Final Ghost

Posted December 8, 2009 by rvm
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Every force evolves a form. -Guy Davenport

I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl. -Bjork

I think back to childhood cartoons, and how, when a cat died, nine identical ghosts would spiral up to heaven, following close on each other’s tails, playing harps of course, though what tune they played, like the song sung by the sirens, is beyond conjecture. Then there are the bat-eating snakes of certain Asian caves, that prey entirely in pitch darkness, snatching bats out of the air and swallowing them whole. In a new Saturday-morning cartoon, featuring the bat-eating serpents, I need one scene in particular in which one of the snakes is killed, perhaps by an angry neighborhood dog, and upon breathing the last breath, the souls leave the body, except that they are not all snake souls, but the souls of every bat ever eaten, spiraling upward more gracefully than cat ghosts, playing more beautiful music on their harps,  followed after a while by the snake soul itself, mouth sewn shut in contrition, already loving bats, as he shall and must in the peaceable kingdom.

One of the last ghosts in this parade would be me, who fathered forth the story, and the final ghost would be you, and perhaps you, or someone very much like you, as well.

n.b. – Here concludes My Book of Caves, a one-year image/text project. My love and thanks to all who followed along. My new (2010) blog, Lunar Ulna, can be seen at

Cave Fish of Utah

Posted November 28, 2009 by rvm
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Of course they are blind. In the primordial generations, when they first stumbled into caves, their eyes evolved to larger and larger dimensions, almost the size of walnuts, stretching the retina to take in whatever filaments of light might remain in those cold mountain pools.  Over time the eyes turned hollow and sightless and took on a shape almost identical to the fish’s head itself, so that the fish appears to have three heads, while in fact the “heads” on either side are brainless mimicries, not hollow but filled with a fluid that helps maintain neutral buoyancy.

For eons they had no predators, until discovered by humans, who now have fished them nearly to extinction. There is a belief among the local people that three heads equals triple intelligence, and their buoyancy fluid is marketed, sadly, as a brain tonic. Both students studying for exams and composers working on intricate hymns are known to seek out a bottle of cave juice, as the bitter, foul-smelling liquid is popularly known here.

Another strike against the species is the fact that they are also savored by Mormons as delicious reminders of their tripartite doctrine. When the raw “Trinity Fish,” as they call them, are served up as a kind of communion, inevitably some slip through the oily fingers of the worshipers and end up writhing their way, via the church’s primitive drainage system, into the sewer running below the city. There, however, toxic human waste has mutated the fish considerably, so that the extra heads disappear, and vision returns, a fact unknown to those, directly above, who might benefit most from the transformation.

Mr. Chiron

Posted November 20, 2009 by rvm
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Writer’s Barbels

Posted November 13, 2009 by rvm
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Will transformation. Be inspired by the flame/where a thing made of change conceals itself. -Rilke

When the Mayan hero twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, descend into the underworld, they manage to outwit the lords of Xibalba again and again, each time using supernatural powers to escape death in a series of abominable confinements: Razor House, Cold House, Jaguar House, Rubber House, and so on. In a truly bravura trickster move, willing their own transformation, they allow the lords to toss them into a fiery oven, a cave within a cave. There they are burned, then ground to dust and tossed into a river. End of story? No. Undefeated, they regather and reconstitute themselves, first as a pair of catfish, then as freshly re-minted twins, and finally, after their revenge against the cave lords, as — oh why not! — the sun and the moon.

After undergoing a period of burning and grinding, I see myself in the catfish stage, the novel-writing condition, mental barbels probing the environment for food, perhaps even choosing to exit the water like the walking catfish, writhing/writing my way back toward the human condition, which of course, like all conditions,  is “made of change,” one or two shifts away from sun or moon, music or silence, difference or différance.


Eel Saliva

Posted October 30, 2009 by rvm
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I envy the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus, and not an eel but a fish) who can construct his nest out of his own saliva, and put out some tremendous voltage from his own inner organic batteries. In my case, to provide myself shelter, I have to rely on others to travel to far flung corners of the earth and violently extract from it sufficient wood, plaster, copper, steel, clay, fabric, plastic, etc. How much more efficient and personal if instead I could salivate copiously and build up a home from my own inner materials, and then, with my own organs, proceed to light and heat and decorate. Even if I were only half electric eel I could sit at this computer, I imagine, and instead of requiring others to dig coal from the earth and burn it, or construct titanic dams, or split the atom, my lightly charged fingers on the keys would suffice to light up the screen and send my words across the world.

True, the electric eel generates its greatest charges, upwards of 600 volts, only in self defense. The slow strangulation of the planet that my wall plugs help along every day could be seen as a case of self-defense as well, if I accept the argument that nature is my sworn enemy, that nature is an intruder, a home invasion maniac, climbing up the trellis in the back yard, easing through the open bedroom window, reaching out tranquilly to throttle me while I, half asleep, slowly reach under the pillow for my gun, my car, my hair dryer, my computer.


