Category: Writer in Residence — Published:
This is the second in a new series of texts by Whitechapel Gallery Writer in Residence Sophia Al-Maria (b. 1983), an artist, writer and filmmaker based in London.
“We live now with chaos and intensity. There is just so much out there to see and to witness and to hear,” Grandmother Flordemaya says. 
The following is a version of a text read at an event on July 12, 2018.
We began with a bag that was a body.
Now let’s pick out a seed, the head.
That chambered germ by which we breed vision.
A night of Silent sitting and hard willing won’t sprout this.
First we must take the medicine: by root, by bud, by cap or by blossom.
Now we harvest the pods of red-feathered poppies.
The petals detach from their stems and leave hollow hulls rattling with skull-faced beads, mouths leaking a hungry treacle.
A sap what whispers slithersome and low – suck me. Suck me. Suckkkk.
The black sap we burn to smoke and apply of vapour to the squinting soul.
A soul. That thing without wings that flies.
A soul that flies far up to ‘blue-rafters’. The place where the air cracks a green and a yellow.
The witch lights visible only to the earthbound astronaut.
The seven-layered, seven-tiered stratosphere – that great Salomé. The one with the trick of the wavelength that keeps the universe faceless in the day.
Revealing of self only at night.
To those whose loves linger behind the stars.
To those who boast they fear nothing.
To those lonesome ones who go searching the extremities of night.
I am giving this head to you.
[Above from Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros (1775)]
“You have a gift.” I say.
“A golden tongue”
A wicked grin from Aries Rising, ‘I have always scored highly in oral tests.’
We talk of how the Chalice Well sits over the heart chakra of the planet.
But there is something the matter here.
Something about the pitch of the Aries’ voice and the angle of the sun.
The solar plexis is not aligned.
The truth partially eclipsed.
The moon in reverse.
The root prolapsed.
A vocal coach once told me that a voice can be tuned to the chakras.
When one awakens from sleep or speaks postcoital, the voice sits close to the sacral throne, hovering above the root.
You know the lusty tone, that gutter-wench rasp.
The kind we enjoy when the sore throat begins to heal in just the right way.
Coach worked with an actor who had a bad and public divorce, and their voice sat high in the throat for days and days of a shoot.
A nervy piggish squeal.
And when coach got it to lower past the heart – the coachee burst into tears.
“The seat of the pain is directly linked to the space of the wound.” They say.
So why then, does Aries, and for that matter a large portion of the rest of the American population, speak so loudly from the nasal cavity?
If coach’s theory is right – it must be some blunt trauma to the head.
What pain rests so close to the brain?
An indigo throb on the furrowed brow?
The place where the third eye would sprout from a pineal seed?
Iris flexing, it blinks on the end of a freshly erect stalk.
Perhaps we just gotta amputate the whole head.
Total body transplant.
That’s a thing, right?
Now imagine Salomé, the sky-born, the seven-veiled, child of Herod and Herodias, sat astride that famous scowling face.
The bear beard gawping up grey from a silver platter.
She strides over him. She stoops to conquer.
Gold bangles chime at the ankle.
She looks down.
There all akimbo – John the Baptist’s body without chakras.
He would have had a very high and holy voice indeed.
That full body castrati.
That day I dream of removing the Aries’s head at the neck and grasping the curved horns that sprout from a scalp of bleached shag – applying the wagging tongue to the flower of my universe until we both cease in rigor on a bed of jewel-eyed snakes.
They squeeze the shuddering muscles of our limbs and lick the empty air.
And I look lovingly down into those fading eyes and sing the unspeakable.
“Do you know Passionflowers got their name from missionaries? When they arrived in the Americas they thought the sepals and petals of the passionflower were the disciples. And they thought the corona of filaments was the halo around Christ’s head and that the stamens were symbols for the nails of the crucifixion the styles were Roman whips.”
“Oh, word. I just love them because they look like DMT mandalas.”
The kind you see on a vision quest.
Wandering deep into the opal desert.
The kind of desert Father Pedro Font wandered into in the year 1775.
He was a chaplain accompanying the expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza across the deserts of Southern California.
The Jesuit had a vivid imagination and described many wonders in a diary of the journey west. Not so far from the place a one named Turiya would found an Ashram two centuries later.
Font wrote of two-headed eagles. Of a Tarantula leaping out of a bush to bite off the hoof of a horse. Real trippy shit.
He also wrote this advice to the wanderer bitten by a rattlesnake:
“Hold the head and tail firmly. The victim of the snakebite then bites the snake. At this point something remarkable happens. The patient does not swell, but the snake does, monstrously so, until it bursts.”
The boiled brain of the missionary has a primal logic to it and this description is more than a little erotische, don’tcha think?
Father Pedro Font’s description of the snake is laden with a very Christian view of the serpent: a sexualized demon. The ultimate other. Beheaded mother.
