A Prose Poem to Eulogize the Fin de Millennium
and Other Things

by Mordantia Bat

_____

 

 

Every generation thinks theirs will be the last.


A Chapter Play
Act III
Personaes Dramatis: The Sphinx and the Python

SPHINX:

God isn't dead. He's just resting.

PYTHON:

Resting?

SPHINX:

Yes, resting. Remarkable god, the Norwegian Blue. Beautiful plummage, isn't it?

PYTHON:

Plummage don't enter into it. He's bleeding demised.

SPHINX:

No, he's tired. He's been pining for the fjords.

PYTHON:

Pining for the fjords? What kind of talk is that? Look, why did he turn away from me at my most darkest hour?

SPHINX:

The Omnificent One prefers to sleep turned away. He says he spooned you in the beginning, but now, familiarity breeds . . .

PYTHON:

Contempt?

SPHINX:

If it walks on four legs, if it walks on two legs, if it walks on one leg, then it's a duck.

PYTHON:

Burn her. She's a witch.

Thou shalt not suffer . . . .

Fools. Tarot card Ø. The Beginning. All roads are available, all paths possible. In the beginning is the end. The snake eats its own tail.

 

Beginning and End. Now and Then.

Watch the moon through the haze. The stars are subtle points obscured by the newly venomous air. Our fate shrouded by the velvet night sky, where constellations giggle at our doom. So we wait -- not huddled together, but standing apart -- waiting for the glaciers to come for us from our poles. The weather is bad again, caused this time, they say, by one called the Torquemadan Christ child, come now to supervise the carnage from a grimoire of revelations.

In April, it snows in the deserts. Spring will not come. The groundhog scratches his fleas.

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse become victims of the unpredictable weather when their horses are drowned beneath them in a flash flood. The Four Horseman take refuge from torrents of rain in a nearby bar and are there beaten up by the locals who thought they looked weird.

The word decadence springs from decay. The inevitable anti-climax, the failed promise of Act III, where the juju mask is removed, and the spell is rendered impotent without explanation. The audience slouches from the theatre, following the undulations of the Sphinx as she slouches not towards Bethlehem this time, but towards Jerusalem, where the audience members come upon a new show for them to watch. They settle into their best viewing stances as TV journalists gather in the ancient land to bear inexorable witness. "Log onto our companion website," the news announcer intones in Prophet-style, "and vote on our online poll. Today's question: who's to blame for the turmoil in Jerusalem?" The check boxes on the vote page list only the usual suspects with no chance to write in an alternate vote. The vote is neither binding nor even influential, but it wiles away an afternoon as pundits argue over the minutiae. Much like any old lazy summer afternoon spent at an ancient Coliseum, watching the animals and the people tear each other to pieces.

The Sphinx: "I tell you plumbing will be the cause of the fall of your civilization of excesses. With your brains and your brawn and your evolution, you got around the natural order and grew out of control. I tell you, before there was plumbing, Nature knew how to keep your population in check. Checks & Balances. That's what it's all about."

Plumbing. Plumbing in Jerusalem. Plumbing in Bethlehem. There, in ancient times, each city spent years building tunnels that ran beneath their cities and beneath their city walls, constructing an aqueduct from their opposite ends which would bring them the water from the spring of Gihon. On the walls of the passageways constructed in the underneath, where it is presumed the two groups of builders finally met, there was chiseled in the rock a memento, the words: "the day of the tunnel."

"The day of the tunnel," the rock said, "the stone cutters made their way towards one another ax-blow by ax-blow."

Lizzie Borden took an ax.

And ended up on a serial murderer trading card.

 

Decadent Times. Timely Decadence.

"Bring me the head of John the Baptist," Salome said. Oscar Wilde's Salome straining to kiss the ruby red lips of decapitation. "Suffer me to kiss thy mouth." Salome in ancient lands; Salome in the Fin de Siècle, the Age of Decadence. A grand age, the age of ages, the rock of ages, the beer of ages.

Brewed by Sekhmet herself.

Decadence comes under the Crone's watchful guard, when it is as if a winter chill has settled on what had only been so industrious and fruitful before. Yeats spoke, seasonally as well, of his age as the "the autumns of the body." What is it about endings that makes polar bears so eager to don mourning?

Decadence is but the decay of time. Not the indulgence in the heady stimulation of the moment. But the indulgence in the moment when the body and mind wind down from their exertions. The indulgence in recognizing the sudden stillness of the chi, and the fear, justifiable or not, one might never taste pleasure again.

Sekhmet licks her ruby red lips and kisses John the Baptist. She tastes of stale beer and pretzels.

Doomsday: Fin de Siècle, the Fall of Rome, closings of the Millenniums. Nostradamus selling his quatrains to Hallmark. Cleopatra's asp spoiling the beer of the lion-headed goddess. The burning of the heretics who knew and the burning of the Library at Alexandria. The guillotine, the scimitar, and the musket. Pretty red ribbons around the necks of the revelers and masques of the red death. Ugly uniforms with pretty dead ribbons. Wars of roses and wars of fission. Wars of conquest and wars of boredom. The Ice Age Cometh on a Rollercoaster Named Desire.

You can only assassinate an emperor once. Then you must open the drapes.

The Sphinx: "You have anticipated the fabled decline of Western Civilization for a long, long time. It is your secret yearning, and you talk hard about it as if you think if you pretend you do not want it, you will get it even sooner."

Every generation thinks theirs will be the last.

Decadence loves to sit in the shade of the Apocalypse and it breeds there by its very insouciance this pathogen of an armageddon. Spores like to grow on things that lay still.

 

Clutching At the Past. Spelling Out the Future.

What have we learned here?

The Sphinx: "Evolution marks you. But what do you go towards? Strength of body or strength of mind?"

The Baboon: "I go towards the fur. Nestle me. Hide me from my tormentors."

The Sphinx: "No."

What have we learned here? That there are not enough words, and the ones we have follow illogical rules of spelling. With a finite alphabet, there is always more to learn, more rosetta stones to incubate, and more shards of pottery to be pulled from the layers. Every shard tells its story, and we peer into the vowels to wring our hands and declare our own age the worst yet.

The Sphinx: "I am very smart in my own language; but very dumb in yours."

Every generation thinks theirs will be the last.

Every generation thinks theirs has crumbled more than the one preceding.

But the crumbling is perpetual, a kinetic motion, dropping shards and debris, debris from which phoenixes rise and yawn, make toast, and go off to their industries. It's all a metronome of motion, going no where, keeping the beat, and mesmerizing the unwary.

The Sphinx: "Evolution marks you. But what do you go towards? Strength of body or strength of mind?"

The 1st Phoenix, a Construction Worker: "I build things. Very very tall things."

The 2nd Phoenix, a Factory Worker: "I build utensils and perfume for utensils."

The 3rd Phoenix, a Munitions Worker: "I have four coffee breaks a day. I drink a fine blend of Great Rift, beans from Olduvai Gorge."

Plucky birds, these three. They can criss-cross the world with the tracks they lay, put into motion the metronome of travel, movement without destination.

The day of the tunnel has not come yet.

The Sphinx: "It is dangerous to move combustible items through a tunnel. Things can happen."

And they generally do.

The Sphinx: "Evolution marks you. But what do you go towards? Tell me, tell me, what destination?"

Somewhere very tall.

 

written spring 1999


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