Sarah Brooks: The Geology of a Body

Fall '13 TOC


I want to break open and smash and shatter time.

Question: what does it mean to love a body and then lose that body? Question: how can a passionate body become mere bone fragment and ash? Question: if we were both here once, why am I?

Question: what is eight years?


The Kaskawulsh Glacier in the Yukon's Kluane National Park moves forward in the summer at an average velocity of 16,380 meters per day.

The current glacier reached to its furthest extent in the early 1700s, when Bach wrote cantatas, Louis XIV of Spain ceded world domination to Great Britain, the slave trade between Africa and the American colonies increased, hostilities between Native American tribes and the colonists increased, and the Persian army sacked Delhi.

Scientists know the age of the Kaskawulsh because they have conducted dendroglaciological studies. "Dendr-" = "related to trees". Ring series from white spruce trees divulge the advances and retreats because the Kaskawulsh sheared, tilted, killed.

Velocity, simultaneous events, exact day and time. Shatter the ice, break the rock. I want to know what is inside.


From the autopsy report: The cause of death in this 42-year-old woman is most likely due to cardiomegaly (enlarged heart).  The manner of death is natural.


Geologists' verbs: terminate, surge, flow, extend, surge, dam, impound, surge, cut, fail, drain, glimpse, advance, choke, create, surge, calve, surge.


Report: The brain is removed in the usual manner and weighs 1280 grams. The heart weighs 450 grams. The chambers demonstrate their usual shape and configuration.



a) geomorphology, n. The study of the earth's physical features and their relation to its geological structures. From Greek "geo-", or "earth" + Greek "morphe", or "form, shape, beauty" + Greek "logia", or "to speak".
b) trough, n. A long depression. Synonym: manger.
c) mountain, n. There is no universally accepted definition of a mountain. Elevation, relief, steepness, volume, spacing, continuity? The Oxford English Dictionary: an altitude which is "impressive or notable".
d) range, n. The area of variation between upper and lower limits on a particular scale. Synonym: scope.
e) distance, n. An amount of space between two things or people. Synonyms: interval, space, way, remoteness.


Report: There is an irregular scar on the right volar wrist. On the left volar forearm is a 1-inch scar. Volar = "relating to the palm of the hand". From the Latin "vola".

Report: There are scattered purple-red to red-brown contusions. There is a healing abrasion. Healing = "restoration to health". From the Old English "haeling" = "a touch that cures".


To break open the rocks. We walked here. Can footprints remain in rock memory for eight years?

What was beneath that surface?

Three hundred million years ago: a tropical environment, thousands of miles to the south, a cooling of lava, an uplift in a great arc of rock, the Wrangellia terrane. A rift developed (rift = from the Old Norse "ripa" = "to break a contract") between the arc and the continent, and into the rift erupted basalt lava that flooded to fill the basin. In washed the sea, shallow, warm, depositing limestone on the volcanic rock.

For two hundred million years, the sea transported the Wrangellia terrane northward, until it finally docked against western North America. Docked = related in meaning to Latin "portus" = "place of refuge, asylum". It welded to other terrane. There were dinosaurs, but also the first mammals, birds, ants and butterflies.

Wind. Water. Rock.

Fifteen hundred years ago, volcanoes erupted, slow lava smoothing the mountainsides, thermal gas heating the water below the surfaces, spouting steam. What fills the fissures? Gold. Zinc. Lead. Silver. Rome had just fallen to barbarian invaders, Indian civilization flourished under the Gupta Empire, the kingdom of Ethiopia thrived, bands of Tutchone people followed the caribou herds.

Then the Little Ice Age. Glacial ice scraped, receded, surged, scraped. Compacted snow that becomes interlocking crystals is rock, changing constantly. Glaciers create their own stream systems, control the amount of light that reaches its depths, prevent gas exchange with the atmosphere, fracture, carve, scour. And still melt.

Yukon soil: glacial silt, the glitter of mineral, decomposed organic matter, the living organisms that reside in the soil.

Our footprints: no memory.


During cremation, a body is exposed to several hours of intense heat and flame, after which the remains are mostly ash except for certain bone fragments. Then the entire remaining ash and fragment volume is gathered and run through a processor, creating a uniform powder-like texture.

The pulverization gives the bone fragments a fine sand-like texture and color.

The weight of the cremated remains of a human female is usually about 4 pounds.

Human remains contain: dry calcium phosphates, traces of sodium and potassium.


I stand on the ridge in view of the Kaskawulsh Glacier and the arc of ancient peaks, and I ask you: what is more or less than a touch? You are grit in my two hands, but when I touched you for the first time in our tent here in this valley, I had never imagined skin could be so soft.

Ali, return to me. Do not be dust of bone. Come back to me.

A stillness millions of years old. Do not be gone. Come back to me.

I open my hands just as the wind rises. Bone grit in my eyes, my ears, my mouth. I taste your salt, I lick you from my fingertips.

I become composite, sediment upon a volcanic surface.



Not Enough Night
Not Enough Night
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