Like Medusa – that gorgon – whose head is the seat of everything abject and abominable. Everything in the unknowable, uncolonizable us.
The anima so alien to the animus.
Like Hypatia – that Neoplatonist astronomer – whose brain was the seat of precious knowledge and whose body was dismembered by a mob of Christian monks.
Now imagine being a celibate accompanying that party of young soldiers sweating testosterone and fucking their way through Sierra Nevada.
“Among the women I saw men dressed like women. Later I understood that they were sodomites …There will be much to do when the Holy Faith is established among them.”
And indeed – Catholicism was coming with brutal, colonial force.
Twenty-one missions were raised in a chain what they called Alta California. And the native population of the Paiut, Sierra Miwok, Washu and Kawaiisu tribes would be forced into “Reductions”, proto reservations where their traditions were forcibly erased in a violent evangelism enforced by whipping, maiming, burning, rape and other tortures enacted by the friars.
The defenders rebelled several times against their oppressors, in one instance burning nearly all of the buildings of Mission La Purísima in Santa Ynez. The protest was attributed to the collective horror of the enslaved after the public “flogging of a La Purísima neophyte”.
They have no grave.
We will never know their name.
Never know the name so that we may say it.
So that we may say their name.
Say their names.
Here is Solange at the Met Gala 2018.
Note the pleasing pun of the do-rag halation.
The Giger-stripes in ribbed rubber drawn back like lily lips around those sheathed stamens. (Gag)
I would describe this look as supreme.
Alien from some extra terrestrial diosece.
Again, giving the bene gesserit sisterhood.
It’s faultless and all.
But what shocks me on this day the first Monday of May.
Is that no one. Not even a one as supposedly woketh as a Knowles.
Considers in their wear – the atrocity of Catholicism.
The horrors wrought in the name of the church.
And how there on the grand steps in the center of bead-bought Manhattan.
The legacy of Colonialsm (and so slavery and so genocide) is being celebrated.
Like so many Catholic things – simultaneously occulted from view and magnificently on display.
Even Madonna has lost the will to make the slightest punk gesture, instead self flagellating with what Hollywood has turned into the ultimate sin: mortality. Age shaming her out of existence. And what are all these vampire facials. Micro needling. Laser burns. Chryo freezing. And all the other abrasive practices if not self harm on a cellular level.
At least Rihanna has the decency to lightly transgress. She desecrates the papacy by cross-dressing as the pope. Twitter screams, “Disgusting!” “Insensitive!” “Offensive!”
A Business Insider headline shouts “Rihanna as Pope at Met Gala 2018 shows the double standard of cultural appropriation”.
“So you can’t wear a Native American outfit for Halloween because it’s offensive, but Rihanna can dress like the Pope and she gets praised (???).”
Who wants to talk about the Catholic Church in the Carribean? Chattle slavery on Barbadan sugar plantations and the beginning of the TransAtlantic slave trade?
The first extensive shipment of black Africans to make good the shortage of native slaves was initiated at the request of Bishop Las Casas in 1517 and authorized by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it @HollywoodDeplorables.
Here is a Description of an Imaginary Look for
Met Gala 2018 Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.
First I would flay my own face back to reveal fleisch glam realness.
To complete the look I would apply Aztec gold as highlights on my cheek bones (literally).
Rubies and sapphire can be mixed to draw attention to any other protuberant bits of skull and also teeth.
A custom scalp-piece made from the bald pates of celibate missionaries with trimmings of armadillo leather, beaver fur and Amazon parrot feathers would pin the full flay in place.
As a nod to the inquisition tactic of slicing female heretic’s breasts off – I would have a seamless double mastectomy. In belated solidarity. But solidarity nonetheless with my muslim, jewish, pagan, Blackfoot, Igbo, Yeruba and Yaqui sisters nonetheless.
This would allow me to fill the sack-cloth and small-poxed gown out nicely with a spreading blossom of blood.
I don’t normally do backless but this time I wanted to show off the festering brand rising in the shape of a squash blossom. Now my nostrils no longer exist, the open sores allow for the application of cocaine to numb the pain.
I really want the wound to be the centerpiece, you know?
Finally, I would opt for a rusty nail borne through each foot rather than a more traditional stiletto. Bring a little hobble chic to the stigmata show.
After all what is a red carpet for if not to absorb blood?
Go ask Agamemnon.
Now speaking of blood.
Aunt Flo finally came back to town.
Menopause was paused.
For a few decades Leo hoped.
She was given injections to chemically induce middle age.
It was a treatment usually given to men with prostate cancer. It’s called Lupron. Leo joked it was a vaccine for lycanthropy.
