Chapter 1 - Genesis
Verse 1: Water
In the beginning was me. I was never born (who could have conceived me?). I was there as the waters came from the glaciers lying under the protoplasm that oozed from nowhere. I thought I had life but I knew little about what life was until the other elements colluded to transform me. With life I was transformed utterly. My name of course was Isis or Eve or Hera or any of the other pseudonyms for the primeval woman. In Africa I am known as Mami Wata, the water mother.
In the beginning was me. I was a little boy born out of mud created on the banks of the Euphrates, the Nile or any other river that you care to think of. In me was claimed to be life and that life was the light that is contained in every man which comes into the world. Unfortunately, I had no part there. As Adam, I was confined to a crucifix out of which the side of my heart was torn to create, as they said, a woman. Out of the bulrushes, I was incarnated as Moses. Out of the mud, as Adam. Out of the world, as Osiris. It is as Osiris that I prefer to be known.
In the beginning was a Network, and the Network was the assembly of Words and these Words were God. No things were made by Him and yet with Him everyone seemed to believe that he was the Source. In him was the imaginary life. That life lights the entire world. This satellite God is known variously as Elohim, the Holy Ghost, even Hermes and, according to Leonard Cohen, Buddha. He is ultimately the person who presides over Plato's cave.
Meanwhile below the land, the fire, the caves, the grotesque images of netherland, I, the jumping jack flash of your imagination burst on the world burning with fire. I am credited by many with creating everything that is real. As you will discover, I have many incarnations: Field Marshal Earl Haig, the Joker, Richard Nixon, Stalin, and so on. I am responsible for much music and art, particularly that which represents the effect of my work. Some call m the Devil, but I prefer Lucifer, as much more fun, representing light.
As I often do, I happened to be beside a wide open river. And as I pulled myself up off the bank I saw a little boy cradled in a network of bulrushes. I had never seen a boy before . And I wondered how in the world such an object could exist. He was black, he had long curly hair and he cried, "Mother". In an instant he'd grown tall. He was 6 foot, he was the leader of the people but bore strange marks on his forehead and hands. He said,
"I have been crucified."
"What is crucifixion?", I said.
He said, "It is to be splayed across the entire world as the Messiah or Saviour."
As he was speaking I suddenly saw behind him an edifice, reaching for the sky.
"What is that?" , I said.
Looking up, he said, "That is the cross. That is the tower that beams out universal messages. That is the presence which will connect from below to above. That is my crucifixion. I am what I want to become. I want to be, to be, to be everything above, on land, in water, and below. I want to own it all, be it all, take it all, but as you know there are competitors."
In an instant he was strung up on this strange edifice. And voices in many languages were calling, "Come to us, lead us, save us."
And now gentle reader, you have it all. You have the beginning constructed by four different passions or elements. You have the messages that control our space and above all this, you have me, Mami Wata, Isis, the woman of the high seas. Me with the webbed feet and the long hair. Me caught between being the Mermaid of Hans Christian Andersen and the embodiment of Kierkegaard''s Either/Or. Essentially what you will find here is my story, though various males have helped me on the way.
I met Lucifer, but may we call him Luke? He was as I gathered later on in the story, lying in the middle of a beautiful garden, his splendour displayed by the golden hair, and flashing eyes. His limbs were rustling and his body burned in blonde glory. As he lay there, he said to me,
"Come to me, O Queen of the Wetlands."
Soon we were lying together in a vale in Valambrosa where the leaves were yellow and black and pale and hectic red, pestilence-stricken multitudes, but which John Milton saw as the beginning of real democracy. As I looked at Luke something changed inside me.
"Ah," said Luke, "let's abandon all this romantic scenery. Let's go to situations where we can find the real world."
And he took me quickly as if by flight to torn cities. Places where destitution ravished the minds of them all. And he showed himself to me as the man who is in charge. He showed me the sense that he alone could conquer. As we looked at the desperate scenes of carnage, warfare and destruction, Luke suddenly became not the flower child that I saw him as when lying in the gardens of Valambrosa, but a strongly carnal, visceral image of the man who wanted to control everything. And we had a map reading of cities; of Warsaw, of Dresden, of Berlin, of Hiroshima, of Coventry; and we saw the dead lying in bags waiting to be taken home and we saw the dead in trains across frontiers which were unnamable. And we saw Rwanda, and Auschwitz, and we went then to Vietnam and Nicaragua and we saw the dead of the world carried everywhere to no man's land. And Luke said to me,
"This is my world, this is my creation, this is my love, will you love me now?"
And he took me to a cave burning with psychedelic light and said,
"Enjoy me. Enjoy this carnage that I have created. Enjoy my sense of a world which is unpopulated. Enjoy my sense of a world which is overpopulated. Enjoy my sense of a world which exists only in the images of the other God but here is real. Enjoy me."
And in the cave of wondrous beauty, the musicians played sad songs of violent death. They sang their songs to Luke, and they played about the terror of a world that had abandoned its heritage. And in each piece of music, was the nostalgic sense of another world, another world where things may be created better. As this music rolled on, with bodies gyrating, the songs of a place called Babylon became even more intense. And some of the music was based on a recollection of the best times and some was based on the consciousness of the now which would never change. But most was ultimately the song of despair. And I was told by some of the singers, some of the gyrators that most of the poets who had written these songs had dies an early death in peculiar circumstances while wondering about the meaning of life. And as the dead men rose to greet me, in the impersonations of their other singers, I looked at Luke and asked him,
"Are you the cause of this?" And Luke said, briefly, but emphatically,
"Of course. The dead are my products, but I am alive. I will give life to all those who seek me."
And as I stood, waiting for him to account for himself, he suddenly took m and swept me into his arms and said,
"The fire and the water will be one."
And meanwhile the Babylonian music dissolved into the one true person that I met. And he said,
"Come with me. Come into the borderlines of your consciousness. Come unto the annex of your ambitions. Come into the superfluous sense of knowing that you are what you are. Come with me and lead me into you because I will give you everything."
And for some reason the splendour of power, the splendour of the man who was active, the splendour of the man who could control the world while killing it, the splendour of the man who could breathe fire and gobble up cities is part of my sense of his wonder. And in the end I said,
"I need a man of action. I need a man who takes me from the ultimate to the depths. I need the sacred and the profane meshed together in one holy matrimony. By God, I'm on Lucifer's side."
