You cried, and I did not know how to comfort you, with your young body dressed in shortie pyjamas pressed to mine. You sobbed, I am not a virgin. At last, dear kind friend, I know, because I am not a virgin either, no matter how hard I try.
Every night when the Sun goes down I follow it, in search of my innocence. The stars outside are unconscious beacons of my experience, and they carry vestigial names from other times or intuitions in my own past. But the night sky is a cloak of experience thrown over something more intangible, a kernel perhaps of me as I am in my intention, not as I am in my responsibility.
Who is more ridiculous, the one who labours all the critical day longing for night, or the one who tosses and turns in his bed longing for the morning to straighten his load?
It is time I took my leave. Prolonged isolation has taken its toll on my hippocampus. Memory has become a stranger to any task put before it. I have no idea of the way forward, since it leads from wherever ‘here’ may be. You don’t need me to see straight; only you can transform nowhere.
There is a sign coming, which may yet unite us, offer a focus for our combined wayfaring instincts and a harmonious engagement of innocence and experience, intention and judgment. Jupiter is closing the gap on Saturn, and will overtake it in Capricorn at the end of the year in a single flare of light. The Sun in Sagittarius will be rounding on both, and so the conjunction will be visible low in the West, just where you would expect to witness the smothering of inconsequentiality. Will you look?
“Hence, the world-machine will have its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere, so to speak; for God, who is everywhere and nowhere, is its circumference and center.” Nicholas of Cusa, De Docta Ignorantia, II, 12, Trans. J. Hopkins.
“For the geometer all movement is relative: which signifies only, in our view, that none of our mathematical symbols can express the fact that it is the moving body which is in motion rather than the axes or the points to which it is referred.” Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer, Dover Philosophical Classics, 2004, p.255.
“Our self-consciousness does not take place in a merely closed-up, windowless self. It consists in the fact that the self, by transcending itself, faces and expresses the world. When we are self-conscious, we are already self-transcending.” Nishida Kitaro, Last Writings: Nothingness and the Religious Worldview, trans. David A. Dilworth, University of Hawaii Press, 1993 edition, p52-53.
With the Sun now beyond the Lethe behind him, and the Acheron curling like smoke above the Earth’s shoulder, the Moon begins another lap in Cancer, which nobody—neither the Divine Geometer of the Northern Temperate seasons nor the IAU geometers of contorting 19th Century Constellation boundaries—will deny, for they’re a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us!
‘Everything is connected to everything else’ is a truism ubiquitous at every level in our highly specialized and compartmentalized, not to say fractured, societies, and might well be an unconscious saboteur of its nemesis, social distancing. How is it influencing many to modify their behaviour for the sake of others, and seducing some to refuse to do so? It is clear that some people forget themselves, and others forget everyone else.
The post-COVID duration may overcome cynicism towards the life-expectancy of the aged, and panic concerning the career prospects of the young, settling into a new normal, but I have the uncomfortable feeling that a new normality will resemble the world I was born into, saturated by post-war earnestness, and a dreadful commitment to the finite and personal, so indifferently wounded by the historical, by ideologies and moralities which had so recently thrown their young and innocent recklessly and traumatically at each other.
It may be that Gaia has been groping for this coronavirus for a long time, as long as upheaval has been sucking tectonic plates together. Perhaps we have now had our turn and been outplayed. It may be that the rule changes which kept legends playing into old age stupefied the crowds into disaffection, and somebody playing Apocalypse did something accidentally on purpose. Perhaps the therapy-mongers who made fallow the fields of narcissism were right: we should have worked through skin hunger long ago.
Something must be remembered into being for the first time, intuiting the imperatives which the world awaits from us, who are its creation, not inferring them into the Jacobin templates of demolished order. The roads everyone must use never mend.
“The function of memory is not only to preserve, but also to throw away. If you remembered everything from your entire life, you would be sick.” Umberto Eco.
