawking WeWork and the St. Regis and New York Life Insurance. I thought that this is what every city is now, in the way that the Oaxacan chocolate I purchased as a gift for my roommates is readily available at our nearby Mexican grocery in Chicago, Illinois. Of course it was our choice to be there, in the shi-shi part of the city. It wasn’t any disappointment in a lack of authenticity that I felt, only in feeling that everything was the same. That was, in my generation, the most authentic landmark of all.

In the Uber afterwards, a friend asked what was worse, international gentrification or capitalism, and someone else responded easily that the comparison was moot because the former was an outgrowth of the latter. I enjoyed the false and drunken equivalencies and so asked what was worse: globalization or capitalism? The group served me the same response, and I giggled pathetically at how intractable it seemed, our choices and our class positions, the way we deployed abstractions to both place and obfuscate ourselves in a world that mechanically marched on. I faced a vast alienation from my life and my own apprehension of it, and yet this was the locus of my attachment to these people, certainly not unrelated to the fact of our being friends.

It was at the tour guide’s mention of office buildings that the group fell silent, sending searching looks across the loosely held circle we all formed. We tittered at the anachronism of an office building in A.D. 100. Our tour guide, a well-meaning man in his twenties and sparkling beryl eyes, spoke of the offices with complete sincerity, explaining that they were integral to the administration of the city.

We gazed down at the dug-out pit before us, multiple unearthed rooms and walls, and pressed the guide about what sort of work they would be doing in them. He said there was much work day-to-day in the ruling of the city. There existed a sense of mild silliness in this discussion of office buildings as places of sheer bureaucracy, bureaucracy for programmatic human sacrifice and the worship of snakes. Perhaps it felt funny because my friends and I have offices in our homes, all of us, and though we are not fully remote there is a substantial portion of our work that could be performed anywhere with an internet connection, and through this wireless order we submit our labor to often intangible and speciously revered ends: selling a product, designing a website, constructing content that we proffer for use, for a fleeting moment, or hope might be absentmindedly read.

But Teotihuacan’s work was, for its time, one founded on mercantilism and an ever-expanding web of relations, of tradesmen hawking their wares in the city center, as they do now, of Teotihuacan obsidian traveling far and wide as a locus of connection and exchange. Teotihuacan’s work connected people through pure material.

The valences of the word work, in that moment, resounded from the pits of foregone centuries. What comprised it, and, more urgently, what was its value? The rooftop bar Citizen flashed in my mind’s eye, the WeWork tower glowering like an incandescent billboard atop Mexico City’s smog. There opened up a steady passage of trade: Our work was here; the work of locals in the WeWork tower was just as easily in the United States, or even India. In this sense, it didn’t matter where we were from, our origins in Bandra or Roma or Rogers Park. We were here now, in the bright illusion of capitalism’s supposed success. Its ability to connect dissimilar people in an ongoing circuit of trade glimmered, a mirage, before our hopeful faces.

On the other side of its promise hung the shadow of grief, subterranean and menacing, of a promise unfulfilled. Pathways of connection didn’t open up intimacies, vulnerabilities, or even meaning. Teotihuacan’s collapse, an unanswered question, is often attributed to a central administration that once exercised incredible control and then inevitably lost it. There were elite intermediaries, it’s believed, who began amassing the money and power that was formerly the domain of the state. Others believe that a large-scale migration, perhaps of conquerors, led to an overthrow of the Teotihuacan regime.

There is evidence of looting and a large fire prior to the civilization’s fall, all along the Avenue of the Dead, in the pyramids and in various neighborhoods. The promise of civilizational progress led to its own undoing. My friends and I trudged through its remnants, searching for a way out.

Oppen again, “Of Being Numerous”:

It is the air of atrocity, 
An event as ordinary as a President
A plume of smoke, visible at a distance
In which people burn

The ultimate destination within Teotihuacan’s ruinous complex is a large square at the termination of the Avenue of the Dead. It splays out toward to two temples, one named after the sun and the other after the moon. The walkways are swarmed by men sitting beside rugs full of trinkets and tourists acting, mostly, as if they do not exist. 

We were not permitted to climb the pyramids, as visitors once were. The best we could do was take in the structures from afar, as if in two dimensions. The guide informed us that the Pyramid of the Sun held within it the bones of sacrificial victims who sat in each corner of each level of the pyramid. Unlike the Feathered Serpent, which held soldiers, the victims were children. The precise reasons for the sacrifice, like much of Teotihuacan, are unknown: the very designation of sun and moon, like the name Teotihuacan, are only after-the-fact inventions, an attempt to graft meaning onto the past. 

Archaeologists have found not only infants in these pyramids, but also obsidian blades, conch shells, pyrite discs, anthropomorphic figurines, stone masks, animal bones, including one complete eagle that had consumed two rabbits, a puma skull and claws, the skulls of a wolf and red-tailed hawk, and mollusks. 

After telling us this, our guide released us from the tour: wander about, he instructed us, and meet back at the bus in thirty minutes. Before we left, he snapped a photo of our group sitting along a ledge facing a pyramid. He told us he knew the best angles and to look back at the camera. We obeyed, our heads turned, as if we had made ourselves at home at our destination. It was a great shot, we told him, and then did as he asked and took our leave. One of the women in our group lingered to ask what purpose the Teotihuacanos had in sacrificing children. She seemed puzzled by the state’s brutality as it existed beside its progressiveness, as well as its grandeur. 

