Sacred Bird Hang-out
You don’t have to be an Aries to be ruled by Mars, and you don’t have to be a Taurus to be ruled by Venus. If a planet has a prominent position in your birth chart, close to one of the angles (the Ascendant, Descendant, Midheaven or Nadir), or in a stellium, that planet will play an important part in who you are. Some say that the first planet on your birth chart, reading it from the Ascendant, is your ruling planet. I say, study the chart first, then let your intuition guide you to the ruling planet . ~Saturn
“You could be a Taurus or a Libra and be ruled by Mars,” said Woodpecker. “A Taurus or a Libra with a mission and ambition, never flinching from a dare or a stare. People ruled by Mars look at you directly and straight in the eye. If they’re driving , they’ll slow down as they approach you, nod their head a few times or tilt their chin up, and stare at you openly and boldly.”
“Don’t they reveal themselves by doing that?” asked Magpie.
“Never. They shield themselves behind a fierce glare.”
“People ruled by Venus don’t know how to do that,” said Magpie. “If they were to look at you directly, they’d reveal their thoughts and feelings with their expression. Whoever said that the eyes are the windows to the soul had people ruled by Venus in mind. They wouldn’t stare at you directly. They’d drive ahead a bit, and then turn their head back to look at you with a side glance, or they’d meet you in a T-square, showing you their profile, then turn your way with that provocative Venusian side glance.”
“What are they trying to say, exactly?” asked Pigeon.
“We know something that you don’t,” answered Magpie.
“We have the upper hand,” answered Woodpecker.
“But do they really?” Pigeon kept at it.
“That’s not the point!” cried Magpie, irritated. “It’s a game about mixed signals and ambivalence.”
“It’s about dominance,” declared Woodpecker. “Now stop interfering, Pigeon!”
“People ruled by Mercury look at you for a moment, then get distracted by something on your left, then look at you again, then get distracted by something on your right, then look at you again, then get distracted by something at your feet and behind you, and then look at you again,” said Pigeon. “They buzz around you, studying you, and actually end up having the upper hand by noticing everything about you.”
“They just get people to react to them!” said Woodpecker, glaring at Pigeon.
“And they don’t get their point across!” said Magpie with a sideways glance.
“You mean the point of having the upper hand? Nah! They’re not interested in letting anyone know that,” said Pigeon, fluttering about. “They’re just interested in knowing it themselves.”
Portrait of Laura Battiferri by Agnolo Bronzino, ca. 1555-60
“People ruled by Neptune aren’t interested in feeling superior or stating their superiority, said Seagull, joining in the banter. “They show it to you through their artistic excellence. When they look at you, you’ll notice that even though they’re facing you, their eyes are focused on something beyond you, some faraway place – a place of inspiration. They have an ethereal glow about them and that dreamy look musicians have. In fact, many of them are.”
“What?” asked Woodpecker.
“Musicians,” answered Seagull.
Portrait of a Young Man by Agnolo Bronzino, ca. 1550-55
“Don’t try to hide from people ruled by Pluto,” Tyr jumped in, and everyone jumped out in case he lit up. Tyr enjoyed watching the effect his presence had on them. “People ruled by Pluto don’t just look at you, they observe you and get to know your psychology and what makes you tick. They use your psychology to manipulate you and lure you out. If you resist, they’ll wait.”
“Always so dramatic, Tyr,” said Bald Eagle.
“Thanks, BE.” said Tyr.
“People ruled by the Moon have eyes that speak. Sometimes they’re pools of kindness, and you’ll want to come close and pour your troubles and find validation in them. Sometimes they’re claws that tell you to stay away from them, their family, their property, their lives.”
“Pretty dramatic yourself, BE.”
Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo by Agnolo Bronzino, ca. 1539
“Where’s Wild Turkey?” asked Pigeon.
“Here I am!” said Wild. Wild Turkey is Uranus’ sacred bird. Uranus is the only planet that has a different sacred bird in different parts of the world. Wild is Uranus’ sacred bird in North America.
“You’re next!” Pigeon called him, and Wild flew down from a tree.