Beside me, as he alternatively ravages me, and cajoles me, as he takes me to the highest pinnacle of ambition as he devours me, and as my webbed feet tangle with his long blond hair, I feel again lying in the valley of Valambrosa that I am of the devil's side, and know it. You may wonder what happened to the water baby and the either/or from Copenhagen. You may wonder indeed. I realized that life was unbelievably carnal and that the screams of death were part of the making of life.
Of course my encounter with Luke was not the only one as I smuggled my way into the world, a world which was less Freudian than my deep and Sapphic womb. I had to encounter the other two elements. The first of these was the Holy Ghost.
My encounter with him was rather curious. I was sleeping, as I sometimes do, in a cave by a brook. A similar cave to the one where I had discovered (and perhaps delivered, or given birth to) Moses, Osiris. I had a sleepless night because I thought there was somebody in the cave next to me and his virtual reality kept knocking on my mind. And I thought that he was there, but not there, but if he was there I couldn't hear him. And I thought in the night that I should knock him up. I should intrude. I should call him because I could barely hear him breathing and I thought maybe he was lonely and wanted company. I thought maybe if I can't find this person it's only because his images prevent me from making a contact. And I felt that he had constructed these images so I wouldn't contact him. And as you can imagine, after my contact with Lucifer I needed to find someone else. Someone else who would be interested in real conversations but conversations which could be made without a major power. Once I realized that he was there I asked him to communicate. I knocked on the wall of his images and he said,
Those two words were enough for me to pry open the wall that seemed to be between us. And I discovered that all he revealed was a series of names. That he was a communicative thing with whom I could make contact but whom I couldn't see. Round his cave there were every kind of name: UNIX, DOS, BITFTP, GOPHER, USENET, wiretap.spies.com, obi.std.com, and many more. By pressing these letters, in different combinations, it was possible to see other letters, with other commands. There was something wonderfully Qabalistic about all this, and letters became numbers and numbers letters, with some numbers being more important than others. 3, for example, was "Help" and 2 was "Search" and 10 was "Save." And there were obviously codes that could be discovered so that the Shekinah could be revealed, so that we might enter the Holy of Holies. But, even so, it would be good to know whether there was somebody really there. I had a premonition that maybe I'd been here before, with the same dilemma but different code-words. For example there is a poem by Rilke which goes something like this:
You, neighbour God, if sometimes in the night
I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so
only because I seldom hear you breathe;
I know: you are alone.
And should you need a drink, no one is there
to reach it to you, groping in the dark.
Always I harken. Give but a small sign.
I am quite near.
Does it make any sense to you? (Would you like to read my other poems? Not just the ones I wrote myself, of course, but right through time.) Everybody says that he comes from the stars or much further away. In my attempt to reconstruct the power of the air because I'm sure that he comes from the stars, from a world beyond us. The world of our vast inter-stellar communications. "Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies! Look at the firefolk sitting in the air!"
Trying to get hold of you. Trying to find you I read my books. I read my everyday wonderland accounts of where you might be. And then it struck me that you had thought up the Internet in order to give you both protection and influence, as a sort of divine Bill Gates. I punctured my computer with things like WW God, God exit, God find, God know, God be, God anywhere, God print. Computer refused to answer. I strayed from my computer. I looked at the stars. I saw the fireflies flying in the air. I walked. I fled you down the nights and down the days. I fled the labyrinthine ways of my own mind and under running laughter. Etcetera.
The thing about you God is that you get nowhere with such searching and surfing (and shouldn't I, of all people, know something about surfing). And then I had the idea to issue a command. FIND ME, I typed.
Ah, it's not that I hadn't been trying to find you. Obviously what I've said indicates that I've been working hard on this, but where are you? What I pick up on the Internet or on T.V. are images, images which might be about you, but, who know? There are people that parade. There are people that dissimulate. There are people that pretend to be you. There is a whole world out there that is merely a simulacrum of you. The images could be Luke's or Osiris' or even mine. But where are you? If you like this hide and seek form of existence, why don't you come and get me?
Ah, you see God, this problem I have with anything that comes from the sky. One of them is that there are so many images. Images that take me back to the sea, back to the sky, into the depths and I keep on thinking of Luke or Jumping Jack Flash and where are you in all this? I'm lying here in my bed tucking up my webbed feet. Sort of masturbating myself you know. I've been crying for you for a long time and as I'm sure the Virgin Mary did, I want you, presumably s God, to come and do something for me, but you're not here. All I can do is put my finger on my clit and think about how it happened to the Virgin. Or that absurd even tin the Nile where Moses got suddenly procured: made by something or someone, dumped in a river, and, hey presto! There was the handmaiden watching, who turned out to be his mother and so on.
Non of this makes sense, but here am I waiting for the Holy Ghost to come and impregnate me and all I get are these things on the Internet. And the Internet consists of, you know, messages of messages from people who are lonely, information, how to get jobs, or windows open to another world. It's a fabricated world, self-referential. And as I curse it, I also crave it, so that I can be possessed by your elusive being. I mean, is this it? Have we done nothing else except construct this universe? I want an answer. I want you to come down as I'm lying here and tell me how I can make love to you, Now. And, what will that love consist of? Please, none of this bullshit about being a nun and dedicating myself to you, and none of that witches stuff, you know. I mean really. Where are we? Are you a person? Come clean once and for all and tell us who you are. I know you've done all this jazz about virtual stuff and all, impregnation of other bodies. In a way the Internet gives a chance for a girl to do some of that and it allows me to converse, it allows me to talk to people, it even allows me to check up if they're real. Sometimes they even give me their phone numbers. And presumably, all this comes from you. Somewhere. Because if you're upstairs, in the skies, you are the satellite. You're the person who makes and commands all these things, but God, isn't it time you descended, isn't it time we got ourselves out of all this virtual stuff and see you?
I do have an idea, an idea which might help you, because it does seem to me that the problem is your, not mine. I'm lying here partly because I'm thinking about who you are and thinking about those who dissemble you. But it seemed to me that it was time to address you directly because your secret conversations are much more interesting than everyone else's so I think I'll recognize you. My suggestion is quite clear, walk out to the screen and confront me bodily. Turn yourself on (or in, if you prefer that metaphor, or come out, if that's the way you swing). Don't be Clark Gable, or Marlon Brando, or even Keanu Reeves. Don't be any of these other types whose acts are well below your dignity. I want you clean, godly. Could I even say, manly?
