Longest night, lost moon.

December 21, 2010 at 12:50 pm (hedonism, natural and unnatural history, the sky gods)

I do believe in ritual cleanliness. Of course, I also do quite a lot of work while covered in entrails dragged from the depths, using a knife still covered in scales and bile and blood and gods know what else, or with garden dirt so thick under my fingernails I’ll never manage to scrub it off. However: when time allows, I do enjoy a nice bath beforehand. It’s good to give the chi a good exfoliating. Even more than the ritual bathing, however, the dandy in me looks forward to the ritual moisturising. I stand before the gods anointed, vanilla and almond scented, like I’m about to go on a date with the sky.

And I was.

I woke up in the middle of the night and put on my winter things like garb: a knitted lace scarf, cabled mittens, thick socks, a warm woollen hooded sweater, corduroys, a coat I bought in France to keep me safe in Iceland, fish boots, my beloved bear hat, and my keys. I locked my door behind me, groped in the dark down the stairs in my little outhouse of a mudroom, crunched over gravel, and spun in a circle, looking for the moon. I found it directly over my house, all but the tiniest sliver of silver swallowed by a scarlet serpent, a shooting star rushing under it, as if it wasn’t fantastic enough already.

This solstice, for me, more than most, has been a dark one. Terrible Things Have Happened. They carry the seeds of great good in them, hints that the light might now start to grow, although we daren’t say as much.

This solstice was so dark that even the moon was swallowed up. But. If you were to stand on the moon and watch the eclipse from there, the earth, of course, would have been ringed in fire. NASA had my favourite write-up foretelling the event, and although I know them to lapse into poetry with some frequency, it still surprises and delights me when it happens. From the moon, they said, you’d see every sunrise and every sunset all at once.

And this eclipse… forgive me, I know I’m making a cliché of myself, but I have a difficult time thinking of these alignments as anything other than an orgy. I imagine the cosmic bodies circling one another, curious, for time unfathomable, and once in a great while getting one another drunk and touching only briefly, spinning off again not to speak of it much until, inevitably, it happens again.

So. I stood on a bridge beneath this red and darkened moon. I caught its reflection in the water beneath me, and I caught it also in the cup that I held in my hands, from which I drank. Directly beneath me was the entirety of the world. And directly beneath that was the sun. Turtles. Turtles, all the way down.

I meant to do something under it. I’m not sure I’d decided what, yet, but I’d intended to set my roots down and my branches up. All I could do was watch. I’ve met few things that demanded and deserved simple worship so thoroughly.

How many thousands of us looked to the sky last night? How many of the stars, diamonds set around a ruby, watched the moon and the earth and the sun kiss and twittered and gossiped?

The serpent swallowed the moon and then gave it back to us, a perfect shining egg. Now the light can start to grow. Where I live, however, the darkest of the year passes only to offer us up to the terrible cold. Good luck, friends. Stay warm and brave.

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Its ribs are ceiling beams. Its guts are carpeting.

August 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm (fishmongering, natural and unnatural history)

The freshest squid I’ve ever seen was brought to me, not to be sold, but in the belly of a fish. (It feels terribly rude, but I cannot recall what kind of fish that may have been.) I have a small assortment of fish hooks of several sizes at home, and a larger collection stuck into every spare piece of wood near my cutting block at work. We tend to find them still caught in snapper gills, but I’ve also found a hook as long as the palm of my hand in a mahi’s mouth. And a fishmonger friend of mine swears that a friend of his caught a bluefish off the coast of New Jersey, and found a tied off used condom in its stomach.

I was cutting a mahi mahi today, and nearly tossed the head and the attached viscera without checking the contents of the belly. I noticed at the last minute, however, how firm the organs were, and paused to admire the fresh texture of the roe sack, a cheerful yellow in colour like sunflower petals. I noticed something hard in the stomach, still nearly aiming it at my rubbish bin on the other side of the room, anticipating the pleasing thunk sound of a hit, or the more enjoyable splatter and streak of blood if I miss and it slides down the wall behind it. But I paused for curiosity. I took the point of my knife to the veined membrane and split the stomach, squeezing out the contents onto my cutting board. I was expecting squid. Instead, when I washed off the slime and stomach acid I found two baby sea turtles. They were perfect; I expected them to pull themselves about my butcher block on their little fins. They were a little smaller than the largest fishhook in my collection, and their shells hadn’t yet fully hardened. Their eyes had faded, but beyond that one never would guess that they’d been swallowed. The mahi must have caught them and then been caught itself immediately.

I pulled everyone I knew into my cooler to look at them. One by one every cashier, cheesemonger, and coffee buyer heard the rumour and stole away from their work for long enough to step daintily through the puddles that comprise the floor of my workroom, into my back room, and waited while I pried open the plastic container in which I was keeping them. Some thought it strange or sad. Few thought it disgusting, which is the more usual reaction to such things. Everyone asked if they were still alive, and most asked what I’d do with them.

They’re in a glass jar now with a better than ninety percent solution of isopropyl alcohol on my desk, next to a labradorite sphere, and a painted lady butterfly and a Japanese beetle I still have to pin and mount.

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