I considered this question myself as I walked along the avenue toward the Moon Pyramid, which looms larger than the Sun Pyramid and punctuates the Avenue of the Dead. The simplest answer seemed to me that we couldn’t graft contemporary ideas of progress onto the past. Tours like Teotihuacan’s sell the feeling of visiting the past, allowing visitors to feel that we are walking among it. Yet the ancient empire was largely opaque by the end of my tour, as it was when we began. At best I had been guided to gaze out through the slight apertures of some cracks, some fissures in the barrier between past and present, where the light shone through and illuminated, partially, though incompletely, what had come before.

Inside the Moon Pyramid, archaeologists have studied the bone and teeth enamel of sacrificed individuals, concluding were born in a foreign location: the Gulf Coast, Sierra Madre del Sur, Motagua Valley, the Maya Lowlands. Most of them appear to have moved to the city not long before their death. This is complicated by other findings, which indicate that “sacrificial victim” was a nearly sacred position in Teotihuacan, reserved for the high-ups, the venerated and the elite. 

I dallied around the square for a moment, taking in the swarm of foreign tourists. My friend waved me over for another photograph: on a platform at the base of the pyramid we posed, Jiyoon, Upayan, and me. Not many Korean tourists here, surprisingly, Jiyoon remarked. I spotted a few South Asian families, but didn’t say anything. The crowd here, though largely foreign, was nearly as opaque to me as the history we had sought to uncover. 

In the vestiges of the city these identity categories were all jumbled, like a pile of rubble in the aftermath of a great blaze. Or like the light, moving in and out of view. They were always oscillating, in view and then gone. Essential and then absent. There were ways in which the retreat of these identity categories alerted me to other realities, like the price of a baseball cap or bag of chips. Or other facts: ethnicity relies on referents for meaning.

Adrift in the opacity, I was comfortable in a liminal sort of way. Moving toward the stalls that flanked the walkway to the bus lot, I spotted my friend Archit in the crowd. He was ambling through the end of Teotihuacan on his own. “What did you think?” I asked him, my arms splaying out to encapsulate the whole cream-colored expanse we’d just tromped through. He shrugged his shoulders and told me that the people who have been studying Teotihuacan had done so to arrive at this one point: “they don’t really know anything for certain,” he said. “It’s all one big question mark.”

I agreed, and yet here I am, attempting this essay. There I was, standing in the square of bright sunlight, attempting to make something out of the obsidian I saw at Teotihuacan, the specter of the brutal history that’s been uncovered there. The brutality of it is not so much ensconced in human sacrifice and the tyranny of the elite, but in the continuous plumbing of a past that is resistant to being seen. Set in stone so long ago, it is like the sun, ever-present but only viewable through the reflection of a polished stone like obsidian, a black orb, the sun’s inverse, and even then it’s sunken, shriveled, just a palimpsest of the giant it once was.

I noticed a flock of people congregating outside of a stall: When I poked my head in I saw a trove of popsicle coolers. I bought one in the flavor tamarind and languidly perused the shops that lined the trail to the parking lot.

We boarded the bus for the final stop on the tour: a complex of caves a mile or so outside the city’s center. Our guides wanted to show us something: they passed out hard hats and led us around brown bluffs toward a spot where the earth opened and an amorphous darkness emitted cool air. An older woman, whom I suspected to be our earlier tour guide’s mother, asked us to follow her down a series of tunnels, using our phones to guide the way.

We soon reached a small room, its perimeter lined by large rocks. She asked us to sit, and then on the count of three to turn off our flashlights. She instructed us to not say a word, saying this would be difficult for some people to be in true silence, but it would only be a few minutes. 

When the lights flashed to dark, I raised my palms, which felt heavy in a fulsome darkness. The air itself felt thicker, and I thought to myself that I had heard of people paying for this type of experience in the states: I thought it was called sensory deprivation. How much would that cost? I couldn’t put a price tag on it; I folded my hands in my lap. In that cave time itself seemed to lapse, or perhaps combine. 

As a child my brother and I collected rocks were gifted a rock tumbler in order to polish them. We took them as tokens. Tokens of what? Talismans of origin, of story, of place. We had collections of rocks, each of us, purchased in gift shops and rock shops and filched from the side of the road.

There were many confusions about where I was from, in those early years. Who one is gets conflated with the past. Who one is gets conflated with where one is standing on the earth. On road trips across Texas, we stopped at rest stops and state parks and plucked out the stones from the dry ground. We had little boxes that we kept them in, little spots in our rooms where we kept those boxes. I would often run the rocks beneath sink water to see their vivid colors, to allow the water to pour into the cricks of surface and consolidate the light. Minutes would pass and the rocks would dry, reverting to their original colors. I would leave them in the box and walk away. 

After three minutes the tour guide instructed us to flash our phones on once more and told us that our time was up. On the way out, she led us to another cave where she said we could search for shards of pottery on the condition that we would return them. She handed out samples of pottery shards so we would know what we were looking for. I was sleepy at this point, my mind already mired in the dust of the primeval city, so I stood outside the cave and conversed with another straggler before the guide returned and stewarded us away. 

I held onto my sample pottery piece, neglecting to return it until the end when everyone else turned in the pieces they had uncovered in the dirt. I handed a single chip to the tour guide and she congratulated me, unaware that it was the same chip she had passed out ten minutes earlier.

Now I recall that afternoon and I wish I could draw apart the curtains of time, to step back and act upon the landscape, to search for a fleck of the past in that chilly cave. For now it seems that the danger of ambivalence, for me, is vacancy: of feeling hollow, of giving up and forgetting to fight for a side. I return to the mouth of the cave again. It is quiet; my eyes register a darkness deeper than obsidian. The sun’s light is still present: it streams through the divots in the cream-colored ground. I rummage my hands through the layers of clay, searching for a piece of the past.

Oppen writes,

There are things
We live among “and to see them
is to know ourselves.”

Surya Milner