And, suddenly! Out of the screen, there's a ZAP! A tall, black Masai emerges.
"Who are you?" I ask.
"Well you asked for God. Here I am . You know where we emerged from. The beautiful valley of Kenya. The real Garden of Eden, not where you first met Luke. Do you expect anything else?"
I was flabbergasted. "But why you? But why are you God?"
"Because no one else has heard my real presence on the Internet. I have been controlled by the strings of time and space and movement. I am the person that you need. I am the lover, all lovers. I am the Holy Ghost. I am the beginning and the end, and the centre of the universe, where the Greenwich meridian and the Equator meet."
"But you have to speak Swahili," he said.
"Swahili? Why Swahili? Why do I have to make love in Swahili? Can we not make love in any language?"
We both paused. The tower of Babel, the CNN, the television scenarios of the world were now collapsed into this one majestic figure.
"How," she said, "can we make love if I can't speak your language? How can we make love if we speak no language?"
He said only: "I am the beginning and the end. I am alpha and omega. I shall come to judge the earth one day. And unless the whole world speaks Swahili, the judgement is surely near."
Now this of course was absolute nonsense. This pharaonic guy who had metamorphosed himself out of the screen, was not quite the God that Isis thought she was going to find. But on the other hand he was a pleasant surprise, a grander Osiris with touches of the Nubian. Many of the things that we have worried about or taken for granted might be said to be constructed out of images which nobody else takes seriously. And of course Isis had never really been born and had emerged out of a watery nowhere while the Masai came out of the definition of the dark forest and the research of the Leakeys. It was appropriate that they should meet at this point. It had a rather beautiful synthesis and logic to it. Because, as the story goes on, you, gentle reader, will recognize that in the bitter twist to the narrative, Isis has to make love to the Holy Ghost who emerges from the networks because in no other sense can we get a reading of who God is unless he's made tangible. Otherwise everything is virtual reality. Everything is the imagination. Everything comes out of Plato's cave. Everything is doomed to be apocryphal. There's a contrast between what Isis wanted to know and the person that she had to get to know. So, let's move to their ritual consummation.
The point of God of course is that he is nowhere and everywhere. The point of the Catholic mass is that we consume something and pretend it is something else, and that we make love to the imaginary other. The godspell, according to Hermes, is the play of virtual reality. The wafer and the blood transformed into bread and wine. The ultimate mingling is with the other of whom we know nothing. Where Isis and her Masai God met they were co-mingling in an ecstatic sense of virtual simulation.
The Masai caressed her and said,
"There are no dominating waters here. But the rivers of this place flow out to the beyond. Here, however, you may know the origins of all things before a hostile sea carries you away."
A fishy interlude. I'm sitting in a green grassy knoll, where all the products come from beside the sea, and I, Mami Wata, woman of the demi urges remember those men who came over the sea to reclaim the land. Do you remember the sirens? Do you remember Circe and Odysseus? Do you remember , coming from one place on earth to another, thinking over the seas that that person would never ever recreate himself? That he would be lost interminably on the land.
The land which is transfigured by cities.
Suddenly I saw the environs intensely
populated, with steely forms,
mouths like cutting edges,
lightning bolts of submerged silver,
fish in mourning, ogive-fish,
fish of a guilt-nailed firmament,
fish with flashing polka dots,
fish criss-crossing like chills,
a white velocity, a thin science
of circulation, the oval mouths
of havoc and growth.
The hand or wrist was handsome
which, surrounded by a fugitive moon,
saw the fishery denizens teaming,
a humid river, elastic with lives,
an increment of stars along the scales,
seminal optal disseminated
on the murky ocean's bedsheet. He saw the silver stones that bit him burn,
banners of a tremulous treasure,
and he submitted his blood as he descended to the devouring depths.
Thus Pablo Neruda dreaming our predicament. And I, Mami Wata, want to make love to the objects of the sea, to the hieroglyphics that emerge out of its bowels, to the forms that come from the depths. And I think of Rupa Nui - the workshop of the sea, that "extinguished diadem" of slag lava. The forehead of man above the ocean. I wonder where are you? "Your religious rock was cut towards all the lines of the ocean and faces of man appear issuing from the matrix of islands born from the empty craters, their feet entwined in silence." How do I love you? Where are you now?
I'm worrying myself over the treacherous waters. I think of those who had been taken without their consent to lands which would harbour them and turn them into angels. I think of the slave ships. I think of the castles that were built beside the oceans. I think of, I think of, I think of the turmoil that constructed me. I, Mami Wata. The head ship, the head ship, the head flag of a ship, my breast blazing to the light. My tears weeping to the sun as I escorted you across the barren ocean. I am in a way, the wave, the ship, the anchor, the wind, the forgotten land, the whale-like incubus that possesses and propels us. I am the ancient mariner, the albatross. I look you directly in the eyes, and I say, "Is it me that you want to love?" As you look at me and my face is weathered and worn by the tide, I wonder where will you hide?
I am the song-lines that carry you over the sea. The ships, the ships conveying their songs from this place to the next. I am all that you wanted to be. The dreams, the travellers, the waking moments. I am, your skull, dreaming of the monument which will convey you from this place to the next. Of course you will say there have been other ships, and there were other seas, other places, other ships bore unwilling races in their fetid holds, chained as captives to each other, weeping their tears into the heavy British oak, their feet twisted by thorns and doomed to be branches as they were lynched as strange fruit in some foreign land.
And you will say to me, "Were you that ship? Were you that mastless wreck that lurched across the tempest and threw women overboard so that they could not even grapple with their memories as the final tatters washed them before the fragments of the water. Was that you?"
Of course I was complicit in all this. And let nothing be said that would tell me that I was not the ship, or the sail, or the wind or the tide that brought everything together. As the mother of the waters I was in all of it, and perhaps, with hindsight, I was the diving force of all of this. There is another side to all this, however. You know that in some accounts, Osiris is my brother, and in others I am his wife, and in yet others (the more raunchy Greek versions) I am his mother. In some of the other versions of this saga, I am the mother of Lucifer, or of the Holy Ghost. Indeed in some of the more imaginative versions, I am the Holy Ghost, and therefore, presumably, the Internet and the whole shebang. Therefore, in what ways I was complicit depends on what you think of our divine kinship systems. Or you could put it another way: who is being crucified by whom is not easy question to answer.