She carried the expensive and uninsurable silver bullets with her around the globe. Once a month on the full moon she lay across the lap of Gemeni and let him find a place to insert the syringe. She felt the cold flush of the drug spreading then spent the year sweating through her sheets, snapping her brittle jaws at the slightest annoyance and growing hair in interesting new places.
All of this hormonal violence to prevent her womb lining from colonizing other organs in her body while she recovered from the hip-to-hip surgery to remove parts of her reproductive organs and excise the invasion on her bladder and bowel.
It is a chronic disease once referred to by the medical establishment as ‘the wandering womb’. A thing still shrouded in mystery. The cause remaining unknown. Severe cases have shown the endometrium to have migrated somehow to the brain.
They opened Leo’s pelvis hip to hip.
When she awoke she was in heaven: America, where opiates are on tap.
The morphine drip was pure, cool delight.
Leo pressed the button and got a gush straight into a swolled up dorsal vein
She knew this luxury couldn’t last.
After half a day they took it away from her.
A nurse came in to remove her burning cathater against her will. Leo fought her.
She turned on the TV to distract herself. The Royal Wedding was on. Her mouth was parched and the drugs were wearing off. William and Kate perform a chaste, dry kiss. This happened at the precise moment Nurse won the battle. Searing pain and piss forever marked the imperial snog for her.
Later, when they changed the bandage on her belly – she looked down to see a swollen lipped grin from hip-to-hip, staples like teeth smiling up at her. Some kind of lateral vagina dentate.
Libra took a photo of it for her to send to Gemeni. She thought it was disgusting. But from the morphine mist Leo just felt like she was thirst trapping from the bedpan.
At this juncture Leo was adrift in the universe. She had no viable home, income or relationship. She was wild and frightened. A lamed animal at the edge of a camp’s light. Hoping to be saved from suffering. This is how she was when Gemeni turned away from the fire and saw her there in the dark – waiting.
She had nothing to trade. Nothing but this sad sack of flesh. And all she had to show was her wound. A freshly cut opening to her body. A floral pattern made of flesh. A blossoming, brutal bruise.
One which marked almost to the day – the beginning of them: Gem and Leo.
Their love turned into a powerful drug. One extracted from this first bloss-oming of new flesh and of new feeling. When they finally met in person they did not part again.
Gemeni sent a bouquet to Leo’s mother’s house: pollen red and stamens dripping.
Gemeni tried to teach her French: ‘Baise-moi! j’suis pas ta mère!’
Gemeni picked out a lipstick color for her: Poppy.
I’m a new person now. Living a life I never imagined. A surreal one. A decadence.
Last Thursday I am sat beside a supermodel in pyjamas.
They ask me for a light. I oblige.
Cheekbones emerge from the dark to lean into my Bic flame. Slimline Menthol like a white snake’s tongue.
Their head is skull-like in the dim smoking section of this club. It floats above the layers of floral printed flannel. A magnum of Veuve Cliquot clenched between their legs like a huge glass erection.
“Ugh. Fucking periods.” This is meant for no one in particular.
So I gamble with a random and untrue statement about the champagne.
“Did you know that Veuve Cliquot actually means Widow’s Period?”
The beauteous bulb-eyes widen.
“That’s amaaaazing. So like, I’m drinking a Widow’s period! Hot!”
They start spreading this rumor to the French people who are with the group.
I start doubting my grasp of the language.
I realize I’ve confused the word Cliquot and Coquelicot or Papaver rhoeas
the common red poppy and French slang for menses.
I finish my cigarette and back away from the stump-browed icon in the rose-covered jamas. Huddled in a toilet stall I cringe over my mistake in google translate.
Turns out that ‘flowers’ was a common medieval vernacular to most European languages for menstruation, and even the Beng culture in the Cote d’Ivoire believe menstrual blood is like the flowering of a tree preparing to bear fruit.
Hildegard of Bingen used the metaphor too, “…just as a tree flowers in its floridity and sends forth branches and fruit so the female extrudes flowers from the viridity of the streams of menstrual blood and produces branches in the fruit of her womb.”
I don’t know about you, but there is nothing floral about my menses.
But if I had to classify it – a carnivorous blossom in the Paleotropical Kingdom seems right. Something more like the Nepethes villosa than a Papaver rhosas.
A grotesque and bloated organ of death whose secretion gives psychedelic visions to numb the pain of the victim.
It is an extra terrestrial looking flower. Red vegetation. As if the rays of our Sun were casting a very different kind of light and photosynthesis relied on different colors altogether.
It is an externalized organ heavy and complex: an orchid embedded in stone, a secret whispered into bone, the beaded member of a crone.
In 2004 “The Case for an All-Female crew to Mars” was published.
It argued that menstruating women actually have an advantage in space, since menstruating causes women to lose iron and astronauts often experience an excess of iron levels which can be “extremely toxic because it is conducive to high oxidative stress.”
Just imagine that!
A free bleed in outer space.