“People ruled by Uranus look at you and their eyes zoom in to find a peculiarity about you,” gobbled Wild. “They don’t remember names, but they remember traits. They’re attracted to the oddities that make a person unique. They’ll say something like, remember the guy who holds a trident or remember the guy who plays the lyre?”
“Those are Neptune and Orpheus, by the way,” said Seagull.
“Yeah, but they won’t remember that. They’ll just say the guy with the trident or the guy with the lyre.”
“They should get some help from the goddess Mnemosyne,” concluded Seagull.
Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus by Agnolo Bronzino, ca. 1537-39
“Who’ll speak for the people of the Sun?” asked Pigeon, in a hurry to move on to something else.
“I will!” said Red. “People ruled by the Sun look at you, take you in, and are not bothered by who you are. They take things in stride. I’d say people ruled by Jupiter are pretty much the same, except they prefer wearing shades just in case you do bother them. They wouldn’t want you to see their reaction. That’s why I’m thinking Constable Scarecrow is ruled by Jupiter. He’s wearing a radar gun instead of shades, but works pretty much the same way.”
“He could be ruled by Mars – “
“Yeah, openly and boldly staring at everyone.”
“He could be ruled by Venus. It’s not a side glance, but it’s a hidden glance that says, Gotcha! every time someone speeds by.”
“He could be ruled by the Moon, going, I like you (no click), I like you not (click), I like you (no click), I like you not (click).”
“He could be ruled by Uranus, noticing people’s peculiarities and saying things like, Did you see the guy with the bagpipes!”
“That’s a radar gun, not binoculars!”
“I don’t think he’s ruled by Pluto. Pluto wouldn’t want to be left out in the open like that.”
“It’s just a metal cut-out!”
“But it’s a flesh-and- blood image. It’s like your alter ego out there, exposed to the elements, and to bird droppings, not to mention graffiti.”
“Can’t be ruled by Mercury. Mercury won’t stay in one place for too long. Look at Pigeon; he just took off.”
“He could be ruled by Saturn – “
“Saturn does have a way of bursting your bubble. “
“Imagine driving around the corner and BOOM! There’s Saturn – “
“You mean, POP! There’s Saturn.”
“If he were ruled by Saturn, he’d be waving a finger with one hand and brandishing the radar gun with the other.”
“Yeah, that would be more like Saturn.”
Once upon a time, there was just one oracle in the region, the Oracle of Embrun, sacredly guarded by the walls of a temple and a temple attendant. People went on a pilgrimage to see the Oracle, and the whole experience was enveloped in mystery and mysticism. Now a days, the Oracle has been replaced by a multitude of crystal ball seers, tarot readers and astrologers who claim to have the oracular gift; the art of divination has been diffused and lost its mystique. But among all the oracles of our time, there are hidden gems, gems that could have once stood within the walls of the Temple of Op-Pollo.
Helie was a student of art in the art school of the region. She and her friends stood in front of easels, chatting away and trying out the styles and techniques of painting that were explained and demonstrated to them every day. They were told that before they could attempt to find a style of their own, they had to first learn the techniques laid out by the history of art. One day, as they chatted about trivial things, everyone noticed that Helie had gone into a trance. She continued to mix colours and to paint, but without really looking at her canvas. Her eyes had turned Neptunian. The effect of her trance turned everyone to silence; they now continued to work on their own paintings quietly, keeping an eye on Helie, watching out for her. When Helie finished painting, she put her paintbrush down and said, ‘What’s up?’.
They all came around her to see what she had painted. They told her what had happened, explained to her that she had gone into a trance, turned inward while she continued to paint. Helie had painted the art school on fire. She had never painted anything like that before; it was surreal. She was frightened of having produced such a thing. They all collected their belongings, wrapped Helie among them and took her home. The following day, they found out that the art school had caught fire in the middle of the night. They rushed to Helie’s house to be together. Something had happened the day before that only they understood, and it united them. They put Helie in front of a canvas and watched her, but nothing happened until they relaxed and started to chat away, like they usually did at art school. It was only when the air was light that Helie went into a trance. They noticed her painting with that faraway look when they asked her a question and she did not reply. Seeing her like that made them quiet down; they lay down on the couch and chairs around her, and some on the floor to watch her. When Helie had finished and said, ‘What’s up?’, they saw that she had painted a lively wedding scene. Relief spread around the room. Two days later, one of the girls announced that her fiancé had proposed.