But let me say one more thing before I end this incursion into the story. Whatever my involvement in everything, you probably wonder about my concern about love. Well, the concern does, of course, involve this identity stuff. In the book which includes some of the stories developed here there is one which has given me a lot of trouble, but understanding it might help in putting what comes next into perspective. It is this Song of Songs stuff. Now this poem is clearly written by one of my lovers, as you will see from a lot of the internal evidence, some of which is carefully dissected by Harold Bloom who thinks that I might have been the author, in a book where he calls me "J" and even thinks I might have written the entire initial story. I won't go into all of this stuff now, nor explore Mr. Bloom's generous treatment of me and my writing abilities. The gist of the poem is that there is someone looking for me. It's not clear whether he is male or female nor indeed what is my gender. There is a lot of confusion throughout the text both about the gender question, and also the equally important anthropomorphic one, and also the quite odd attitude to food. Sometimes I am compared (or parts of me at least) to honey, milk, wine, deer, a garden, running water, pomegranates, apples, spices, and many other animate and inanimate things. Some of the comparisons involve me, or parts of me, being eaten. Or is it I who is doing the comparing? Quoting would be absolutely redundant here. The principles of the poem are what matter. Let us set them out: a) Some-one is looking for me. b) Is this a man or a woman? c) Am I a man or a woman? d) Of what elements of nature am I/him/her put together? e) What is this thing called love that we keep babbling on about? f) Two other seemed to have entered the story: someone called "David", who is also described as a "tower" (see Chapter 1, verse 6 above), so can probably be discarded as being a truly new character (a cross between Osiris and Lucifer, no doubt, but could be another word for the Internet) and someone called Solomon, who is a curious figure, partly because he claims to be the author of a text which is clearly not his, says he owns a vineyard, which does not seem to be his either, and has a nasty habit of burying little girls under palaces of silver. Solomon is certainly someone who has to be watched.
The remarkable thing about all of this is that it gives some clue to the problem I've been having. Someone (who may be male or female) is looking for me (who might also be male or female). There is something called love (could be an Internet code, even, given my aquatic state, the Web) which mutually attracts us. The fact that we haven't found each other could be due either to the fact that we keep confusing each other with grapes or pomegranates or goats (but not fish, interestingly enough) or that a cruel imposter called Solomon keeps interrupting our messages, cheats us, and ultimately tries to crush us under some high palace or temple. Now that we've got that little piece of detective-work sorted out, we can perhaps get on with the story.
But sometimes I do wish that I was just a mermaid and that Solomon was a good guy who would sweep me up and take me to the water-lily pond that he keeps in the grounds of that big palace of his. But I don't think things are as easy as that.
As you will have gathered, one of my skills is not to be a map reader. But mapping the sense of the world is clearly one of the important points, if one is to find oneself as more than a fish out of water. And so I had to find someone who knew how to map read.
For this reason, I want to leave this part of the story to Osiris after which I will make my own commentary. I hope that's alright with you, but it surely would help to get a different point of view at this moment, otherwise you will think that my ramblings are completely insane. Another person's version may help to show how well-balanced I am.
Maps are generally read in order to find a destination, to move to one point to another. Osiris read maps in order to know where he was. Not because this was a starting point en route to somewhere, but in order to confirm that he had arrived at where he now appeared to be. Such map reading was consequence of being in many places, most of which appeared the same on paper (if the sign systems were read at their face value) but which turned out, on review, to possess quite different characteristics. A hill, for example, might have its signified contours clearly marked in diagrammatic form so that similar hills could be found in California, Spain, New Zealand or Iran. But it was difficult to know where the caves were (if there were any) or whether the apparently similar mountain paths had potholes, little crevices or bracken covering the route . To obtain this information required reading many detailed maps or guide books. Sometimes it was worth doing this if the terrain seemed particularly hazardous. But there was always a point where being here was a location which lacked cartographic confirmation in order to say "but this is why it is different". They missed this route or, not having missed it, because they were looking beyond, essentially bypassed its significance. For them only the cartographic signs mattered. In this kind of map-reading the detail is what makes sense; the rest is pure generality, even if the important generality of reaching approximately the right place.
Another kind of map-reading is like imposing grid upon grid. Paris-Rome-New York-Rio de Janeiro-Tokyo-even Winnipeg show similar characteristics. The roads are in uniform pattern or they undulate. The city is built on seven or five hills; it has a sea coast or is on a plain; it has an old town, a new town and suburbs or it is one large suburban sprawl. But why should anyone indulge in such an exercise? In order, having computed the probabilities of each type of city, to find the set of signs that did not fit the probabilities. In which case map-reading is anarchistic: to find the crookedest street in the world in a city of pure symmetry, or to find the Chinese Embassy located in an old synagogue in a city with no old town and no Jews.
Both of these forms of map-reading come to the same thing: They defy the map-makers' sense of significance. In the first case the reader says "I'm here and you forgot this place", in the second, the reader notes that the sense of significance was there all the time, but the map-reader did not read his (or others') maps in order to know how significant.
Isis was significant in both senses. Osiris had met her, quite accidentally, and nothing on the maps had indicated that she would be on this route, though it was possible that her aunt (indirectly) had suggested that he should keep a lookout for her. On the other hand Osiris certainly located her in his comparison of maps. He had always believed, hoped that there had to be a squiggle somewhere on those perfect evangelical grid systems, and not simply fallen women (evangelicalism had many of those, as well as liberated puritan feminists). Somewhere, if the sign systems had any value at all, there had to be a woman who actually cared about the values of the evangelical soul but denied them in her body, that the twin sign systems were not fraught with a guilt-complex or complete rejection of one or the other, but happily united. In the nullified world of British émigré pubs and Anglican rugby outings he had met people who lived the culture of evangelicalism (hymns, stories, but no substance) while happily living in a secular world, but never any who felt themselves in control of theology, belief and their bodies, who defied materialism in favor of a complete spiritual sensuality. Most of them would have been afraid to make love on the altar because it was not done. Their lives were an adjustment to two culturally acceptable worlds.