Letting blossom your flower of the universe.
A women-only crew of homo sapien colonizers.
Would the outcome be different to the male-only crews of ships bound for the New World?
The interest in homoeroticism of Francescan missionary diarists in the Sierra Nevada comes to mind.
Those ships would have been heavy with the nihilism of the unknowable, the eroticism that arises again and again when one is placed in close proximity to death.
A desperation to fuck and be fucked. One. Last. Time.
There would have been ample excuse for orgies in the darkness below deck.
Like a 16th century locker room, bodies taught with hard labor and sphincters loose having emptied the sea-sick bowels.
There’s an artist I know who shot videos in the bowels of the Whitechapel men’s toilets over ten years ago. We met in on a Pacific beach. The videos have a beapiecesutiful underwater quality, as if shot by a scuba diver. Is this what the piss-side of the ships were like on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria?
“Why don’t we send monks and nuns into space?” Aries Rising suggests.
“The ship could be called ‘The Celibate’.”
“Haa! The mission would be a missionary one.”
We ask other questions of each other.
At what point does a colonizer change from being invasive to indigenous?
When is the event horizon of conception?
When does life start?
With the bee’s pollen sacs filling to brim?
With the stamens pumping their intoxicating precum from their lily tips?
With the seeds wind-blown and landing in the soft, moistened, cleft of soil?
And where does our colonial compulsion come from?
The same seat of the straight male erotic imagination?
To penetrate the unknown?
I am convinced on some level that this is it.
According to a secret report by NASA – it was believed that all-female crews would have been better than all-male, the report is said to have concluded, due to women’s superior cooperation skills.
NASA reported that such a crew makeup would stop ‘impure thoughts’.
I guess NASA didn’t realize – we are all queer in space.
Our vaginal flora as fecund and healthy without men as the namaquan moss in the shimmer, the new worlds can be penetrated only by crews of all-women.
On the morning of Sade’s first appearance on Top of the Pops she was living in a squat in Tottenham.
The toilet was out on the balcony and froze up in cold weather. Before going down to meet the limousine which would take her to the studio, Sade had to suffer the sudden indignity of going to the toilet in a bucket behind a balustrade overlooked by her chauffeur.
I think about this anecdote all the time.
How even pop stars get the squits.
And how someday your body will betray you, too.
Speaking of going to the toilet in a bucket.
Let’s talk about Trotula. The mysterious woman said to have been a gynaecologist in 11th century Salerno.
Here is the image google associates with her.
A nude woman in a medicinal bath. Hair in turban.
She’s kind of giving me Marat.
In fact, she looks a little like Charlotte Corday.
Marat’s beheaded assassin.
Uncanny, steady eyes.
A darkness at the crown of the head.
A darkness, like the blossoming boils on Marat’s diseased body. Lying in state in a cloak of incense to disguise the stench. The Marquis soliloquizing the martyred saint and demanding the beheading of the comely Girondist.
But I’m getting a head of things.
This book’s medical and healing teachings were cumulative knowledge transferred via the Arabs who in turn had saved the forbidden plant technology of the ancients.
These are collected and translated into English. Allow me to share a passage with you:
“The womb is tied to the brain by nerves and so it is necessary that the brain suffer with the womb. Whence if the womb has within itself excessive humidity, from this the brain is filled flowing to the eyes, forcing them involuntarily to emit tears. And because the brain suffers with the womb, the sign of this is mental distress of the woman.
Therefore first of all let her be purged with Theodoricon euporiston.
“Recipe for Theodoricon euporiston. This is also made for phlegmatic flux, which sometimes causes loss of voice. Take one and half drams of spikenard, costmary, mastic, hazelwort, silphium, squill, asafetida, bdellium, dodder, polypody, wild cabbage juice and white and long pepper; two scruples each of camel grass, wormwood, long aristolochia, felwort, and poppy.
Poppy. The secret ingredient.
It is given morning and evening. Three drams with warm wine. If she becomes thirsty you will know she is well.”
Will you please REPEAT 3 x w me.
“If she becomes thirsty you will know she is well.”
“If she becomes thirsty you will know she is well.”
She was not thirsty.
She was not well.
Nothing passed the lips of Alice in the days after John passed. Left in a reservoir of silence, hallucinations came to visit the widow Coltrane.
Grief, like love – is a drug.
They had known each other for five years, been lovers for four, been married for two. And yet however brief the flowering spring of their love, fecund with offspring both musical and human. They were walking towards an abyss hand in hand. Approaching deep space time – a cosmological territory inaccessible to most.
A love supreme.
Between 1968 and 1970 she experienced a spiritual awakening which led her to Vedic religion. She became Swamini Turiyasangitananda.
An epic journey began, a rite of passage towards a new world.
She wrote Monument Eternal.
She made World Galaxy.
Here is the artwork by Peter Max. Remember that name please.