When Helie attended the wedding, she saw her painting come to life. She realized that she was a seer; the understanding of it really sunk in that day. When she went home, she painted a self-portrait. She had to mark this critical moment, this turning point in her life in some way; she needed a ritual, and she made painting her own face a ritual.
Azul Bronzino (Bronzino Blue) by Alberto Gálvez, 2016
The husband of the girl who got married told his brother about Helie, and Helie received a phone call from him. He had a question about the future and he wanted to know how Helie worked. She told him that she was discovering that out herself, that she seemed to go into a trance only when the conversation around her was casual. She invited him to come over and watch her paint. Could he bring his wife, he wanted to know, and she said of course, the more, the merrier. He came over with his wife and they watched her paint. They were chitchatting about mutual friends, when Helie went into a trance. Husband and wife quieted down and held hands, watching Helie until she put her paintbrush down and said, ‘What’s up?’. The couple stood up and came around to see her work. They gasped and embraced each other and cried. The husband explained that his wife had had many miscarriages, that she was pregnant again and that the ultrasound showed twins; but before allowing themselves to feel this happiness, they needed to make sure, they needed to know… and now they knew.
Boys in a Pasture by Winslow Homer, 1874
Word of Helie’s gift seemed to reach people who were in need of an oracle. A woman called her and said she needed to understand something about her daughter. Would Helie be able to help her? Helie said she didn’t know, but she was welcome to come over and watch her paint. The woman asked if she could bring her daughter with her; she was a child with special needs. Please do, said Helie; bring her toys and she can play while I paint. Mother and daughter showed up with a box of toys and got busy on the floor while Helie painted. When Helie finished and said, ‘What’s up?’, the woman got up to look at the work. She put a hand to her chest, smiled, shook her head and whispered, ‘So that’s what it is; that’s what it is.’ She told Helie that her daughter kept running to the garden any chance she got to look for something on the grass and among the plants, and now she knew what it was the child was looking for.
The Four-Leaf Clover by Winslow Homer, 1873
This was how it was for Helie at the beginning, filled with moments of wonder. She was being introduced to the art of divination gently, giving her the opportunity to work on her art, be clear with clients about what she could and could not do, and to create her oracular persona. She thought she had it all together, when a man showed up at her door unexpectedly. He needed her help, he said, and she invited him to watch her paint. When she finished, she saw that she had painted an amorous couple in bed. The man told her he was having an affair, and he was afraid it would show up when his wife came over to see her. His wife had made an appointment with Helie for the following day. Just then, Helie looked out the window and a wild turkey walked into her back yard, making her catch her breath. She told the man, he had nothing to worry about; his wife was also having an affair. ‘How do you know,’ he wanted to know. ‘I can’t explain it, but I know it, ‘ said Helie. The man left relieved.
That’s how a wild turkey entered Helie’s life, and she called him Wild. Wild would show up out of the blue whenever she was confronted with a dilemma. She’d raise her eyes and see the wild turkey, and she’d feel an electric current run through her body, giving her a flash of insight.
When word about her reached university students, Wild became of crucial importance to her. Weird things would often show up in her artwork with the younger crowd, and if it wasn’t for the wild turkey, she would have been at a loss trying to explain them. Like the time a young girl came for her appointment. The girl breezed into the house, plopped herself on the couch, and began a monologue about the weekend and her friends and the blue cactus and the drinking, and Helie fell into a trance in record time. That was the easy part. When Helie came out of the trance, she saw that she had painted the portrait of a young man with a floral design on his face instead of features. ‘What’s that!’ the girl cried, frightened. Almost by reflex, Helie looked outside the window, hoping for an answer, and there was Wild. She told the young girl that she had painted the one she loved, but the one she loved only had eyes for a body artist who worked with henna. The young girl was furious. ‘I know who that is!’ she said.
