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6 Mount Rushmore: A Triptych 1. About the Dead Man and Mount Rushmore To become the face of a mountain—you’d think he’d want it. To be the high cheekbones on high, the forehead that bedevils the crowd with its facade of knowing. But the dead man hears the crowing of the birds, who alight without a semblance of symbolism or accolades. Yet if the dead man should lie prone, he too may be lifted over eons to a peak. He, too, may be thrust into the heavens. If, that is, he is not slowly lowered into the simmering core of a mountain-making workshop. Let him look now at the great faces being groomed by weather. Let him climb hand-over-hand with a toothpick in his mouth and a cap jaunty for the thrill. No president shall fall from this perch, he thinks. The dead man would like to bring back the earthly versions of these four. To set them at the doors to the latest presidential libraries with torches in their hands. marvin bell Live as if you were already dead. —Zen admonition The Book of the Dead Man (Mount Rushmore) Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, Lincoln 7 To coat the war criminals with the slime of their origins, to spit boulders at the Congress. It is, the dead man thinks, a long way down from these four. Their faces were lifted, who would never have sanctioned a face-lift. Their visages were blasted clean, who were men with dirt under their nails. Their sixty-foot heads went on whispering beneath the shroud placed by John Fire Lame Deer of the Lakota. They went on whispering, the dead man could hear it, they debated what is necessary, what is inescapable, what is random and what can be forgiven. The dead man can hear atonements so slight they only bend the fire reeds in wind. He can sense apologies so tentative they murmur only when the brook runs. 2. More About the Dead Man and Mount Rushmore To the argument over who was anyplace first, the dead man offers himself. For he is made of particles that came from the near and far, from the creek bed and the seven wonders of the ancient world. The dead man knows the quantum means that you cannot fix him. So here, he thinks, is the visible difference. Here on this Rushmore is the chiseled perpetuity to which mankind looks up. Yet the dead man is of another stripe, another streak, another vein, another lode and deposit, not to be recovered in toto. You’d think he’d want it, to be of the earth itself, but of course he will be. Without his wanting to. There will be another tectonic uplifting, count on it. The dead man can feel a spasm so deep it is recorded only when a needle shudders on graph paper. Here come, reborn, the stone Cheyenne and the stone Lakota. Here come the displaced, here come the rabble. The dead man is in the way, here come the warriors on horseback. 8 ecotone The dead man knows that the victorious will win by any means. He can hear the long rue, he can hear the late regret, he can hear the apologies so undermined by monuments that they surface out of reach. They are in the air, they are weightless, they are shadows the sun permits when it chooses. Up he goes with wonderment and a loose tooth. Up he goes with sore knees and a locked trigger finger. Up he goes without piety where the stone-faced have been sentenced to look straight ahead. ...


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