We’ll need to come back to it.
A person in profile sprouts blossoms of colour from the forehead.
The figures of Icarus and Daedalus are swift in the sky.
Tiny blue stars dance above an ocean.
Alice’s hair is natural and windblown
Tousled in the godhead’s pineal sigh.
Matron saint of astral travel.
This is the one who opened an ashram outside of Los Angeles at a time when the youth of the ‘west’ were seeking gurus.
Now. We know that conversion is the favorite tool of colonialism. Conversion to consumerism was America’s 20th century soft power gambit. And oh how it has worked out well.
In the hands of another an American musician’s adoption of sacred Hindu music would be cultural appropriation.
However Alice was not the oppressor. Her mode of engaging with the music was not to turn it into capital like the Beatles. No. Only a one like Alice who had experienced the full prismatic range of being human could pull that off.
Through mortification of the flesh and mind, Alice attained.
Turiya who sat at such a height that all we deem tragic or terrifying could appear as insignificant as the prick of a rose.
Alice, who astral projected forward and backwards in time. Who saw the spirits of her siblings floating above their sleeping bodies like flags in the wind. Who moved into a twin, a third, a fourth and even a final etheric body to scare the family dog. This fifth experience she calls the most supreme and subtle of all, an Absolute Manifest Formlessness which is “irrefutably unrefutable”.
Casting, casting, like Alice-Turiya finds her own past life in Egypt as a boy-child of Ptolomy II, who she watches die of cystic fibrosis until she sees him “in the post-mortem condition – regal and majestic – head cast back like a little king.” Although there are statues of a Ptolomy III, they are of an adult. No monument exists to this lost link but Alice Coltrane’s memory.
Now Monument Eternal suggests that in order to experience enlightenment – Alice had first to pass through profound suffering.
No one is burdened with the weight and no one is forced to endure more on this plane at this time in this light – than black women. But what this means is that no one is more capable of achieving that highest ecstasy.
Turiya knew this, Turiya who bore celestial millennia to invite us into eternity.
Who gave us a love supreme.
In Arabic, Turiya (or Thuraya) is the name of the Pleiades – an open star cluster containing middle-aged, hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus.
It’s also the name of this person from Casablanca.
Touria Chaoui – Morocco’s first aviatrix.
At 13 years old, Touria Chaoui was cast in a fantasy film called La Septième Porte. A fairy tale about a young pauper who is given the keys to a palace and the instruction to never open the seventh gate. Of course, the pauper opens the forbidden door and crosses the threshold of no return, the event horizon of the narrative, and is punished for the sin of curiosity.
After The Seventh Gate, Touria began to have flying dreams.
Her father enrolled her in aviation school in 1950.
This was a school reserved for the French occupying forces in Morocco. It was not for Moroccans and most certainly not for Moroccan women. The school in Tit Millil did everything to deter her.
However, because there was no legislation explicitly preventing her from enrolling, they reluctantly accepted her application and hoped she would lose interest and give up.
But she did not.
And instead she became the first Moroccan pilot.
At fifteen. She was photographed and celebrated around the world.
But this was not the image of Moroccan youth that the French wanted broadcast.
They used the ‘oppression of Muslim women’ as an excuse to justify their presence in their colonies.
This is a rhetoric still in use today.
You see, Touria was free. Freer than most white men.
And that must have stung.
Pulling free from gravity.
Little Icarus ben Chaoui.
Curious to see what lay beyond the seventh gate of heaven.
One morning when Touria had turned 19 years old, she was taxing her plane on the runway when a sniper shot her in the head.
A flight, a life, an alternative history aborted.
Here is the crowd who carried her – men who celebrated her – now sore of heart.
And there is Touria’s body shrouded in white cotton embroidered with a starburst of wild flowers.
A martyr and a hero to these, her supposed oppressors.
Although Touria’s assassin was never identified it is widely believed that the killing was carried out by the French, whose campaign of clandestine terror against anti-colonialists was in full swing. This was the third and final attempt on Touria’s life, the first having been a bomb on the doorstep of her home planted by a Colon and the second by two French policemen who attempted to shoot her down.
Falling from the sky became more common after Touria’s death.
The Battle of Algiers had begun between the FLN and French Algerian authorities. The 10th Parachute Division were dropping Algerians from planes in death flights. Sending them hurtling towards the open mouth of death.
I have never understood the compulsion to jump out of a plane.
But perhaps I’m just not curious enough.
Curiosity, the cat killer – the original flicker, the flint spark fire under our ancestor’s asses, telling them to keep going – just to see what is around the next hill or past the next patch of forest.
I will never be the kind of person who skydives or volunteers for a Mission to Mars. I’m no Valentina Tereshkova.
No Svetlana Savitskaya.
No Sally Ride. No Naoko Yamazaki. No Mae Jemison.