Osiris was nonetheless worried when they entered Isis' apartment. Inside it was dark but with spotlights displaying figurines, paintings, crucifixes, sculptures, New Guinea masks and an enormous double-bed. It seemed that nothing that was considered sacred to anybody was not on show in this mausoleum. There were bundles of rain, sacred wafers, yarmulkas and scrolled Torahs, illuminated Books of Hours, Korans, Bhagavad Gitas, photographs by Rolof Benny of supplicants by the Ganges, national flags, Maya sun-stones, the photo of a cancer-ridden sportsman hobbling past a cigarette poster, as well as Stalin, Castro, Hitler, Mao, Kate Millett and Napoleon. The clearest spotlight was on the bed, beside which lay vials of the sacred mushroom , opium pipes, ganja butts, bottles of scotch and vodka and portraits of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Baudelaire. In the middle of the bed a Bible lay open next to a closed copy of the Kama Sutra. Osiris had a feeling of having read all the maps and of being taken beyond. He wasn't sure of the future.
"How can you live in this prison?" he asked.
"How can you?" Isis replied. "I can imagine your room. No spotlights, no images that are illuminated. Perhaps a few paintings or masks here and there. Books piled high. Otherwise an untidy wasteland, populated largely by your imaginations which are not so different from mine. The artifacts that crowd your mind are revealed in this room. Just look at his crucifix: you see how the Christ suffers the blood oozing from his side. I found it in Italy after reading D.H. Lawrence. This room, dear Osiris, is populated with the results of your map-reading. What are you going to do with it?"
Osiris paused. Should ‘nothing' be the appropriate answer? The negativity of which his imagination had talked (and transformed into an image of his own making) was now displayed nakedly.
"Hey, Jude," she said, "don't take it bad, Take a bad song and make it better."
Osiris laughed. "How? Totally exposed by my own imagination, what do you expect me to do?"
"Don't carry the world upon your shoulder."
"You want to make love here?"
"You always make love here, but never to someone who understands you so thoroughly. I need love, too. Will you deny me that? By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth; I sought him but I found him not... It was but a little time that I passed but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me."
Osiris paused again. Then --
"Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou has ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck. How fair is thy love, my spouse! How much better is thy love than wine! Thy two breasts are like two young that are twins, which feed among the lilies; Until the day break and the shadows flee away..."
"No theology," she said.
"No theology." They fell on the bed, closing the Bible, which fell with a thud to the floor.
As they undressed, Osiris discovered a note hidden in her briefs. On it was written
O Come thou traveller alone
Whom still I hold but cannot see;
My company before is gone
And I am let alone with thee
All night with thee I mean to stay
And wrestle till the break of day.
"No more theology?" asked Osiris.
"No more theology," she said, "that was merely one of those unscheduled map readings."
"Dearest Magdalen," he said.
Now that he had been confirmed in the one true faith, Osiris felt much more confused. After all, nothing else could be more humiliating than to make love to your own imagination. "Now the word has made flesh and dwelt among us." He looked at the flesh beside him. No, no not flesh but the word made manifest. Did that not deny the flesh's own fleshness? Did flesh not deny the originality of this word's only self-made sensibility? Desire consumed him as he glanced at the map of words and images which seemed to be a breast. A fragrance of incense drowned his words as breast, desire turned into ritual. He touched the breast. Nipple grasped his fingers and held him, forcing his words into a throaty gasp, suffocated in a spasm of wordy frustration.
Did she go for walks? he asked himself. Or cook? Did she physically put together this museum of images? Was it possible to imagine more than this nipple whose pores sucked him into a concentration of meaning which destroyed any sense of other activity? He leant over to find that meaning. She was asleep, filled with other images, responding only to the wind as it brushed carelessly over her skin. He pulled himself back and gazed at the uncharted map. She murmured, "Sleep with me." "But I am sleeping with you." "How can I sleep while your body breathes words?" "Don't think about me, she said." "Sleep with me and dream the images we had before we knew each other." "How?" She moved over and kissed him slowly , quietly until everything was drained from him except the dreams, until the winds ceased blowing and the words inched into him from the open pores.
"You must find the wound," she said, "my wound and yours. Only then can we dream." She brought him down to the wound, open for the love of dreams. It was bitter and sweet, vinegar and honey, salt and wine. Drained as he had been of all power, he tasted the wound. Only then did he sleep. Only then did they dream together. Then words and images and flesh and ideas become one and the only true joy of the long dead hope came burning in the dark.
It's a pile of rubbish of course . I was there wearing my feathers which easily covered my fins, pretending to be a woman of no importance, and there he was, poor bugger, sad, more or less impotent without a little shred of anything except imagination. He thought that he was making love to me but what was I but a passing moment in his tormented search for power.
This story is, of course, only beginning to be interesting. I had now been impregnated by three different creatures. An African microchip, Luke the war god, and Osiris the namby pamby nebbish who believed that everyone needed him. Like a dog, on all fours, I retreated to my cave beneath the waters and as I waited to give birth I wondered what kind of progeny would be mine. I thought of the amazing generative feats of Abraham. Was I to be like Sarah, producing only one, that one claiming to be the founder of at least one race, and maybe three world religions? Or like Agar, the handmaiden of Sarah, who also produced only one, then banished to the desert, became the founder of another sizable race, and maybe co-founder (with Sara's kid) of another religion? Or was I to be like Cetura, (the most remarkable of all) who produced Zamran and Jecsan and Madan and Madian and Jesboc and Zoe, and thus presumably all of the other races, religions and gender types of the world? Or was I to be like Rebecca who produced twins, Esau - the hairy one, and Jacob, the smooth one, and thus giving Alan Bennett much fun when he was with Beyond The Fringe. But what about the angels? I thought. Those angels, that flit in and out of all the books, the spiderwomen, the superwomen of our imagination, what about them? May I not with my microchip, and my resources from the God of war and the namby pamby little boy of the bulrushes make one or perhaps two of them? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could will the birth. I could will whatever was in my womb. I could will my successes.
As my tummy grew bigger, "I will, I will, I will," I said, "I will have the world populated by mermaids, by flying mermaids. And the waters shall cover the land as the oceans cover the seas. I WILL black, Internet, women. I WILL flying ducks. I WILL the return of the pterodactyl. I WILL that the universe will be populated by flying fish, flying mermaids, flying squid and that there will be no more man."