Bronzino’s Mask by Alberto Gálvez, 2016
The girl left Helie’s house all upset. As she crossed the front yard, I showed up and startled her. She sat on the grass and started to cry. I stayed close to her, making funny faces and trying to cheer her up. She watched me and couldn’t help laughing at the same time that she was crying. When her laughter overrode her tears, she wiped her face and stood up. She thanked me for my delightful company, and went off to catch a bus back to her dorm.
She was sitting by her window looking at the flower bed she had just finished weeding, and got lost in thought. She was having an affair and her husband was having an affair, and neither of them had the courage to talk about it. Maybe she should be the one to say, Let’s talk. She noticed movement. A wild turkey in her flower bed! She called her husband to come see it.
The child sees me in her garden and chases me. I let her catch me and we both fall over. She caresses my neck and my head, and right where my head touches the lawn, she finds what she’s been looking for. She plucks it and runs to show her mom.
Helie opened the newspaper and saw the announcement she was hoping to see: the birth of twins. There was a picture of the couple holding their newborn children. Helie was so happy, she felt like painting outdoors. She carried her easel, canvas and paints to her back yard. She looked around and saw me. “Don’t go anywhere, Wild. I’m going to paint you,” she said.
On that special day, she painted my portrait.
Photo by Greg Hume
When Helie put the paintbrush down, the doorbell rang. She walked to the front of the house and saw the man who had called her early that morning; his name was Eli. He was sorry to disturb her so early, he had said, but someone had told him about her, and he wanted to know if she could paint him a picture. He was worried about his son not being so outgoing, kind of withdrawn, and he wondered if she could help him figure out if things were okay. Helie asked him to join her in the back; she felt like painting outdoors; did he mind? Not at all, he answered, and pulled up a lawn chair in front of her easel. He asked her if that wild turkey was hers, and Helie said, ‘No, I think she belongs to the gods.’ Surprised by her answer, Eli looked at Wild, and Wild looked right back at Eli, daring him to doubt it. ‘I think you’re right,’ said Eli. Helie asked him to talk about his son, and Eli began to tell her all about him, and Helie fell into a trance.
When Helie finished painting, she said, ‘What’s up’, and noticed that Eli had dozed off. She cleaned her paintbrush and palette and waited for him to wake up. When he did, he got up to look at the painting, and saw happiness. You’re doing a good job raising your son, Helie told him. Thank you, said Eli. Can I come again? I mean, could I come again for you to paint a picture, so I can check on him, he asked her, and Helie said, Of course.
Snap the Whip by Winslow Homer, 1872
I was talking to Helie when I saw her change and withdraw into her own world. Kind of like my son does. She went quiet like my son goes quiet, and it made me quiet down too. I understood something that was important for me to understand; that it’s okay to be quiet, nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean something’s wrong. I was watching her paint, when I dozed off and had a dream that I can still remember. I usually remember a dream when I wake up and then it’s gone. I could see myself sitting in the lawn chair and Helie painting, and a shaft of light pouring down from the sky, washing over the wild turkey. Wild was standing in this natural spotlight, and began to rise inside it all the way up to the sky. Kind of like in one of those sci-fi movies where a UFO sucks things up from earth with a light beam. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember seeing the turkey when I woke up.
If you think the gods aren’t watching, think again. The moment Helie went into a trance and Eli fell asleep, they brought me up to meet Uranus. “I’ve been looking for a bird with a good sense of timing, Wild,” said Uranus. “You seem to show up right when people need that bit of shock that connects them to me. You can go back to doing what you’ve been doing, but now you go back as my sacred bird.” I couldn’t believe it! A portrait and sacred bird status in one day. My lucky day.
Helie and Eli
Eli called to make an appointment a week later. When Helie opened the door, she said, “You must be worried about your son.”
“No,” said Eli. “I told him about some of the games I played when I was a kid, and now he comes home and tells me all about the games he’s played with his friends in the playground.”
