The Field Museum

 
  After a visit to Chicago's Field Museum, 7-29-16

  After a visit to Chicago's Field Museum, 7-29-16

Great white cathedral smelling of formaldehyde

halls high ceiling ringing with children

and humanity in general,

what an anthropological wonder you are,

binding together the mysteries of man and nature,

they on the tip of my tongue converging,

with my mind, spirit and heart conversing,

of man, of woman, of bird and beast unsung,       

I marvel at you!

Giant fighting African elephants in the main hall,

                pachyderms mid tusk thrust

seen by children over one hundred years ago,

the great vaulted ceiling above

still ringing with their shouts of wonder if you listen

Sue the T rex holding court with the elephants,

bones rattling as she rumbles at you,

blink once blink twice it lumbers before your eyes,

how is it this mythical beast once strode the earth?

but it did, it did, and here is the proof before us,

extracted from the earth’s bosom,

the skull a cast,

go up one level to see the real thing too heavy to mount,

beaten busted and bruised from the wear and tear

of years and the unknown tales, injuries

Beyond these seminal sentinels

glass cases brimming colorfully with extinct birds,

death their only exhibition,

skeleton of the auk, flightless plight of the passenger pigeon,

ornithological wonders,

 taxidermed beasts of all varieties encased in glass dioramas,

narwhals, walruses, posed frozen in time,

 lion gorilla owl fish crane moose caribou wolf tiger shark,

giraffe hyena bison antelope rhino,

all a snapshot hung in time, a dimension on a wall,

glass displays like the random pockets of a mad boy collector

emptied for the world to see,

utterly filled, jammed, crammed,

filled with pinned butterflies, fossil invertebrates

arm jarred by a stuffed leopard near the dinosaur head,

scattered with trilobites and primeval things from the bottom of the sea,

every specimen and phyla imaginable, unfathomable,

a zebra stands attention near a shadowbox scarab beetle family,

a floating owl, frozen falcon, mollusk fossil cornucopia

 

Behold!

Artifacts of the ancient peoples of North America,

obsidian tools and copper jewelry,

stone spear tips to bring down the mammoth,

did you know this about our country?

Did you know the indigenous, the aboriginal, the original?

The Hopewell the Mississippian the Clovis people,

follow this trail of our land jostled by children

and elderly couples pausing,

wend through the years forward,

the ceramic ornamental bloodcatching bowl of the Mayans,

the cruel economies of the Aztecs,

Mesoamerican tools of ingenuity and cruelty,

mankind will hew wonderful and horrible things,

of toil, of ornament, of war,

the war clubs of the Pacific named for the damage they inflict,

blunt skull crushers and razor skin splitters,

Maori whale bone war clubs,

feel the spirits in this room of masks and drums

and eerie silent jungle demon sounds,

did you know the Papuas built a Men’s House

nearly as great as this museum, because they did!

I stumble from room to room dazed by it all,

the Native American garb from Swanee to Umatilla

to everything in between

except for the Blackfeet missing where they should stand

with a note on their absence

much to my disappointment,

the painted robes and beaded buckskin

standing attention an army

of living ghosts gone with the buffalo

Befuddled with wonderment I cannot stop,

there is too much to see,

the Terracotta warriors of China await you in a dark room

as they still await their fate, giant toys to be lifted and moved

as pieces on a chessboard, generals, archers, charioteers,

sentinels for the dead

 

Be made aware of humanity

                this old museum murmurs in every dark corner nook and cranny,

be aware of beast! Be aware of leviathan!

Be aware of plant, mammal, butterfly, bug,

                zoological and anthropological, wonders of

archeology, archaeology, ethnology, paleontology, botany, paleobiogeography,

geology, gemology, biology, taxonomy, ecology, Egyptology,

entomology, meteorology, metallurgy, oceanology,

ontology, pantology and all the other ologies combined,

be aware and be amazed!

Take a stroll through a time machine whirring quietly,

glass displays flashing ages by in the wink of an eye,

a snap of the finger, in the passing of a school of children rushing,

and be made aware, be made aware of humanity and its wonders

and horrors, his progress and digressions,

her mad will and resilience and ingenuity,

my God, what a strange beautiful marvel, what a mystery!

Following the path of this time machine stepping in and out

of epochs unimaginable

suddenly grow sober in the bowels of a reconstructed

Egyptian tomb,

sweet Lord the 5000 year old painted hieroglyphics are real,

and they are ancient, beyond me,

they whisper, rustle hoarse and hoary

from the book of the dead,

they release the ka and the ba,

the shrouds of Osiris, mummies,

                                                                          sarcophagi you can run your hands on,

rough as hell and heavy granite,

my God, how did they do it?

Be now sobered by the mummy of an infant,

press your nose to the glass and linger upon it,

and suddenly be sobered that this little one

is a dead child, a dead child with once a name,

now but a curiosity for the masses,

how have we done so much but know so little of ourselves?

How do we build such things of wonder

beautifully inscribed, inlaid and ornamental,

yet we forget how we even did it,

how did we come to be so much so that we

marvel and gape at a dead child like a side show curiosity?