But that won't be much better than what exists now, I thought. I thought of how Jacob had selected lambs so that he could produce only white lambs. And how in his deal with his father-in-law Laban, he'd argued that only white lambs were most productive. This, of course, is odd when you think of it. In Wales, the lambs are black, and very tasty too. I thought the idea of mermaids flying, fish bleating. I've heard the mermaids singing each to each and ultimately I don't think they sang to T.S. Eliot or he to them. So what is happening inside of me? What is the bearable progeny? Cross breeding is one thing, selective breeding is another.
As the images swim in me, and I swim in them, I see the "white implacable Aphrodite" with the hair unbound and feet unsandled, webbed. She shines as fire at sunset on western waters. I see her reluctant feet. The straining plumes of the doves that draw her. Looking always, looking with necks reverted back to Lesbos. Back to the hills. (Now, now, Mami, I say to myself. We can't have those kinds of thoughts if you really want to be a mother. What will the neighbours say?)
Hurry, struggle for birth, were the words that continually came to me. Hurry, struggle for birth while there's no one attending you. I'm here in my cave alone, suffocated by dreams, suffocated by images, images of those whom I might have been. I, Isis, sleep and awake, dream and pretend, in whose world do I live? Whose songs do I sing? Whose voices do I hear?
I thought that I would give you the meandering of my mind. The experience of birth, the sense of knowing that something dramatic was to happen. And I'm sure that, like me, you thought that out of me would come the Messiah, the Christ, the Buddha, or at least John the Baptist. Alternatively would come another major figure of the elements, that I would bring to birth something which was at least as holy, as noble, as sacred as anything that had been conceived before. I'm sure that you believed that out of my body, out of the deep waters of the sea would emerge something that would transform the universe.
I'm sorry to say that what came out was a haddock. Not an ordinary haddock of course, it was what the Canadians would call a turbot. But the turbot which had all the likeness of me. This turbot had long, finny legs, a black face. A bit like a Madonna, in fact. It had picked up all the elements from the microchip and the T.V. screens and from being conceived in central Africa. It was a noble turbot. It was a turbot that you could dance with, move around with. It was a turbot who had all the accoutrements of living, swimming and flying. It might even have been me (it sort of slipped out), but no sooner had it emerged, onto the dry land, than it was scooped up and gobbled like some morsel of food. Does the death of a halibut make sense? After all, Christ was a fish, so the Catholics tell us (but that's probably based on the story that he could conjure thousands of fish out of the air - to be eaten, I'm sorry to say). And all fishy things have ancient lineages which return us to Noah, Jonah and all those parables of the depths of the oceans (though, come to think of it, both those stories are ambiguous ones: Noah is ultimately famous for getting drunk on wine, not water, while the great fish in the Jonah story is famous for getting a bilious attack and vomiting violently all over the land).
The devouring of the fish distressed me, the womb of all the sea, as you can imagine. And this was as much because of the disappearance of my little one, as because of the evident absence of a visible culprit. We can imagine the culprit. A greasy Spanish fisherman who wanted to turn him into one of the many disgusting versions of Paella. An obnoxious British soccer fan who would cover him in batter, fry him, put him in a copy of a disgusting Rupert Murdoch or Conrad Black newspaper, pour vinegar and salt all over him, and then gobble him up while Arsenal played Barcelona. And then there were Canadians who would wrap him in shiny paper, freeze him, and then forget all about him, perhaps for centuries. But one can never be sure, because the whole fishing business is a bit like the Holy Ghost and Internet. There are man y people into it, but they're all invisible (though we must thank a man called Turbot Tobin for trying to keep us visible and alive, but he came too late to save my loved one).
So I, Mami Wata, was condemned to travel the tides and the waters of the world in order to find myself and forget my lost child. If I was like a ship, rather I was the prow of the ship. I was the maiden who reached into the farthest parts of the world. It was me that you found in the slave castles. It was me that you found as the black Madonna of your imagination. I was the crisis of your imagination and it looked as if I would remain so forever. When I came to the land, your land, you would see me on the front of the ship, on the hair chemicals which you bought to dye your hair, on a bar of Soap, on a can of tuna fish (ugh!), and even on a packet of matches, though I'm not sure what Luke would have thought of that one. The idea of being the Black Virgin in the landlocked western countries was something of an adventures, partly because, as you know, I was hardly a Virgin, and partly because these countries had no blacks. But there was something touching about it. Also it ultimately brought me to the Arctic.
The Arctic. The wild Arctic night. I said to myself,
The emeralds, the amethysts, the maccerel-crowded seas. But I have to tell you about Murmansk, simply because this is one of the most extraordinary places that I ever visited. I visited in mid-winter with only one hour of sunshine throughout the day. And the resident representative of Lucifer came to meet me and said,
"Would you like to come and meet one of my places, one of those territories where I think ultimately I conquered your namby-pamby Osiris, and may have even given your fishy friends a blow or two."
And he took me to an island, appropriately close to a city named after the arch-angels. This island set among the ice floes had been for many years the site of a monastery. And in the monastery, the monks had pickled herrings to ell in the court of the great Czar in St. Petersburg. And when another Czar arose who knew not Peter the Great, he commanded the monks to leave and used the space to construct a factory to keep busy in the cold and dark those people whom he despised. And he said,
"Catch and pickle herrings, you bastards. Catch and pickle herring so I may eat as the other Czars used to eat."
But none of these people knew how to catch or pickle the fish. And so this new Czar wen without, and he screamed louder,
"I need fish! I need pickled herrings to furnish my table! I need more people to populate this space! I need more people with crowbars and axes, to break up the sea-salt! I need more people to be locked up!"
And so thousands of people were brought to this island and to other islands and made serfs of the great Czar.
But as the great Luke was showing me all t his from the deck of a nuclear battleship, something odd happened and I felt strangely touched as we looked at the serfs, the convicts, the fishermen working away in the Arctic night. I noticed in each of their rooms a representation of me, a mermaid, sitting, webbed feet, tucked under her, her golden hair flowing over her black body, her breasts barely concealed by the tresses, though in some of the rooms in the representation I was of black complexion, though with an aura of gold round my head, and my breasts covered by home-spun clothes. I said to each of them, in turn,
"Why do you keep my image in your rooms?"" And each one said,
"Because this gives us hope. This gives us the possibility of another life."
And I marvelled that my image should give such spiritual sustenance to so many people.
