Volcano Pilgrim
Five months in Japan as a wandering poet

Salt Lake City to San Francisco

After takeoff the plane banks over the lake, dipping its wing toward the mountains, and through the window you see in quick succession the different parts of the local copper mine – the smelter smokestack like a small black pencil, the blue-green tailings pond, the vast open pit. The pit is one of those things of which it is always being said, This is one of the seven man-made structures visible from space. Except for the Great Wall of China, you cannot remember the others.

The pit drops down into the dirt by tiers, like a ziggurat or step pyramid, the sort that Mesopotamian astronomers built to watch the heavens. Only this pyramid is made of empty space, and looks down. If you were standing on the rim of the pit you would see crawling up the long spiral a series of house-sized trucks, each of their tires as tall as two men. But from the plane, they are invisible. The other passengers appear not to be looking, perhaps because they have seen the spectacle so many times, or because they do not know what they are not looking at.

The airplane toilet:

seven miles between the ground

and your bare bottom

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