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  • Lineage
  • John Brehm (bio)

I When we fell down from the trees, that's when we learned to feel and feel afraid on the lion- charmed savannas five million years ago. And began to tell ourselves stories about things we couldn't see. Gave up speed for height and stood upright to scan the horizon for dangers, a trick impossible to unlearn even when there are no dangers, even when there are no horizons. Everything we felt then is everything we feel now. Which is why children prefer to live in tree houses and anxiety is the mother of all religion. Why gardens are so calming. Our fathers who felt no fear did not survive. They are not our fathers. II A bonepit in Iraq 50,000 years old—high pollen counts indicating flowers had been thrown into the grave on top of the body. The ones who threw the flowers, they are our fathers. [End Page 78] III And the fall from grace? Mythicized memory of our winsome life in the trees and descent therefrom. Because why would we leave such a paradise unless cast out? Why leave the arboreal delights—fruit and shade and acrobatic sexual experiences—for the panicked free-for-all of the open ground? Think of it, our ancestors, the ones who evolved our emotions for us, had to worry about lions, plus whatever lions worried about, every moment of every day and night for hundreds of thousands of years. What would that do to you? What has it done to us? Made us mind readers of every emptiness. Imaginers of the worst. Whereas up in the trees we looked down on, we laughed at the lions. IV It's thought the first villages formed only when our ancestors refused to leave their dead behind. Graves, in other words, are what gave birth to all our cities and all our cities have given birth to. [End Page 79] V The very first artists painted on cave walls, also 50,000 years ago. I wonder if they were a subtribe of flower-throwers. They chose to express them- selves beneath the earth in caves. What does that tell you? Why would you descend to darkness to make your art? Some archeologists think they were shamans who saw the cave wall as transparent mem- brane between this and the other world and could call spirit-beings to the surface in their paintings. I love most the half-man half-beast— elongated, floating, impossibly elegant human form with a thin and antlered head and a raffish tail. He stares straight out at the viewer. And who would that have been? VI I think all artists should learn to paint in caves before being allowed to work above ground. Then they'd know where their art was coming from—and what it was for. [End Page 80] VII 50,000 years ago loneliness was a real problem, because if you were alone you'd probably been left or cast out by the others and you'd probably be eaten and have no flowers tossed over you nor ever be able to give shape to your loneliness on flickering cave walls. A person at that time would not wish to wander alone lost in thought over the grassy savannas or to meditate upon the mysteries of life exposed to the eyes of predators. I wonder how many dreamy proto-poets met their fate in just such a way? Another reason for underground art: the heart grows bold in the absence of lions. VIII And yet dreaminess survives among us and must therefore bestow some evolutionary advantage upon the dreamy. I'm reasonably certain, however, I would have been eaten. [End Page 81] IX Being savaged by animals must rank high on the list of worst ways to die. To look into their eyes! In India even today, land where the Buddha was born, hundreds of people are killed every year by tigers and lions. Children mostly. One village lost seven children in six months. Special lion hunters are hired to track and catch the man- eaters but they usually fail. The lions slither up at night and steal the infants...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 78-86
Launched on MUSE
2006-09-11
Open Access
No
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