“You and me babe, how ’bout it?”Romeo And Juliet, Dire Straits, 1981.
“… We’ll love you just the way you are
If you’re perfect.”“Perfect“, Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morisset, 1995.
Names have been changed to disguise the ressentiment of the protagonists, but may the Earth choke on its ceremonial tea if a word of this tale is a lie.
On this night of December 18 in the Gregorian year two thousand and twenty-one, ten seconds before solar midnight, two tributaries of the River Lethe converge below Cerro Palestina, a short motorcycle ride from Antofagasta in Northern Chile. The first is the intermittent stream known as Justfriendistan Ditch, and the second, ephemeral and as yet nameless, the trickle of urine meandering across the stony waste of the Atacama Desert from the guileless squat of Saiph, the glimpse of whom has arrested the Vagabond for thousands of years as his woe nears its oblivion.
Expect fireworks in the region of the June solstice-point where the southern hemisphere winter signs, ‘Sagittarius’ and ‘Capricorn’, jostle for position (especially when destiny’s gate is in the anguished bardo of self-development), but perhaps the Vagabond is taken unawares because as always, he thinks of himself as just passing through, and when he pulls off his boots and socks and immerses his toes, playfully if a little cloyingly, in Saiph’s twinkle, and she reacts with dignified horror and withdraws immediately to her full distance of 700 light years, he is dismayed. Dante’s Beatrice is as far away as that.
The stony backdrop of the moonlit Lethe is not home to shadows, but gleaming statues, crystalline and petrified. Saiph is 2400 times bigger than Earth, but casts no shadow on the Atacama. No matter, her script doesn’t pay a lot of attention to shadow. She sculpts: indeed, is he not her artefact who has shamefully descended from his plinth and now stands with arms outstretched, claiming horns of a bull on his left and two overbalanced twins on his right, imploring her to be his artefact, his ideal, his life? She de-plores him, and what wets his toes.
By solar midnight she has already replaced the plaque at his feet, which in the first act read ‘Charisma’, with ‘Neediness’. On the other hand, a new title for the idol the Vagabond has kept in his own underworld heaven, ruefully offered by a retaliatory imagination, is ‘Charming Cowardice’. Surely these are labels of resentment? What do they mean? Too timid to animate sculpture? Too impolite to play at intimacy? The leading man, it must be said, is sadly out of touch with postmodernity: men who create statues these days are drones defending their sculpted gender against cancellation, even though their artefacts will not condescend to stand on their plinths. And the leading woman (to unsafely assume a binary gender)? Goddesses have adapted their anguish to the social media market, and the delusion of the complete is so yesterday’s therapy, but how well their sculptures capture their subject a non-binary audience may deride.
This homeless Vagabond will never be readier to embrace his fate, the annihilation unto eternity of intimacy by sanctimony, and beauty by efficacy, than here, as he reaches the Lethe. A howling wind is blowing and the sky is shuddering, for at the sidereal stroke of 6 o’clock destiny’s gate fell below the western horizon into the bardo realm of hell. The stage is set for the powerless to be cowed by autocratic banshees emerging from the underworld, commodifying submission and perfecting convention. The voice of Vergil is a rattle of stones: this is no place for old men. The Vagabond can feel his supplication stiffening. His whole body has become as rigid as a statue. A strong gust picks him up (on invisible wires) … the twins right themselves, and at last onstage, good old Butch the dog prances like a panda bear, as the lead actor topples. It will be three hours before he emerges from the stage door on Lethe’s far shore.
“… In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.
And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I’m flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.”
Rilke, Rainer Maria, Sonnets To Orpheus, Second Part, XXIX, trans. Stephen Mitchell.
Flow, raindrop, in a trickle of raindrops, into a creek, and thence to the unfathomable swell of the sea: habitat, sacrificial altar and sewer, but the parched hermit’s rain. Is there such a thing as an individual absence? Do water droplets exist in the ocean? Country reveals answers to both these questions, at the crucial time of the year when their answers require the doubt we are harbouring that anything else matters. We approach the 107th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, remember. What do we know of Christmas, of truce?
Quite obviously, the practice of sincere new year’s resolutions doesn’t come out of nowhere, but out of a reassessment of the spiritual confines our anxious solutions have placed us in, and serious doubt about the person they might be making us. If only we could see it, this is neatly symbolized by the astral background of today’s partial eclipse. In the context of our reflections on yesterday’s 167th anniversary of the Battle of the Eureka Stockade, it is noteworthy that no law yet exists, in an abundance of caution to prevent the overwhelming of publicly-funded ICUs, to punish people for looking at the Sun. A surreptitious glance shouldn’t hurt if the eclipse is low on the horizon, but it won’t confirm the celestial position the experts are giving us, or allay any suspicion about the data upon which they base their claims. The rule of law may be unable to guarantee freedom, but it does harbour doubt.
Is there any observational basis for the belief that Ophiuchus is a shield protecting us from the Scorpion, other than “I flow” and “I am”? Look up at it one winter, and if the Shield doesn’t leap out at you, as in oh-phew-cuss, then the ancestors will cry, ‘Stone the flamin’ crows! Are you blind?’ If you’ve been present for a few thousand years, you’ve seen for yourself the effect of precession, of the Equator and the Ecliptic, on the Shield: for thousands of years at transit it has not been more fairly and squarely beneath the Scorpion than now. Rather than the Age of Aquarius, we might well name our time the Age of Anxiety.
Flow on, raindrops, and let country repeat, I am, absent! Is the Earth country? A drop in the ocean, is it absent too? Its seasons are: look up at solar midnight to see that your heliocentric Signs are opposite those you place the Sun and Moon in. The Earth is in Taurus, where the Antisolar Point is, nowhere near Ophiuchus or Scorpius. Why bicker about Signs? Let us doubt our solutions. Country is the sacred, coming into being in absence. The stars really are our ancestors, all of them absent, timelessly. Words are all that remain of presence, because presence is the absence of words.