As I took a train from Murmansk back to Peter's city,, rattling on tracks through the land of Karelia, I was offered tea by a woman who called herself Babushka.
"In this tea," she said, "this black, liquid, sweet mess, I offer you the hope for my sons who lie wasting away on that island."
"But," I asked, "I notice that they keep images of me disguised as the Blessed Marylin or the Blessed Madonna in their cells. Can these not help them?"
"Nay," she said, "none of us can help them because the dreaded Luke holds sway, and, it is said, that he will hold sway until, at the end of time, he wills all our destruction."
In Peter's city, as I stood beside the Nevsky Prospect, watching the swing gates go up to close off the central island city from the rest, I was joined by a ghostly presence.
"Have you," he said, "seen a street named Mami Wata yet?"
"No," I replied, "why do you ask?"
"In spite of all the hope you have given those poor men? Sad.. Then there will never be an Osip Mandel'stam street either," he said.
On the next day, from Peter's port, I took a ship that led me to Africa.Chapter 7 - Destination
You may have wondered why so far I have not touched the shores of the Americas. The reason is the destiny of a mermaid or a dolphin or a great fish. As I swim, or take a ship from one place to another, my destiny convinces me that I have to take in tow those people who were destined to be taken to a new place. Mermaids, you see, are a bit like gypsies. We're destined to travel to a place that no one know of, to a space that we can barely encounter. Mermaids, like Gypsies, are creatures of travel.
I remember once, sitting in a booth in Hungary, one of those occasions where you never know where you're going nor why you're here, and this bright-eyed woman asked me to show her my hands. So I put my palm out,
"Darling," she said, "you're artistic, and yet there are powers over and against you which prevent you from realizing your artistry."
"Oh no," I said, "there are powers which give me cause for my artistry. Do you know Luke? Do you know Osiris? Do you know the Holy Ghost?" And she said,
"All three will destroy you. But let me tell you one thing: your power is super-abundant. Your power will transcend all."
And of course I liked that gypsy woman because she seemed to understand my language, my heritage, my transformation, my movements. And when I looked her directly in the eye, I said,
"So where do you think my destiny is going to unfold?" she asked, "Let me say one thing, you will be traveling much more before you reach the ultimate solution."
So I passed through Lagos and beached ultimately in Accra. And I saw the castles which had been built by the God of War to destroy the people whom I loved. And when some of the inhabitants realized my dimensions and my proportions and my own proclivities and my bearing they conjured up stories of who I was. And some of them said to me,
"Are you not Cleopatra? Are you not the great queen who rode in on a dolphin to save her people from instant slaughter? Are you not the great goddess of the sea? Are you not Aphrodite? Are you not one of the sirens? Are you not the ultimate Madonna whose body we portray over all our stores? Are you not the mystery which we will have to encounter?"
And as I listened, I realized that in Africa, my progeny had been manifest. This poor turbot had been transformed into a mythology. I, Isis, was indeed Mami Wata, the water made flesh and body and spirit. I was the ultimate fetish, I was the ultimate story, I was the ultimate work of wonder which could keep people alive and happy. This was not as easy as you may think though. The Africans, like the central Europeans and the early Israelites, had reconstructed a world in which I was simply a cipher of their imagination. As I moved around the streets and the marketplaces, I saw the people who were selling everything, I saw the people who had nothing to give except their products. As I deliberately made haste to go to the nether reaches of that continent, I realized that I was a token. A token of their exchange. I realized that in spite of the many paintings that hung behind walls, or paper knives with my image, or CDs or videos where I was carefully revealed, that I was nothing.
I heard a story about people like me who decided to oppose the God of the War, in Accra open air market. And the market was blitzed, the market was wrecked, because the real people (that is the Lukes and the Osirises) had decided to take over. Friendly, ghostly reader, remember Cleopatra, remember Boadicea, but remember them as people whose time was seen as irrelevant, even harmful by the other three Gods who have dominated the saga so far.
[Author's parenthesis: But of course even this story is written by a man and men have both a tendency to fabricate the evidence about femininity and also to create the illusion that femininity doesn't matter. So all that "come on baby and light my fire" jazz and the image of Billie Holiday and the image of Marilyn Monroe, and the image of the woman who came out of the prow of the ship were themselves caricatures of the bigger story.
And therefore the story that is being told here may be a continued distortion because the story can never be told, by man or woman, except anecdotally. But with all that said, let Mami Wata go on with her story.]
And therefore the story that is being told here may be a continued distortion because the story can never be told, by man or woman, except anecdotally. But with all that said, let Mami Wata go on with her story.]
Somebody told me that I should take a trip to the east coast of Africa to find out where we'd all come from (from a different angle from before, as it were) and to see if it was possible to organize something of life which was not quite as horrific on earth as that which has emerged from the slave castles (and as you probably remember the slave castles were Luke's doing, with a fair measure of connivance from Osiris, and maybe even me) which had only terrified the world by ringing people against their will from one space to another across the oceans. I thought that a trip to the other coast would make some sense because in one image I have of it, it is a world of the most wonderful sensibility where the highest peaks have an Arctic climate, but no icebergs, and where there were forests, and valleys, and plains and all kinds of climate and vegetation and animals and birds and people. And, of course, I'd once been there and knew all this to be true. It seemed like the obvious place to go.
When I got there, in the central airport in Nairobi, the planes were running to go to Rwanda where something like 1 million people were destitute or dead. And not only that but the God of War had ensconced himself as president. A terrible beauty. A terrible realization that the world was suffocating from Luke's syndrome. I tried to find my Masai friend, but, alas, the microchips were not available anywhere, because even in the heart of the region of the Masai, the war gods had decided that nobody was allowed such things as a phone. And even the computers were dead, unserviced and unavailable. What I found was Osiris everywhere. Little petty Osirises all pretending to be pharaohs. Pharaohs who tried to commandeer the spaces of the vacant being, scenes brazeningly alone. Pharaohs who had no conception of other worlds. Except to release their space to allow the people to conquer, commandeer, cajole, and take over the rest of the world.