“The bull of the herd had stepped into the white foaming brook, and went forward slowly, now striving against, now giving way to his tempestuous course; thus, no doubt, he took his sort of fierce pleasure. Two dark brown beings, of Bergamasque origin, tended the herd, the girl dressed almost like a boy.” Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, Second Sequel, The Wanderer And His Shadow, Aphorism §295, ed. Darryl Marks, trans. H. Zimmern, P. Cohn, Everlasting Flames, 2010.
The naming of Moons of course connects them to what we’re doing down here. Inverting European and North American names or leaving names behind completely in the Northern Hemisphere might do for some, and continuing such traditions as Yule and Easter in their opposite seasons doesn’t seem to have disturbed capitalism or hurt anybody, but the entertaining possibility exists that seasons and customs merely refine what we’re doing and feeling, and we’re actually all doing more or less the same thing. It might at least be said that we are all subject to universal influences on our mental health, which fall into cyclical patterns we all engage with in similar ways, if at different times. Two distinctive things we all have in common with the Vagabond are the balancing of the desire to forget and the inability to remember, and the experience of being utterly alone.
The best moments of your life are the hardest to remember, because your language did not impose you on them, but rather from the bottom up, your spirit was dissolving into a belonging in something beyond, something almost magical, a connectedness which drew its miraculous energy from you, which could only last an instant and might never emerge again from the objective definition of your existence, but which in a flash of awareness revealed the reality of being alive instead of dead. Ceremony is of course your best method of putting your memory back in that transcendent self you own abstractly as yours. But what of the wooden hands of the cellist, the traffic vibrations and the halitosis of the singer behind you, and your own, for that matter? Is solitary meditation the only way to engage in a ceremony of connection? Must we wash our hands of others lest we forget who we are? Would such uncleanliness truly be the opposite of authenticity? Is there an important lesson in equanimity to be gained from the Vagabond’s stoical existence?
The danger we sense is real: the most vividly lived moments of our past are most challenging to relive, because they include the best, which we can seldom recall in all their complexity, and the worst, which can traumatically reconstruct themselves viscerally in the most unwelcome way. We even judge the good in the context of the meaning of the bad, and we think to free our good selves from shame by working on our shadow, but the judgment our insight passes on the self-as-other is so vivid in its remorseless negativity that compulsively as we might train ourselves to disbelieve, we are built to forget, and it is easier to disbelieve what is forgotten. The shadow of the Vagabond in sidereal Taurus falls across the June Solstice and the river of Hades he approaches in the Bardo, the River of Forgetting.
If you have the good fortune to withdraw from the everyday, just for one night at the right time of the year, and in your nearest dark sky, you can realize the connection of above and below, as it was known by the prehistoric people who lived under the Milky Way, as it was once known under rural skies by the swagman, and as it has now been forgotten in urban lanes by everyone: when the Milky Way arcs overhead from horizon to horizon in either of the two configurations which are so formed, its bearings link all Warriors or Wanderers camped on their river, Acheron or Lethe. My Acheron crosses Eastern Australia to Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, but my Lethe arcs over Central Australia to the Kimberley and beyond through Timor Leste and Western China to Siberian Omsk. I am proud when I am on the Lethe to project over the horizon the kin of my spiritual sisters of Wurdi Youang. Detroit’s Lethe arcs over the Caribbean to Brazil, and a shout-out wells up in my heart to all countrywomen, and tonight, fellow Vagabonds!
Not everyone is summoned by a divine voice to sacrifice his son, as was the Patriarch of all of the religions of The Book, and of socialism and humanism, in all their woeful, forgetting folly. If the nearest you can now approach to such grief, mysterious atavistic Vagabond of our cosmic loneliness, as you stare over the Atacama Desert, is not quite being able to erase the memory of rejection, the clinical name healers give the extinction of a divine voice and the reduction to dust of every monolithic monument to human immortality since the dawn of civilization, you are as blessed as you seem to believe yourself, blessed to have heard the voice, blessed to have been spared its demand. Charismatic though our inner voices may be, the gods are bent on the narcissistic autonomy they enjoy in our submission to their resentful, perfectionist control.
