Those dates that warn us to dump stuff no longer at peak quality?
Well, you can find a satirical YouTube video titled Tattoo Parlour that advocates tattooing “best by” dates across people’s foreheads, so we’ll know if the guy pushing his cart next to us in the grocery store is past his prime, like yogurt or cottage cheese. So we’ll know if the woman sitting next to us in shul is no longer a useful member of the congregation. The video was created by the Peterborough Council on Aging in Ontario, Canada, to advocate for the elderly, challenge how society treats people as they age, and encourage us to reframe our picture of growing older. Good luck with that . . .
Though it’s not printed on our foreheads, each of us obviously has an expiration date. Which brings me to Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli professor and the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In his book, Harari describes how a few serious scholars, using genetics and smart machines, are engaged in a scientific quest for eternal life by eliminating cancer, heart attack, diabetes, etc. etc. etc. The endeavor is called The Gilgamesh Project, named for the mythical Mesopotamian King Gilgamesh who tried to conquer death. According to Harari, even with genetic engineering, bionic immune systems and artificial organs, immortality is a long way off. But a-mortality — defying death from disease or age — is right around the corner. Which means in a few decades, people will never fall ill, but perish only by water, fire, sword, wild beast, famine, thirst, earthquake, plague, strangulation and stoning. Or when a 19-ton truck mows them down on the Promenade des Anglais, which I vowed not to mention but I couldn't help myself.
Oh, rats. There’s no escape.
Be it by sickness or calamity, our expiration dates will one day come due.
Meanwhile, Iet’s have waffles awash in butter for breakfast.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bird tracks in the sand on the seashore
like the handwriting of someone who jotted down
words, names, numbers and places, so he would remember.
Bird tracks in the sand at night
are still there in the daytime, though I’ve never seen
the bird that left them. That’s the way it is
Inspired by George’s Visit, Two Bottles of Chablis and Vol. 155 No. 4 of the National Geographic
For starters, there are dinosaurs with peanut brains
who through dumb luck got stuck in tar where,
their remains were found like scattered beads.
Then scientists restrung the bones
and put the great primordial molars in glass cases
so visitors could say WOW and wonder at the way life was
In The Beginning.
Now, as for me, what teeth I've lost so far
were bought by fairies for a dime
and I'm quite sure the fairies tossed my teeth into the trash
and any sign of them has long since disappeared.
Then take the farmer, plowing up a field.
He hits on something hard. He stoops,
his fingers probe, yield up a stone where he can see
the outline of a fabled fish,
its spine etched for eternity upon the rock.
Then crowds flock the museum for a look
at what lived in this place way back then
when water covered the north forty.
When I was small in winter
I would throw my body to the ground
swing legs and arms
leave cherub wings celestial garments on the snow.
The sun surveyed my mark upon the world
my ice-age frieze
and fallen angels wept themselves to slush.
Suppose in Africa, deep in the cliched sands of time,
some tracks turn up
and Dr. Leaky, on his haunches, hrummphs,
My hunch is we have stumbled on a trail
left by a hominid who measured four foot eight
and walked erect three point six million years ago
and from this evidence we know his name was
Well, in my day I've run along the beach
dug heels and toes into the sand
and standing there have watched the waves erase each footprint,
leaving not a trace that I have been.
Consider, please, my problem with Pompeii.
Most peasants in Pompeii lived unassuming lives.
Plebeian husbands, humble wives
who worked and slept and woke
and by a stroke of fate were stopped dead in their tracks
by a stupendous belch.
Ordinary folk who, by their very act of dying,
(oh, I will grant you, it was flashy)
left us no denying they had lived.
Unless I’m stuck in cataclysmic glue,
to be exhumed some light-years hence by aliens from another sphere,
I fear that what Koheleth wrote is true.
My bones will vanish like the fragile grass
that grows and blows above my grave.
My point is made.
The race for immortality is run on dead end streets
(small pun intended)
and if our hieroglyphs befuddle only bats
in undiscovered caves,
well... so it goes.
Come pour another glass, dear George.
Let’s drink to us
and all the other hoboes on the train.
We’re coming, Ozymandias!
before we turn the bottle upside down,
before the cooks go home,
please shine the candle full upon my face.
Preserve me with your stare
so I may bloom each summer in your garden of blue iris.
Copyright © 2016 Ozzie Nogg. All rights reserved.
Originally appeared in the April 27, 2000 edition of ARCHAEOLOGY: A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America.