I fled back to west Africa where at least there was some sense of common accord and some sense of the sea as not being a purely destructive territory, but something which could bring people together. Ah, the Accra of the mind! The song-lines carefully constructed after the slave trades to keep communication going across the ocean. The old castles had been decolonized and liberated. There were temples where there was continual praising in full-throated song to the ideal of the transatlantic. There was joy which knew no boundaries. The WEB du Bois centre, in constant use. The Nkrumah circle. The movement which had created a common cause with all those who had gone before. It was a land flowing with milk and honey, where pain had been conquered and there was everlasting peace. The sight of brothers and sisters from across the ocean being rejoined was wonderful to behold. (Now all of this is an illusion, of course, but I thought I should put this kind of description somewhere in the book about some country, and "Ghana" seemed as good as any, partly because there may be a stronger element of truth in it there than anywhere else on earth.)
I decided not to stay, however, and decided that the time had come to travel across the sea and make the journey that so many millions had made before me. I took a trip in a sailing ship and when I reached Jamaica, I made a stop. But it was a stop which was conditioned in part by having heard music from its shores coming to me when I was in Africa. I beached on Montego Bay, and I made a detour to Port-au-Spain. I had to be careful not to get my web entangled with all the fish and tackle and the netting flowing behind me wherever I was landing. This was a real, and not an imaginary journey. It was the ultimate trip. The big ship was of course a racist ship in which the white people were above and the black people were below. In the hold I found an old Ethiopian lady who was living with Siamese and Persian cats, albino dogs and dogs of every description. How does one cohabit with a cat, I wondered. As the feline faces nuzzled up to me, I realized that there were different way s of cohabiting, different ways of making sense. These creatures were mainly interested in my feet because they had a familiar smell. Once upon a time, it was said that Catherine the Great needed a massive stallion to bring her comfort. And I thought, with the dogs and the cats, that I had to make distinctions between creatures so that I could co-exist in a the new world that we seemed propelled to encounter. A little Siamese nuzzled up to me, a little Persian with no voice tried to cry to me. And a raunchy dog tried to hump me. (Resisting, I realized that he was Luke. He was the God of the underworld who wanted to make sure that I was sexier than a turbot). And as the cats cried and the dogs wailed we realized that we were being taken closer and closer to the rivers of Babylon where we would sit down and weep. One of the singers from this crowd asked us to remember the Zions that we'd come from. But I, Mami Wata, the woman of the swimming, the woman of the waves, the woman of the underwater, was not quite sure what she meant.
When we reached the ultimate destination, the Ellis island of all serious peoples' imagination, we were greeted, would you believe it, by three men. One was Luke, who was dressed in military uniform and hustled people along in an officious manner.
"Isis." I said.
"No, no, not Isis, you barren Mami Wata. We will produce for you a new identity." And I waited, and then he spoke again.
"Edith," he said, "that is what you will be called when you enter this country and more than that I want to cut those webbed feet off you. You will not swim around the seas anymore and pretend to be a water gypsy. You will not traverse the continent telling stories. You must have feet like me."
And immediately he hobbled me and stripped me and took away my great finnish legs and gave me artificial ones and said,
"These are the things you need to stand on the firm land within which you'll hereafter be ensconced."
And the second creation was not exactly the Masai warrior nor a machine. It had an operator, who was certainly black, and had wheels which whirred round and round and a voice machine. The man said,
"Enter the data here. This data which has been given to you to identify you by my predecessor." And I spoke my new name into the machine.
"Edith," I said, "Edith, that's the name I want to be known by from hereafter. No more Mami Wata, no more Isis, no more the woman of the sea. I will plant my feet very firmly on this land and I will be Edith like all real women."
And the third man came up to me and he seemed to me very much like the Osiris of my previous incarnation. What a little nebbish man, I thought.
"Edith," he said, "I have a marvellous condominium situated on one of the great lakes. But I also have a beautiful country cottage, where there is a jacuzzi and a pool where you can splash aroudn. And I have TVs and computers, and CD players, and two Cadillacs, and a Harley-Davidson for when we want to go with the rough crowd. Why don't you come and share it all with me?"
And as I hobbled off the island and lurched into his car I realized that I had been ultimately screwed. My turbot was dead, my fins had been hacked off, not just trimmed, they had been sundered, deliberately, wantonly, made nothing. And here I was in a country where none of my past life had any meaning except to be retold as stories and by the Holy Ghost for his own purposes. The Nebbish took me in his car. He was admiring my angular shape of legs, my toes, my hips and ankles, everything which was not mine. And we hit Chicago, the city which had once jokingly been referred to as the city of Czechs. I remembered Prague: But here I saw no crowd, no people in the thoroughfares, because I was told that the people were afraid of each other and stayed indoors. I saw no reason for happiness in a land-locked world where everyone was only concerned with consuming.
After a short while, I decided to leave the nebbishy Osiris and see if there were other people in this land. I hit the west coast and went to Monterey, to Carmel, to all the places along the coast, searching for Him whom my soul loveth. As before, I found him not. In fact, one day, going inland to Fresno, I went into one of those watering holes to which people seem to resort when they're out of their senses. I sat well-dressed as the image of someone who wanted to be taken, and a young man, dressed in military garb, came up to me and said, ‘
Why don't I take you away." It turned out he was an army officer who had been bombing the Croatians, the Vietnamese, the Iraqis. And in his posture it was clear that he was about to bomb me.
"Come with me," said Luke, for it was he, "let us move to the palaces of culture where I can make mad, desperate love to you."
I travelled and escaped quickly from him and hit a big city on the west coast where it seemed to me that all the images were constructed, where all the images were put together. I met another guy, part Masai, but more ghostly, who came out of the mist and said,
"You have to be the woman of the Sphinx, you have to be the maiden of our desires. I want to turn you into an object of everybody's desire. I want to turn you into the image that will be projected across the screens. You're the Madonna of our imaginations, you're the person to whom all will bow. You're a figment of our fantasies."
And I looked at him and said,
"Flee from me." And he evaporated into Internet.
"Where's the Gypsy lady now when I need her," I asked myself. Were there any Gypsy ladies on the west coast? Are there any Gypsies that can understand the life, the turmoil of a mermaid who now doesn't have her webbed feet and the ability to swim? Then I remembered the Gypsy of Budapest. And I knew that only one life awaited me.
Because I was in the city where all images were made, I would reinvent myself. But this time as the Holy Ghost. And in doing so I would Begin the book of Genesis again.
In the beginning was a woman and that woman was a Network. She assembled all the existing words and images and said she was God. Everybody believed she was the source of all life and energy. And she said, "I am Alpha and Omega."
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