The Vagabond is the avatar of all who throughout history and before it have gratefully accepted country as more real than landscape and real estate: the ancestral, the migratory, the rejected, the enslaved, the dispossessed of everything but kinship and the meaning of ceremony and song. He and they enact the memory we share eternally of what remains of creation to be forgotten. What more could there ever possibly be, than broken, throbbing hearts crying, “Please don’t climb my rock,” and protected by them in a world of liars, charlatans, scammers, hostage-takers, people-smugglers, bullies, creeps and bogeymen, the laughter and tears of children?
“Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” Greta Thunberg.
If reality only exists in relation to unreality, who are we to question the unreal, we who are merely real?
“Both what I know about myself and what I do not know will therefore be my testimony to you, since what I know I have seen by your light, and what I do not know is from my own darknesses, not yet scattered by your noonday gaze…. So, though memory is in my memory when I remember remembering, both forgetting and remembering are in my memory when I remember forgetting—remembering that I forget, and forgetting what I once remembered.” St Augustine, Confessions, Book Ten.
News of Abliq’s terminal illness has begun circulating on social media.
Was he ever real? And what of those he has remembered, and forgotten? Is there a populist who can stimulate their regurgitation from his unconscious, put them back together again, make them feel real enough to survive him?
Where is the Moon real? Not the lump of rock, whose physical presence three or four hundred thousand kilometres away in the sky and tidal effects on Earth are real enough, or as real as we are. No, not that moon, but the Moon, the creature of antiquity, the voice of the heart, of human emergence from universal mind. Where does it survive NASA’s landing, and socially engineered equality, and exclusive religiosity, and populist claims of humanity’s responsibility for climate change, and Abliq’s rudimentary algorithms of solar and lunar position? Where is it safe from judgement and perfection, exploitation and habitation, logic and priority, identity and death? In Country, in short, where the Underworld is tangible, and secret business resonates as powerfully today as it did 50,000 years ago; in consciousness of the unconscious, seventy years of dreams of a lifespan transforming 13.8 billion years into occupied space; a space always and forever occupied by Abliq’s absence as the Other.
He doesn’t trust you. It’s not that your compassion is insincere, merely hollow, gratuitous. He doesn’t ask for it. He doesn’t need it. More than that, it’s no business of his what you think or feel about him, or, for that matter, what you believe would relieve human suffering, by eradicating inequality, poverty and disease or improving difficult relationships. That is not to say that his is not in any way a spiritual path. He may appear to have given up his calling, to be bent only on his next meal, fag-end and doss, but his experience in the body of mind no more disqualifies him from transformation and becoming than yours does.
The Vagabond as an archetype may look out of place, with his odiously soiled trousers in the Maccas queue, but his affinity with country is palpable. If you don’t look up, and it is very uncomfortable to do so, you are vividly aware of his luminescence bathing the sky down to the horizon in all directions, as though the cardinal directions have been extinguished, as in a painful separation, perhaps, and only one direction remains, the non-zenith. The body of the world radiates from the mind, or is it that mind is dissolved in its body?
Look Tela up on Google Maps. It is strikingly beautiful, and with the midnight moon in the zenith it seems lit for a photograph by a professional for a tourism brochure. The last thing you would be wondering if you were here is, ‘what’s over the horizon’. But although the Moon is giving any witness to its perfect syzygy a show worth the price of admission and more, it gives the impression it is gazing beyond the horizon, like an actor delivering lines beyond the footlights and the dark silhouettes of the audience. Who or what is this Vagabond? Is he an apparition from the Underworld, a dead man walking, wandering in our waking and sleeping unconscious like an alley-cat? Murakami’s untrademarked Commendatore, perhaps?
All the powerful figures in my life are women, which explains the genders I associate with Sun and Moon. It is a moot point whether selectively listening and mansplaining at New Moon is a less potent expression of masculinity than independent and vainglorious posturing at Full Moon. Also unclear is the extent to which the undeniable subjugation of women is voluntary, and such phenomena as the #MeToo ‘movement’ are less a force driving an emasculation of men than an overdue rejection of self-loathing.