This is an astronaut – Mae Jemison. The first black woman in outer space hovers or dances above the earth.
And this is a Tarot card – the World. The last woman in the Major Arcana hovers or dances above the earth.
Jemison’s Wikipedia page is fascinating.
It veers between her first school project about pus to her walking runways at New York Fashion Week to the story of Jemison experiencing police brutality in Nassau Bay, Texas when an officer named Henry Hughes pulled her over and forced her to the ground in a violent arrest.
Can you believe?
A one so mighty she escaped the earth’s gravitational pull.
And yet also so weak she ends up smashed to the ground by a cowardly Texan cop.
I don’t know what to say.
Except change of tectonic breadth is coming.
No more will The World be tackled by The Fool.
These two cards in an eternal chase – they are the only two cards in the Major Arcanum in which the figures are dynamically in motion. The Fool (O) is the opening and the World (XXI) is the ending of the progression of Trumps.
In most tarot games the Fool has a unique role. In these games, the Fool is sometimes called “the Excuse” – a form of upper hand.
But there is no excuse anymore.
Remove the jokers from the deck.
Wild cards don’t belong in this game.
Put them to sleep face down forever.
Face down like No-Face of the Oneida legend. A great but conceited beauty whose vanity was punished by the erasure of her face.
“…Twilight dimmed the world to blue green haze. Shining rainbow bridge winked out beneath No Face’s feet. As her despairing grasp fell short of the entrance ledge, down … down toward earth mother she began to whirl. In that sickening descent of spinning sky, careening stars, there loomed before her a bad dream of screaming black fury, ravenous gaping mouth, flashing yellow eyes, cruel paws wide apart, surely closing upon her.”
Lately I have been having flying dreams. But I can say with a certain amount of certainty that I will never make it to the stratosphere.
However, there is one situation I might consider a free-fall to swing out over earth in a skydive.
Springtime over Namaqualand.
The desert that blooms with impossible flowers.
The valley place where we began.
Where Australopithecus, the first hominid looked up.
Drawn up to stand skyward.
Turning away from the flowers to face the universe.
And for what?
Flower power was a colonial project.
And the hippies betrayed us at the dawning of the age of Aquarius.
The perfect example of this betrayal is this sentence from the artist Peter Max: “Max synthesized the “Summer of Love” into artworks from canvas to mugs, clocks, scarves, clothes, and cruise ships.”
The Wikipedia goes on to state this: “A master of Pop Art, he is the official portrait artist for the Statue of Liberty and welcome banners at the U.S. Ports of Entry.” An incredible irony.
Here is a painting glorifying the arrival of genocide to the Americas. And look, there in the right hand side of the image. Europe is en fugue on the right, garlanded with old world flowers. He shuts his eyes and breathes deep from the pollen of unknowing, of forgetting, of occulting.
Because what is about to happen is a cosmic crime.
Max painted many album covers. Including this one. He has painted several “commemorative paintings” to celebrate this person’s success.
Why Max finds her so worthy of these Technicolor devotionals is strange to me.
Perhaps like many white men, he worships her. She who is hailed as a goddess by Neo- Nazis. She who experiences visions, whose music comes to her in dreams. Just like Alice. The title song on this album came from a dream in which one of her ex- boyfriends married another girl.
From Wikipedia: “To her, this signaled that she had to compose a song about interrupting a wedding.”
“I sneak in and see your friends
And her snotty little family, all dressed in pastel
And she is yelling at a bridesmaid
Somewhere back inside a room
Wearing a gown shaped like a pastry”
These are not the lyrics of a person who has any comprehension of love. These are the lyrics of an emotional flatlander, while little Willow Smith’s over here leaving her soul in the 6th dimension.
Don’t give me that hippy bullshit.
A group of Colombian ‘witches’ promised Leo many things about visiting El Chocó.
Gucci hippy bullshit things.
“The plants glow!” They say. “It’s just like being in Avatar.” They say.
Leo should have known better from the way they spoke with such easy authority on behalf of indigenous cultures they fetishized, on behalf of the medicine they promised her and the ‘natural remedies’ and cosmetics they peddled from the Amazon.
“It’s where humpback whales go to give birth.” They said. “You can hear them when you dip your head beneath the waves.”
Leo downloads a thing or two about Chocó to read on the little propeller plane out of Medellin.
“In 1945 the department of El Chocó was created; it was the first predominantly African political-administrative division. El Chocó gave African people the possibility of building an African territorial identity and some autonomous decision-making power.
In 1851 the life of the African Colombians was very difficult. African Colombians were forced to live in jungle areas as a mechanism of self-protection. There, they learned to have a harmonious relationship with the jungle environment and to share the territory with Colombia’s indigenous.
