Mari Beltran

Observations

Advisor: Garet Ammerman


Aristotle said it is a powerful device to have a story begin with a hero.
The hero should not be particularly exceptional.
The hero should fall into misfortune by cause of his own error.
The story is always about the fall.
The hero begins, in response.
The shake is always inevitable.

002
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

In the early 2000’s, loose pages from the notebooks of a man whose initials are R.H. were re-discovered. His notebooks begin in 1928 and end somewhere in the mid 1960’s. During these three decades, R.H. worked as a puppeteer with a specific fascination for optics and a skill for science. He worked part time telling stories, and the other time measuring the properties of transparent plastics. His fascination for lenses was a fascination with stargazing. In 1943, R.H. spent six months in Africa with the US Air Force, analyzing firing positions for B-29 bombers. During this time, he continued making observations in his notebooks.

Included are parts of his writings, organized chronologically. –MSB

003
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

Los Angeles. March 1933.

At our performance last night, a small child approached the stage,
his eyes fixed on the puppet held by my right hand.
While he watched the puppet, I watched his face, mouth uneven.
His eyes reminded me of the impact of meteors,
how craters prompt the sky to distend.
Craters are large holes, and holes are outrageous.

Tonight we engineered a dance scene.
This was to make the children, even the adults, laugh.
One has to pay careful attention to the movements of the hand.
Imagine the wrist rotating, the elbow stabilizes.
This is the gesture that commandeers one puppet, or one galaxy.
Sometimes I do not know the difference.

004
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

June 1934.

Who was it, again, that discovered we could echo the stars
through a lens onto a domed ceiling and try to calculate which
moments to extract.

The landscape has a sensation of evaporation:
a brush fire in the mountains killed thirty people last night.
There is hunger, and there is the cavity.

005
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

August 1934.

Have spent the past four nights atop Mt. Wilson,
making observations through my telescope.
I try to watch the sky, but lights below distract.
From the lookout point, the city is a hairpin,
absurd and slight.
It seems, lately, unable to withstand both weather and worry,
which weight themselves to the fields.

006
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

May 1935.

Tonight the moon buckled.

007
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

1940.

The Arroyo Seco Parkway has been completed.
I recognize the constant agitation of people, a new rush.
Less gazing, more calculations.
The puppets remain in boxes.

008
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

September 1941.

Was asked by the army to make note of the best positions for
shooting the next time I am on the mountain.
Firing from a mountain and firing from the sky are not
one in the same. The difference is motion.

One rule: aim for where the target is going,
not where it stands.


April 1943.

The Air Force is sending me to Africa.
I have voluntarily terminated my position at Mt. Wilson
in anticipation of the next six months.
They say it could be longer.

I know nothing about Africa, I’ve only heard of the heat.
____ asked if I’ve ever experienced touching hot metal.
He said you know that instant when your brain has not yet
determined if what you are feeling is freezing, or burning.
In Africa, he said, even the shadows corrode.

009
Courtesy of Oregon State University Special Collections & Archives Research Center

Cyrene, Libya. 1943.

The sun is an abrasive. Memory lulls.
At sunset the sky is orange. I time it at 24 minutes to sundown.
It is skin and surface, a perforated edge.


July 1943.

The desert absorbs sound.
Of the cities in ruin, I have tried to give an accurate description:
it seems there were once palaces here.
What’s left are sandstone steps and archways,
whose long columns bracket the sky.

I have been here three months, yesterday.
Here, everything is not.
It is aggravated, exhausted. The days irritate.


September 1943.

I was given a telescope to view the sky at night.
It is unlike anything I have seen. There are more stars than sky.
Night is a different limb.

010
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

Los Angeles. April 1944.

I took Betty to view the pendulum.
When asked what it was, I explained:

1 It is a weight suspended from a pivot.
2 The pivot is the central point. Rather; the thing that is central to
something else.
3 The sun is central. The moon hinges.

She had another question. I dismantled the sky.


Mari Beltran is currently a graduate student at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. She has a Masters in Latin American studies from UCLA and a background teaching creative writing in LA and abroad.