Maybe you know the story. A goddess had two children: one beautiful, one hideous. And because she knew that beauty didn’t really matter all that much, or because she knew that it only mattered to others, that it was a way to elicit attention from others, to get others to think you worth their time she decided she’d give her son wisdom.
She could have given him power, or wealth, the usual substitutes for beauty. With money he could have maybe afforded braces so that he’d look like what everyone else thought they looked like, with freakishly straight rows of horse-teeth like those seen in the glossy magazines. Or he could buy a large SUV with tinted windows so no-one could see his face, or he could invest so much into advertisements for clothing and self-care products that people would spend so much time worrying about how ugly they felt that they wouldn’t notice his hideous disfigurement.
Or power. Her son could have put his detractors to death, or made them work forty hours a week for him at very low wages. Maybe he would have made them feel lazy for needing to go to the bathroom, or made them fear for their survivial iff they asked for a lunch break. He could maybe have bombed their countries into oblivion, or made them run, terrified, out of the crosswalk because he didn’t want to wait for a light.
But no. She thought wisdom would be a better fit.
In the Place Where You Are Already Dead
I bought a cauldron at an herbalism shop run by people who did not notice it was a cauldron. They called the cast iron bowl with four feet and a handle an “aromatherapy base” or some such. The perplexed and disturbed look upon their faces, in their yoga-pants and earth tones, when I called it a “cauldron” made me feel very, very alone.
It was small, but it weighed on me as I walked home to the place that wasn’t my home any longer, the house full of ghosts of loves and friends, the place I’d lived and dreamed but now didn’t belong. In a few weeks I would leave everything I knew, put the cauldron and everything else I could carry into my rucksack and camp, alone, in Europe until I found what I wasn’t certain I could find.
I couldn’t go back yet, couldn’t bear the dying present. Though it was late summer, everything felt cold, the clear night sky lightening a little just as the moon began to rise. So I walked, down streets and alleys I did not know anymore, gazing at the life and light behind blinds and curtains, families gathered for dinner or before flickering blue-lit televisions. I walked as a ghost, unmarked, unnoticed, feeling the weight of the iron in my pack so much heavier with each step, its blackness an abyss that wanted to swallow me.
And then the moon rose, her moon, the sharpest of sickles, the gold-then-pale crescent blade. It seemed it would blood me, and yet I no longer feared death. Every moment is death, which is why every moment is also life.
Atop the Dredged Swamp, Surrounded By Asphalt, As the Seas Rise
When I was young, I would ask my mother what happened to all the children who drowned in the tub.
It must not have been easy for a woman with latent schizophrenia stranded in an Appalachian shack with three children and a violent husband to hear her son ask this question repeatedly. I was six, maybe, or seven, so perhaps I can be forgiven for my lack of tact.
But I remember them. There were children, and then their mother drowned them. They were kin to me, and I mourned them, even though they didn’t exist in this life. I was first-born–there were no others before me, and yet I remember them, still.
I don’t know why I remember them like this, nor why I, so otherwise hostile to the macabre, have always been fascinated with stories of mothers who drown their children, one after another, in bathtubs.
Decades later, my sister and I finally find a seat in deli surrounded by asphalt and SUV’s in a South Florida city. We’re probably the only ones who haven’t just come from church, or have ever used food assistance.
My sister’s telling me about a friend we once knew, wealthy beyond our own comprehension, now with his sixth child. And I’m unable to stop myself thinking on six children growing up, each getting their own house in the dredged swamplands of south Florida, two or three stories, air conditioned, each with their own massive vehicles and more asphalt laid down upon the dying wetlands to make room for them and all the others like them, and I’m telling my sister all this and then I hear Her voice, somewhere between mirth and rage:
“Understand, then, why I drown children.”
Everywhere There Is Life, Because There Is Death
We consume the dead. Grains and vegetables ripped from their umbilical roots, flesh carved from still-bleeding beasts who looked dumbly at the assassin’s blade. We feast on death, fell trees to build our homes and wipe our asses. The black blood and stone we rip from the womb of the earth were once flesh and fiber of forests we wouldn’t recognize, creatures we can’t comprehend, and we burn it to run our cars and turn on our lights.
Each new thing is birthed from death, and at the beginning of each life is the coming of its end.
She had two faces when I saw Her. Living, fleshed, stern, unfathomable.
The other, the face of death. And I did not know She could look so kind.
To know each beautiful thing must die is not easy. Each love will end, each laugh trail off into silence. My words will one day cease, my eyes grow finally dark. His smile, her laughter, their joy, our sorrow–it all shall one day feed others.
Look, there, into the abyss, the blackness of the cauldron. Contemplate the only thing which can stop our hunger. See the death in everything which sustains life, and see Her face smiling back, see why She chose wisdom as her gift, why love is like death, and why death is how we know of love.
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