From 1851, the Colombian State promoted the ideology of mestizaje, or miscegenation. So in order to maintain their cultural traditions, many Africans and indigenous peoples went deep into the isolated jungles. Afro-Colombians and indigenous people were, and continue to be, the targets of the armed actors who want to displace them in order to take their lands.”
Leo’s unease begins to grow. Shouldn’t she have looked all of this up before?
When she gets to the beach, there is a half-feral pack of bloodhounds, growling and mating and mauling endangered species beneath her hammock in the night. These were bred as “tools of surveillance and fear, helping to annihilate indigenous populations and solidify the expansion of American capitalism through slavery.”
Perhaps it’s a sick sense of irony that attracted the owner Miguel – a person who is the progeny of escaped survivors of slavery – to start breeding them in the first place.
To pass the time Leo reads Lilith’s Brood and drinks a moonshine that could strip paint. Someone tells her how Usnavi is a common name around here – people named after the boats seen from the shore going down the Pacific corridor to Cali.
“Usnavi.” “USNavy? Gettit?”
Leo gets burnt through the clouds. The sun only comes out at sunset. It was around that time of day when Leo saw a strange object appear in the sky.
Some real Fox Mulder shit.
A spinning pyramid as big as a two-story house.
It is descending slowly towards the water. The size of the object only becomes apparent when it lands on the horizon line and begins to sink. But not before a fishing boat gives a glimpse of its size.
A figure comes down the beach silhouetted by the low light. They stop to see what Leo is looking at and exclaim.
“Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that. And I’ve lived here 20 years.”
“But what is it?” Leo asks.
“Alien developers coming to colonize Chocó with resorts.”
After about a week the witches have started to get bored and cranky and take it out on the locals. They tell Miguel one of his staff is stealing Euros. Leo is horrified when the Afro-Colombian staff are made to pay this Euro-Colombian in what little pesos they have.
These witches are the worst.
Leo asks to leave.
She wants to give the staff the remaining money she has for the trip and just leave.
But she is stuck.
No boat will come for another week.
The Coca she is chewing is dry like dull butterfly wings. She keeps a lob in the corner of her mouth all day. She decides to try to meditate her way out of proximity.
She sits on the beach and shuts her eyes and casts herself back like Alice to her own previous life in Egypt. Not as an ancient Pharoah but just as a younger Leo on a beach nothing like this one.
She was very young with another Aries.
They got along. Shared a suite of five senses.
Their reality was consensual and so was their sex.
One night Aries went out into the dark and returned with a thick smudge of opium.
Leo had never even smoked a cigarette or partaken of an alcoholic beverage at this point in her life. She considered herself god-curious although her religious streak was fading like an old scar.
She lay beneath a blanket of stars, phosphorescent plankton foaming up the shore. Never would she walk on the earth the same after that night. A door had been opened. A blossom was blooming. A peony. A passionflower. A poppy.
She comes around from a nod to an annoying sound drawing her out.
A little ways down the beach a drum circle is going on in the camp of members of the global ‘Rainbow Tribe’.
She hasn’t seen them but she’s heard them for days. Israelis and Europeans drumming through the night as if this land were theirs.
“Shut up with the hippy bullshit!” she pleads to the sky and rolls over to Aries who lies splayed out. “Want me to make them go away?” “Yeah.” Aries buries his head between her legs, humming to Leo like a pollen seeking bee.
“Ifta7iya Warda” He sings.
“Open ya flower.” They giggle at the reference to a childhood song.
He breaths into the flower of her universe and Leo doesn’t move again.
Now bloodhounds bring her back to her body in Choco nearly 20 years later.
Snuffling all over her, dull and automatic with their thick, ranging snouts. Leo usually loves dogs but these ones disturb her. It’s the insect emptiness of their eyes. It’s the hollow hunger.
Fear rises like bile in Leo’s throat.
And she feels in that moment with absolute ‘irrefutably unrefutable’ clarity that these beasts want to rip her guts out and that if she were lying here wounded – they would.
She thinks of how if she were an exhausted indigenous or African person not so very long ago – they wouldn’t even wait to smell her blood.
And she feels deep body sick.
She realizes that even looking at the muscular grey surge of Pacific ocean is making her dizzy. That she can physically feel the lunar pull on her cells. That she can literally hear a storm coming and it’ll be hours before its arrival.
And finally, she can smell the heat of what the bitches want in her belly.
And Leo realizes that she’s pregnant.
That night she stays up by candlelight reading Lilith Iyapo accusing the Oankali of manipulating her and she falls apart, “You’re going to set me up as their mother? Then put me back to sleep, dammit . . . I never wanted this job!”
As she finally leaves, she watches some newly arrived tourists come walking down the beach from the boat. She wonders if they came to experience Avatar on earth too.
It would take the flower of her universe a long time to respond to touch again.
A Native American craft fair is on in Cahokia
“Have you ever seen a squash blossom necklace?” A one with grey braids asks.
