City of Personal Mythologies

We know that patriarchy and its neoliberal offspring have destroyed the planet and quite nearly destroyed us, and we know that the answer to this path of destruction lies in unlocking the secrets of the brujas and the xamans and connecting with Mother Earth and tuning our lives to Her.

Birds of Equinox by Jana Astanov, Red Temple Press, New York, 2019.
by Penelope Fate

I present to you a puzzle.  We know that patriarchy and its neoliberal offspring have destroyed the planet and quite nearly destroyed us, and we know that the answer to this path of destruction lies in unlocking the secrets of the brujas and the xamans and connecting with Mother Earth and tuning our lives to Her.  Nevertheless, at the same time here we are, living in this world with its microwaves and satchels full of important documents, daycare centers and iPhones, so one might ask: How do we square this circle? Or better: How do we circle this square? And the answer isn’t easy or obvious and it isn’t complete, but we do have a partial answer – or a glimpse of a partial answer – and that answer eyes us suspiciously from the pages of The Birds of Equinox.  It interrogates us: Are we worthy?

Maybe we aren’t worthy, but I long ago learned to enjoy fruits that I do not deserve nor ever will, so I lost myself in the pages of this volume, and like Eve, waiting for Adam to be born from my rib, I bit into the fruit, and I liked it.  And I liked how the juice of knowledge and evil ran down my chin and onto the floor and formed a grand pool, and I dove in and just kept swimming.

What I learned was this: that this world is full of mysteries and we don’t need to retreat to the jungle to see them, we need only teach our eyes how to see, for the mysteries are not waiting for us in the jungle, they are on our way home.  Just like in the poem Android Moonlight:

a full moon over the frozen emptied city
as we slide through the squares, avenues and
the inner span of the Williamsburg bridge
illuminated tungsten labyrinth of steel
interfering with the frequencies of blade runner
time travel to the moon and back
to our planet emanating red light
onto the bedford intergalactic path

The Williamsburg Bridge, East River, New York City, June 1904.
Courtesy of New York Heritage digital collection
Mara Catalan, from the book Williamsburg, a place I once called home
An archive of Williamsburg; Photographs taken between 1994-96

I Iearned that the mysteries wind their way through our technologies and through and through into our pinky fingers, as told in the poem Unfolding Universe.

it is no longer what if – the universe is conscious
big-data and machine learning tumescent matter
low hanging fruits
probabilistic reasoning of my pinky
freewill and human minds on trial

The mysteries are not just found in unfamiliar places but the familiar, and while David Byrne asks “how did I get here” The Birds of Equinox delights in the predicament and the joy of being lost in the mundane, as in this passage from Carpe Diem.

with my beginning Yama brings my end
and a craving in disguise.
What brought me to this banquet
hidden on a dark side of North 4th?

Bedford Avenue, at the corner of S. 3rd Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, undated [ca. 1921]
courtesy of New York Heritage digital collection

It is as though a Situationist together with the psychogeographical society of New York were taking us on a random walk through the neighborhood, as told in Subterranean Burg.

was there something more attractive in longing
like walking through deserted corridors of the underworld
duane reade and wholefoods

Not dissimilar to “the latest state of humor and poetry” as described by Gilles Ivain (Ivan Chtcheglov) in 1953 in Internationale Situationniste #1. Half the century later Astanov’s initial excitement with New York quickly wears off.

Situationists shouted: “WE ARE BORED in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of the women walking by, the dadaists imagined a monkey wrench and the surrealists a crystal cup. That’s lost. We know how to read every promise in faces — the latest stage of morphology. The poetry of the billboards lasted twenty years. We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries on the sidewalk billboards”. Astanov whispers in the poem Jellyfish habitat:

So I am still me inside a new grid of streets.
I could be making most of it,
or I could be paralyzed
stung but not dead.

Following Astanov’s work chronologically Birds of Equinox, is her 4th book encompassing two collections: The Pillow Book of Burg and The Birds of Equinox. The Pillow Book of Burg was written first. It started upon Astanov’s arrival to New York City in late May 2017, after a five month long poetry residency in London, which resulted in the Sublunar collection, an ambitious 70 page book of poetry written in a mere 5 months.  The final poem, Magic &Chaos, portrays an avant garde, sound poetry, magical ritual performed together with the members of Psychogeographic Society of London during the Full Moon in Scorpio. 

stones aren’t circular 
transubstantiation swathe
they rest armed in fields where shamans 
are born to return 
calling the spirit back to its body
with crirhythms
scores of holy 
affecting the polar motion
in tight grip that bends to

& 31^0a0a008+

10th May, Full Moon in Scorpio
Stone Circle @Hilly Fields
Society of Illimitable Night:
Catherine, Florina, Alex, Chris &Mark

The Pillow Book of Burg is Sublunar’s poetic sequel. The action moves to a new city, promising change of pace. From the first lines, time speeds up, and some alchemical transmutation of energies is also taking place, the city of New York in summer is sizzling compared to the wintery undertones and melancholic journeying through London. New York may offer some new hope:

I will make us feel happy 
once I land

But what is this hope for? Joy? Eternal living? All encompassing presence? Love? Perhaps all of it, for we recognise the same unquenchable thirst for life, and living with the conviction that we can have it all, but not at the same time… 

we all die
either thirsty or digital

Astanov is mapping the range of emotions onto the city, her city, New York, as she adopts it, the same New York she described previously through her wondrous poetry in the collection “Grimoire” from 2016. Digital landscapes, maps of longing are spread across the continents to maintain a long distance relationship with Manhattan, and Brooklyn. But each New York period is different. While she is still figuring out her new life, there is the longing after the familiar, left on the other side of the Atlantic, with its European traditions and history as in Aristotle’s Poetics :

on the other side
of water
pity is aroused 
by inherited misfortune
like warm current’s sirens
caught in the Atlantic storm 

There is an uninterrupted connection of Astanov’s work to the old continent; she is the siren, herself singing on the shores and longing for that other side. 

they say
sky wears a gentler shade of blue
once you are gone

She makes the city her own, writing streets new mythologies onto the street grids.

walls of tropical New York
are walk-through tonight
soft like coral sponge

disheartened forgetful megalopolis
where our comfort is fractured too

once only
in lifetimes never disclosed

And the knowledge doesn’t actually come from the words and their meanings but from how they are strung together, and how they show us a new way to view this psychogeographical city. And that way is spare and efficient, allowing room for the spirit of the world to breathe between our words, and infuse the images with mystery, and project us into another time; a time when magic filled the air.

About the author:

Penelope Fate is a salonista, an impresaria, a muse, and the driving force behind the Hysterical Surrealist prosetry movement in the United States.  Lately she has taken to traveling far and wide, seeking the others, and dancing to vallenato music in the mountain valleys of Colombia.

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