The Brain Anticipates Significance

The High Life (Slinkachu)

Excerpt from “Marin County, Sort Of,” by Kay Ryan, Poetry Magazine (November 2009):

There are two related pleasures in studying roadside trash. One is identifying the whole from the part. A particular half-buried bit of orange cardboard can only be part of a Wheaties box. That greasy curve of flat black stuff has got to be from some kind of automotive gasket. I admire how good the mind is, what a small bit it needs to call up the whole, and how it attributes value to things simply because it recognizes them. I take the keenest pleasure in knowing that a small trapezoid of gold slashed with red is part of a Dos Equis label. I know it. I’m a weird expert in these identifications. I don’t know how I trained, certainly not consciously. Maybe it’s just that I’ve always enjoyed looking down. I don’t know how many other people really like to do this. Maybe a lot. My brother is even better at it than I am, but maybe it’s just my tiny family.

The second kind of pleasure has to do with pieces fitting together. Whereas the first pleasure was instantaneous, the mind effortlessly constructing the whole beer bottle around the little trapezoid, this pleasure is slightly more patient, involving some actual time and distance. In this second type, as I walk along I notice that some second scrap is the color of something I saw earlier, a ways back, and has a matching edge. The first scrap meant nothing to me, but my brain on its own seems to have believed that one thing may later connect to another thing, and this built-in autonomic faith apparently keeps all the bits animated. Which is to say, the brain anticipates significance; it doesn’t know which edge may in fifty yards knit to which other edge, so everything is held, charged with a subliminal glitter along its raw sides.