They point to the crescent moon.
“This is called the ‘Naja’ by the Navajo. When the moors rode out of the east with Salahedin, they used it as a bridle to protect from the evil eye. The moors taught the Spanish who taught the Mexicans who taught the Navajo. Neat. Eh?”
I tell greybraid about Salahedin’s mausoleum in Damascus. And that, funnily enough, that same Great Mosque contains the head of John the Baptist.
Grey braid’s eyes light now. “Oh yes. I’ve been there. I met my wife in Damascus.” “What? No way!” “Hippy trail.”
“That must have been fun!”
“Well. We were doing a lot of drugs back then…” and as if to reassure me greybraid adds. “Of course, we’re Christians now.”
I leave greybraid to wander the mounds of Cahokia. This grassy knoll was once pre-Colombian city. In the 13th century it was a larger metropolis than London.
This is a Mississippian era priest with a sacrificial head. The end times for Cahokia were coming.
Something about this image – the red fingers of paint drawn across priest’s lips, the proximity of an adversary’s head to his groin, mouth gaping and invitingly toothless, the firm grip on the thick stalk of a ceremonial flint mace.
To quote Treasure, “Am I the only one in here who’s turned on?”
Moving on through the archeological site I come to Mound 72: The Beaded Burial. This is the site of a mass grave believed to be populated almost exclusively by young women in their late teens and early twenties.
The reason for this mass gendercide is a mystery. I am troubled by the fact it is described as ‘one of the most extravagant acts of violence ever documented in ancient America’ as if the murder of young women is a luxury afforded the rich and powerful of the Americas. But then again, this is not entirely untrue even today.
The gulf of information allows space for wild conjecture. Old white men imagine a ritual sacrifice of virgins to ensure the fertility of the land and the population. But we don’t even know if Cahokia was a patriarchal society.
For all anyone knows these able-bodied young women may have been fearless volunteers who died in service to a mission. Perhaps they were time-travellers returning one-by-one from the portal dying from exposure to trans-dimensional radiation.
Beaded Vagina Brooch
A gift from Paige Pettibon,
Salish Tribe in the summer of 2018
I met Treasure in St. Louis a few miles down the road from Cahokia.
We were both speaking at an event in honour of Samuel R. Delaney who reads to us of an orgy in the dump.
This from his most recent novel Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders.
His jewelry glints in the stage light as he describes a beautiful and filthy gathering of tramps and garbage men. It is explicit and a thrill coming from the mouth of the one who wrote it – the self-described sex radical with the iconic white beard.
The passage is full of tenderness and loving descriptions of baroque group fucks.
It is very fine pornography indeed.
But in contrast to the literary canon of the Marquis’ mean-spirited smut, Delaney’s sextopia is founded on compassion. In the Dump an exploration of extremities of pleasure is the basis for an ethical life. Nothing is taboo. Nothing.
Piss-drinking, incest, sex with animals, orgies, sexually motivated racist abuse, BDSM, sex with the elderly, nose-picking, cross dressing, shit-eating etc.
So much lovely nasty head being given in the reading I feel dizzy.
Afterwards the poet Treasure Shields-Redmond comes up and says “Am I the only one in here who’s turned on?”
I feel like I’ve lost my head a little.
Later on we talk about kids.
Chip shares his answer to human’s overactive birthrate.
He has a very simple answer to our problem.
A new birth control method “can be given to both men and women, once, at puberty – and it remains effective for the rest of one’s life.
To have children, both the prospective mother and father merely have to take a pill to counteract the method, and pregnancy can ensue.” In other words: two parties decide consciously to want to join together and form a new human. Then it is a choice.
No more accidents.
Of fate. Of biology. Or of history.
Thing is, gender might be a construct but hormones are really real.
They can bring about gender euphoria as well as dysphoria.
They drive us to do terrible and wonderful things.
They are the narcotic that fuels this orgy of life.
The love drug applied synthetically or not.
The thing driving us to swing out over the earth.
Again and again.
When I get back to London I write to Treasure asking if she’ll read the Audre Lorde poem from which this text takes its name.
This is what she sent.
After reading Lorde’s poem many times, I couldn’t help but think about the current “being becoming a woman“ I’m in love with my 11-year-old daughter. Every day she plays with her friend group, and I’m watching them making sometimes awkward, all the time beautiful, lurches toward womanhood.
 “Flordemayo is the name of a healing plant, and the name means ‘Flower of the Dawn.’ The flower petals can be pastel pink, white, yellow or purple. The fragrant flower is delicate, lasting only for one day. In traditional medicine it is a woman’s plant and is used for lactation and for restoring the womb after birth. It is also believed to retard AIDS.”
From “Grandmothers Counsel the World: Women Elders Offer Their Vision for Our Planet” by Carol Schaeffer (2006)