The tropical Sign associated with Taurus is Gemini in the North, Sagittarius in the South. It is both, and neither. It carries its own myths, Mesopotamian, Greek and Indigenous. To be a ‘Taurus’ is to be struck by Taurus the Constellation, not Aries or Libra (in the South). Being stuck on someone or something was not long ago much easier to recognize than it is today. We all knew with vinyl technology what a speck of dust meant. At worst we could stop playing that album, which is what most people, especially women, mean by ‘let it go’ today, but a good anti-static cloth usually did the trick.
Needless to say, the Signs of the Zodiac are seasonal Sun Signs, of which the Moon makes what he can. Regarded as female in traditional western folklore, the Moon contests the Sun’s influence on growth and decay, and the tidal behaviour of rivers, seas and the fertility of women. Regardless of how cultures have chosen to identify with it, the Moon has always hotly contested the Sun as principal guide in the measure of time.
If we could prevail upon the Vagabond to speak, he would no doubt have an abundance of calamity and disappointment to share, and we would expect much of that to be about love. Perhaps he tries to illuminate the karma of his relationships with his gaze upon and beyond our horizon of time and place, but he is more likely rejoicing in his release from the constriction of our subjugation by the hormonal mysteries of the hours, which rewards him with a realization of time’s emptiness.
In the charts above and below, two perspectives of the moment of Full Moon are presented in detail which could easily be deduced from the Mercator projection presented above them, if we only knew how to tell the time. Embedded in equatorial relationship to the Constellations of the Zodiac, the bright stars of the Vagabond’s eternal return to promise and loss, among them the denizens of the Lunar Mansions of a number of traditions, move continuously around the clock of human madness: as the time of day in this instant increases to the east, by 2 hours every 30° of geographic longitude, so the (Meridian) Houses occupied by these subjects and their corresponding Signs as viewed from any location become the next 30° to the east. Conversely, a star transiting at the cusp of the Fourth House at any location appears at the cusp of the Third 30° to the west.
If the Moon is able to perceive the powerful female forces in his world not only at all hours of the day, waking to the daily activities from which he is displaced and keenly misses, or asleep in the underworld chambers of his heart, adored by others in this instant, giving him a glance at the horizon if at all, but also instantaneously in all the realms of the bardo engendered by the negative emotions, and if he does this in a dozen guises, waxing and waning throughout the year as the Sun cloaks her tender subjects in seasonal daylight and reveals them to us in the night sky, then we may have the answer to the question, who or what is the Vagabond: detached in time and place, practising the elimination of resentment and envy, absent from history, he embodies the emptiness of memory, the presence of non-existence, and country’s transcendence of identity. He doesn’t trust your ability to tell the time; he is idea, and so are you; he is looking for a smoke.
Incidentally, before we meet again, the Sun will commence its annual fording of Acheron, the River of Woe. The Vagabond anticipates a difficult rebirth there, but I trust you will notice nothing out of the ordinary.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. T.S.Eliot, Four Quartets.
It was just an offhand suggestion, and a trip I have made many times–just up the road, as my father would describe a ten-hour drive to Meekatharra–but I am prepared and packed, and the boys next door, who seemed to leap at the idea, are nowhere near ready and don’t seem at all perturbed. If we don’t leave soon, we’ll get there in the middle of the night!
Just doing a last check, patting my wallet, as it were, I discover I don’t have my phone. Where is it? Not there, or there … when did I last have it? Something strange is beginning to happen to me: I can’t for the life of me remember when I last had it! Instead of running around in circles like a mad thing, just remember what you were doing when you had it last. I can’t. I’m like a little boy: I just can’t.
In England, visiting my dying stepfather, and realizing Mum’s unpreparedness was the real reason they had paid for the trip, I read her the funny letter in her magazine which proved she wasn’t the only one. When people get older, they spend a lot of time thinking about the hereafter. Going from one room to the other, they ask themselves, what am I here after? Boredom is the soul of relativity.
