APRIL 5, 2015
A voice in my head pesters me as I walk in my suit with shovel and spike alongside the Washington Heights graveyard. He’s interrogating me; Holes? Really? Wasn’t crawling enough? Have you no shame? No pride? What does this mean? Why does it matter? Who do you think you are?
I know this voice. He is the coward who calls me a fool. I want to hit him in the head with my shovel. I should try to love him, listen to him, put him at ease. I remind him that I am the CAPTAIN of this ship and HOLE EARTH is happening. This voice, this fearful me, doesn’t really want to mutiny, he doesn’t really want to be in charge. He just wants to undermine me. I start to whistle and he goes silent. But he will be back.
My first urban hole. This is a real Spring morning, maybe the first so far after the long grinding winter. Sixty degrees. Sparrows frantic. Even the helicopters sound happy. It feels good to carry my shovel and spike down Broadway. I’ve got my old ratty daypack on my back with kneepads and gloves inside. The same ones I crawled in. I don’t wish I were on my way to crawl. Now I am burning to dig.
I’m a little concerned about my lower spine. Digging in the dunes a month ago I tweaked it somehow. I went to an acupuncturist woman who says my back would be better supported if I had an ass.
The hole is planned for the back garden of a friend’s house on 153rd street, across the street from the graveyard.. The scraggly back yard garden is bathed in blunt sunshine. In a few weeks it will be buzzing and lush back here but now it is grayish brown and it looks rough and badly hung over from the winter. My friend urges me to dig near the back. Lola, her shiny black pitbull dog dashes back and forth and really loses her mind with excitement when I start to dig.
The earth is soft and my shovel cuts with ease down through dark soil into a rustier colored loam. No need for the spike. I put my face to the dirt and inhale as I go deeper, down through decades, bound for ancient Manhattan. Maybe not ancient but at least maybe back to the 40s and 50s when this now Dominican neighborhood was mostly Irish. The hole doesn’t’ smell Irish or Dominican, it just smells like fresh spring earth.
I don’t find any bones or coins or odd relics. Just more dirt. I feel it under my fingernails. I rub some between my fingertips letting the soil penetrate the spirals of my fingerprints.
The hole is ready and I climb down inside, curled up in a tight ball, so tight I speak in a choked funny voice and breathing is difficult. The hole holds me too tight, and not quite far enough beneath the surface. I hear the helicopters and songbirds and far away construction. The hole is breathing too. I am in a place that was completely dark and silent an hour ago. I have disturbed this still point, exposed this piece of city land, and inserted myself. My friend, Pat, ever helpful and kind, takes some pictures and laughs to herself.
I get out for a minute and stretch, dig a little more and then I get back in. The tight fit would be totally unacceptable if I was in some kind of box or kidnapped in the trunk of a car. I am prone to claustrophobia. I will get off a crowded elevator. But this snug hole is flying, it is a convertible, top off, sky overhead, lots of air. I can get out whenever I want. I can resurrect myself.
The fearful voice is back. I remember this feeling from when I was crawling home…he walked alongside me then, tossing questions into my path. Now he’s throwing them down into the hole with me. This is what you’ve come up with? This is your response to the state of things here on earth? This is who you are? Yes, I answer. Yes. Yes.
The last few minutes inside the hole I shut my eyes and do my best to listen to the space I’ve created. How do you listen to a hole? The hole makes no sound, but there is a vibration. What have I woken up? My heart thumps, I breathe, the city sings all its songs near and far. I know this feeling. I’ve been down before. But this is not dune snow or a rural field. This hole is buzzing. And what’s stranger is--- I think the hole is listening to me. I can almost feel it asking me a question. Or maybe that is the sound of the hole talking to itself. There was no hole until I got here. Finally I focus on my breath for a while and things calm down.
I carefully climb up and out and I fill the hole back in using my shovel, my hands and my feet. The soil wants to go back home. I stamp the earth down with my feet and when it is level I scatter the dry leaves and mulch and whatever overburden was there before. It feels like I’m covering my tracks. When I’m done I stand back and look, making sure there is no sign that I was ever here.