Posted October 23, 2009 by rvm
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On a long hike in the desert, hot and exhausted, I warily eye my shadow as I walk. What is it, exactly? Light as air, ephemeral, a filmy silhouette, an inky ghost that fears the sun and rushes to fill and define whatever space the sun can’t reach. But here’s my trick: to trade places with it. Now the shadow becomes substance, ponderous and fleshy, endowed with all the heat and weight and ache that once were mine, while I, projected by it toward the sun, become an airy ghost, an intellectual breeze, a whirl of dust in the shape of a man, perfectly able to float another ten miles, while shadow, poor shadow, scrapes along, slowly stretching out across the desert floor as day declines, so heavy and elongated at last that it can barely move. I’ll stop to watch the sunset, stop to let shadow rest! But then comes the unwelcome realization: I am the one that is temporary, the one that disappears in the dark.


Posted October 16, 2009 by rvm
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Let me fall asleep and dream of  monsters: not only the beautiful bats and owls of midnight, but also basilisks, krakens, chimeras, and hippogriffs, as well as monstrous ancestors like Enkidu, and Adam, and Ardipithecus. All are products, perhaps, of  sleep, or at least drowsiness, except for the last, who appears at first in the full  glare of empiricism, but once unveiled starts edging instantly toward myth. Reason and madness weave the same cocoon, and out of these miniature caves of metamorphosis emerge such lunatic moths and friendly ghosts as will carry me tonight to bed, to my own chrysalis of sweet unreason. El sueño de la razón produce monstruos hermosos.

A Plasm

Posted October 9, 2009 by rvm
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A desire to live as more than one species is a protest against the stinginess of genetic inheritance, but how feeble. Fine to imagine myself manbat or merman, and stitch words and surgeries to make a multicarnal carnival, but natural law in the end forbids the survival of hybrids. Strange, because if our souls could step out into view for a minute, take a turn on stage, we could see a whole life history written there in the form of spiritual gills, spines, brains, tails, coattails.

Perfectly fitted inside my plasm, my physical cavern, is my ghost, translucent as Casper. Not actually a perfect fit because the head is antlered, in honor of the diversity of life and in apology to the several deer (not a lot) that my father shot down in the mountains of Utah and we ate at the kitchen table in Salt Lake. From such celebrations it’s not hard to move down the path of shamanism (in my case via mormonism and magic) to the Gundestrup Cauldron and its depiction of the horned god. My own spiritual antlers are newer than that, still in ghostly velvet, but are growing, growing, heliotropic, rooted in the brain.

Lucifer Chiropter

Posted October 3, 2009 by rvm
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No meditation on cave mythology can continue without a discussion of the Christians’ Hell and their eidolon, Satan, who presides there in a form that appears half human and half bat. The topic is suggested by the calendar, with Michaelmas falling this last week. Michael, in Revelation 12:14 at least, is the one who casts Lucifer out of heaven and so inaugurates the general Satanic revenge narrative. Now, the wings of archangels and the lower angels appear to be modeled on the wings of storks, and Lucifer must have sported this style in Heaven. However, at some point, and it’s not exactly clear when, he trades these in for, or they are spontaneously replaced by, bat’s wings, though they are necessarily so large that they might be better thought of as dragon’s wings (and indeed in depictions of Michael’s triumph his adversary is either a leather-winged anthropoid or dragon).

On modern occasions of masquerade there is a clear preference for feathery over leathery wings, even though natural history neutralizes both, and teaches us reverence for both birds and bats. The only explanation for this persistent post-Christian prejudice is a simplistic bat/cave metonymy. Even though there are birds who live in caves and bats who live in trees, the “hellishness” of caves perennially brands our innocent bat friends with a mark of murky evil.

To combat this bias I intend a plastic surgery in which the skin of my back will be carefully and partially flayed, and left to soften and cure while a new layer regenerates. The free layer is then divided in two, and stretched with the aid of bone-like struts into the shape of chiropteran wings. Such appendages are easy to hide beneath clothing when not needed, but unfold with a fiercely benevolent magnificence when the occasion demands.

Caves and Pools

Posted September 19, 2009 by rvm
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According to the ancient story, King Ixion commits horrible crimes and is punished with madness. Yet, for reasons that are unclear, Zeus takes pity on him, and transports him to Olympus, to mingle with the gods. Delirious Ixion, however, shows gratitude for his host’s clemency by attempting to seduce Hera herself, and earns the wrath of her jealous and of course omnipotent husband. Zeus first decides to play a prank, and creates an ersatz Hera, identical to his wife but composed of mist, and sends her to Ixion. The king loves and makes love to this gynecomorphous cloud, which afterward retains its form long enough to give birth to the Centaurs. Then the true punishment begins. Zeus orders Ixion to be bound to a winged and fiery wheel which must spin in the underworld for all eternity, pausing only when Orpheus, playing his lyre, wanders by.

Both Aeschylus and Euripides wrote tragedies based on the downfall of Ixion, but the plays are lost. To fill the gap, I’ll compose a less tragic narrative, set in the present day. Ixion and his Hera-cloud, a rich mixture of anima and carnality, energy and form, pursue their unlikely romance for months or even years, both profoundly in love, neither truly understanding the transitory nature of mist. When the  fog clears, Ixion is condemned to torture in certain caves, but this too lasts only a little while, and in time he emerges to join his children, the astonishing Centaurs, liminal beings suspended between gods, clouds, beasts, and earth. These hybrids in turn mate with Satyrs and other hybrids, and so on and so on, each generation of Ixion’s grandchildren more complex than the last, until there are no real boundaries among the species, life consists of life, nature of nature, and, to quote Bataille, “every animal is in the world like water in water.”