The boys arrive, and I’m distraught. This isn’t supposed to happen. Without my phone, I’ll be as helpless as they, who’ve never been before, will be. The woman steps in, and makes a call. Next minute I’m talking to Sue, from the insurance, who doesn’t think this is at all unusual, and will furnish me, right now, with a temporary replacement, run me through it, help me with police statements if necessary. She’s very calming, but deep down, I know chaos: I can’t remember anything! I’ve checked every pair of trousers I own, every jacket, outside and inside pockets, even though I wouldn’t have been wearing any of them: I was at work. Ah!
It’s all a bit of a dream. Will the charger for this phone work in my car? Is this my car? Is my charger in it? Which car are we taking? Why are we going down Rathdowne St? Sue is so nice. She doesn’t have a customer service manner, just seems to be intimate with everything I’m not. Did I check my taxi uniform? Should we go back? Sure enough, the taxi depot guy has a carton with my stuff in it, the contents of a shift, including my phone and charger and paperwork not done. The owner sits in the back. Not the end of the world, seems to be his attitude.
Did I get robbed, I ask. The cab’s fine. Was it a blow on the head? Getting my phone back doesn’t solve anything. The past is blank.
What would it be like to turn ritual inside out? If people didn’t begin to grow up until they were old enough for their children to look after them? If habit and expertise were an exoskeleton and experience and meaning a dream? If the law was a ceremony made of sign-posts? Does a priest have someone to upgrade his phone plan? How would priests like it if people spoke to each other as they do to priests? What if there were a woman to take charge for every Imam, she proceeding on his journey while he lived in another world, incompetent, asleep? What if reality were only a five percent swing away and twitterbots were hacking practice in kindergarten? What if I were a murnong in a sheep run and kangaroos ruled the world?
What will happen about the replacement phone? It’s ok, the woman explains, you’ve made the minimum four calls, and that waives the formalities. It’s my cab we’re going to drop it off in. I recognize it, but the day-driver doesn’t seem as though he’s ever driven before. At the lights, he starts bashing that bit of unstuck moulding on the dash with a steel rod from my carton, wrecking the cab in front of the owner. The boys are laughing and talking with him in another language.
And now we’re in Brunswick Rd, at the construction, and he’s missed the detour that sticks out like dog’s balls and driven straight into the fenced yard. Blithely, he backs out into a wall of oncoming traffic. Look over your shoulder, I tell him, like a supervisor. He doesn’t. Miraculously, there is no impact, and we’re on our way to the airport. The owner and I exchange the sign of the finger across the throat.
Life is a journey: Carlton to Tullamarine with a cabbie who puts personality into his driving, because you know the way; Tullamareena’s journey as mainmet through hostile countryafter release for not understanding English; Chinese journeys from Cooktown to the Palmer River goldfield terminating in the fork of an ironbark hung by the pigtail for ‘Ron; Airlie Beach to Cooktown intersecting with 350,000 comfortable daily trajectories; A Day Out With Thomas ten days ago with two fledgling migrant train-driver apprentices from Melbourne. All a dream. A recharge of the phone.
I wonder what I’ll be when I grow up? A statue of Captain Cook, or the last Orange-Bellied Parrot. I want to be unique, doing something nobody’s heard of, and be really good at it. I want my own space, but where everybody is always happy. Perhaps I can discover that I’m an ugly duckling, a gorgeous swan to cuckold Tyndareus, or model bikinis with my tip-tilted breasts. Could I possibly continue in the direction my journey has led me thus far? I can’t seem to find it. Have my opportunities dried up like shingles at low-tide, or are there as many as there always were, but now they’re disconnected from forgotten dreams? Why is every upturned face so vacant? Over the hills and far away … I wish I had stored Sue’s number. With her I could keep going. She makes empty country benign. She’s the Centre. She’s an original.
Only one member of the Burke and Wills Expedition, John King, made the return to Melbourne. The others died, but King was cared for by some Yandruwandha people. While searching for the missing expedition along the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1862, William Landsborough buried some supplies in the hope the missing explorers might find them, and carved the word, ‘Dig’ into the trunk of a eucalypt. The tree was Heritage listed, but destroyed by ‘vandals’ in 2002. By the time King died, inland Australia was crawling with whitefellas and their cattle.