It is beyond me,

I wonder and am sobered

But I must continue through the mummy cases and stone scrolls,

the hieroglyphs that have enchanted me since I was a boy,

I stand breathless amongst it all as families

see the overtook in my expression and soundless words,

I my dad reading every historical marker on family trips

But no time to dawdle, three hours in this place a pittance,

level upon level, room upon room,

you must see the sculptures of Carl Akeley,

he the father of modern taxidermy and bronze,

one of the museum’s fathers,

you really must see his beautiful bronze sculptures

depicting an African lion hunt

(they get their man in the end),

you really must see plant and gem and jade exhibit,

the Egyptian jewelry, monster plants, Chinese pottery,

the unassuming alluvian rhino graveyard of Nebraska

encased just beneath your nose,

schoolboys running down the marble stairs

as their chaperone shouts them down,

you must rush past nursing mothers, Chinese parents,

you must hear the 11 year old boy tell his mother

“It is sad to me”

when he reads her the names of the now extinct birds

displayed

 

Oh the wonders!

Did you know the totems of the Haidas

rise like towers

and smell of burnished beaten wood,

smoke, sweat, and the salt of the sea?

Have you seen the magic grizzly totem

rising above you in the shadows?

My word, the things the Northwest Coast and Arctic peoples people wrought fill room uponroom,

                                what a creative people, even animal snares totemed, ornamented!

It is stunning

 

Then go from the pasts of peoples to the bones of beasts,

grinning gaping smiling waving,

Good God how did these walk the earth?

Terrible lizards, behemoth fishes,

crusted rusted triceratops skulls,

walk under the neck and walk the length of brachiosaurus,

and as Job, behold Leviathan!

See synapsid, tetrapod, stegosaurus, parasaurolophus, African pareiasaur,

spine tales, back scales, armored bone plates,

yawning ancient glaring masks of the terrible,

beautiful living sculptures of times gone by,

browned mastodon tusks taller than a man

all backdropped by the beautiful monstrous murals

of the primordial by Charles Knight

Then mind cluttered as one of the displays,

turn away to look out the museums’ many windows

to the great lake,

a storm blowing in, sailboats bobbing,

and beyond like monoliths the towers of man in the near distance

rising

 

All the bones bones bones bones, resurrected burials,

smell of taxidermy and preservation

pervasive, musty, old, archaic,

welcoming and warm,

dazzling, wild, magical,

this building itself a wonder of architecture,

neoclassical, massive, welcoming, grand,

skylights in the Stanley Field Hall shewing forth light

down on the foyer on the muses

looking down on the visitors milling,

Two muses on either side illuminated:

                                                                                               Record, Research,

The Dissemination of Science and Knowledge

I run my hand along the inlays, the porticos, the ionic pillars,

gape up at the antique chandeliers,

marble stairways leading off into silence and rich wood doors,

what natural phantasies are being uncovered

 in dark wood rooms

by mustached khaki explorers and women in great bustling skirts?

What strange beasts are pickled in jars, bones collected,

stacked, strewn, neatly labeled, bugs species specimens artifacts

all within the cold holds of this behemoth’s stone bones?

Surely this is a great Church

to all things that were and are and will be,

a temple to a Living God

 

Running here and there in a frenzy,

my brain gives out though my eyes continue to devour

and register new things, old things, ancient things,

the bronzes of Malvina Hoffman,

o they are wonderful and I wish all to see them

and to see them for this reason –

that they were originally meant to convey

the Races Of The World

to categorize, to classify, racialize, humankind,

caucasoid, mongoloid, negroid, australoid,

now their original intent revoked but their stark beauty breathtaking,

barebreasted African Nubian goddesses,

Sudanese girl, Kashmiri man in lotus pose, French beard,

so real you long to touch them to unfreeze them back to life,

I admire this Anthropological Temple

for revoking the original intent of these bronze displays

yet still letting them stand,

a living conversation to be had if we all would have it,

all of us standing in the museum together,

man, woman, child, young and old alike,

all colors all races all people

from every corner of this teeming earth

 

Legs aching from manic walking slow meandering frantic gait,

you must leave this sanctuary but you are reluctant,

you stroll to the main Stanley Field Hall,

under the skylights a young boy accosts you

to show you a replica of a Magellan penguin skull

and a girl a shadowbox display of Chicago bats

that fly around this very museum at night

As the time machine slows,

the path winds down,

the peoples and their makings

                                and plants and rocks and beasts

                                                                                all blending together in a kaleidoscopic blur,

you linger in hallways reluctant,

echoes of war and hack of hatchet on wood,

ring of chisel on stone,  thump on softened copper,

drums, calls, chants, cries, trumpeting beasts,

jungle critters crying, howling, yowling, feet stamping,

a parade passing, history making, colors flying then dying,

echoes now faint to a whisper, a rustle,

a river receding,

finally leaving the great Church of the Pillars Of The Earth

and the whispering Breath Of God,

turning back to look fondly upon

the great main atrium one last time to say goodbye,

standing outside under a tree from the rain waiting for your ride,

eyes roaming over the beautiful sprawling temple

and its vast columns until you at last leave,

now an ordained disciple of the Earth and all that is in it,

of all the peoples and of all the tribes,

be now a voice in the wilderness crying,

crying out for all to hear even as the earth cries out        

 

Further Research:

The Field Museum

Malvina Hoffman Sculptures

Carl Akeley

  Terracotta Warriors

Charles Knight