Helie smiled. “So you’ve come about something else?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
He took a seat and she got ready to paint. He began talking about his sailboat, how he was getting it ready, and would she like to go sailing with him. She didn’t hear the last part because she was already in a trance. Eli watched her paint in silence, and this time, he saw her put her paintbrush down and heard her say, ‘What’s up?’ When Helie looked at the painting, she didn’t understand it. Then she understood it and looked up to see him, but he was already beside her.
Mutisia Clematis by Alberto Gálvez, 2016
“She looks like me, but she isn’t me,” said Helie.
“I’ve been thinking about you, Helie,” Eli touched her shoulder.
“Yes, but I’m not the one,” she told him.
“It’s how I see you,” he told her.
He left, and left her thinking. She turned to see if Wild was outside, but the back yard was still.
She had her friends over at her place, and she was recounting some of her experiences with the younger crowd; how some of them would slam the door behind them when they didn’t like what she had painted. Her friends suggested that she hire a security guard. ‘Wouldn’t that be pretentious of me?’ she asked, and got up to paint. How about a security system with a panic button or having some pepper spray handy? they suggested. ‘Wouldn’t pepper spraying someone get me in trouble with the law?’ she wanted to know. While her friends did some research on that and chatted away, she fell into a trance. When she finished painting, they asked her who he was. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. They joked around with her and said that maybe he was the security guard she was thinking of hiring. She reminded them that they had been the ones to suggest it.
When her friends left, she went back to look at the painting. It was a portrait of Eli. The funny thing was that he was an officer.
The phone rang.
A portrait by Alberto Gálvez, 2008
Four of us were asked to attend an event yesterday, but they didn’t end up needing us. It was supposed to take place outdoors, but it was raining, so it took place indoors, and there were already enough security guards in there keeping an eye on things. We just stayed for a while and made our presence felt. Charlie, who’s a tarot reader, was in our group, and I got a chance to ask him about Helie. Charlie has a checklist of all the things he needs to have on him, and that includes his tarot deck. Whenever we get a chance to talk like we did yesterday, and a hot topic comes up, he always pulls out his deck to see what the cards have to say. I told him I like this girl Helie, and could he pull out a card for me, see if there’s a chance of us being together. He shuffled his deck and asked me to tell him more about her. I told him she has the oracular gift. You go to her with a question, and she gives you an answer, not with words, but with a painting. Wow, he said. I’d like to meet her. She’s mine, I warned him. Anyways, he pulled out the 2 of cups. He said, yes, there’s a possibility of a partnership, a friendship, and even love and romance, and he advised me to be tactful and to take it slow.
Charlie’s a great guy but he doesn’t know how to keep things to himself. He told Nick who was beside him about Helie’s gift, and Nick asked me if he could meet her too. I went up close to the two of them, and told them that nobody was going to meet her until I had established the 2 of cups with her. Charlie pulled out another card, and it was the knight of wands. He told me that I was like a knight on fire, set on conquering Helie’s heart. Dave who had been standing silent next to me, joined in. He looked at the card and said he could feel the passion driving me forth into battle. The three of them rocked back and forth quite amused, but I didn’t care. I had my 2 of cups and all I wanted was to give Helie a call.
When I got a chance to call her, I asked her out and she said yes.
I always pull out a card before heading home; make sure I know what the mood will be like when I get there. If I get the 2 of swords, I stop by the bakery to buy something sweet. 2 of swords is having to make a choice, and knowing my wife, I know what choice she’s going to ask me to make. Whenever she’s had a bad day at work or is upset in any way, she picks on my beard. She’ll say that she misses the clean-shaven man she fell in love with; she misses seeing me in the driver’s seat with my baby face and sunglasses. ‘Me or your beard,’ she’ll say. ‘You can’t have both.’ That’s when I’ll tell her that I’m a bit hungry; come share this sweet I got from the bakery, and she’ll sit with me and tell me what’s really bothering her, and she’ll forget about the beard.
I got to meet Helie this week. Eli had been asking me to pull cards for him on a daily basis, and when I asked him again if I could have a session with his girlfriend, he agreed to arrange it. I wanted to experience her form of divination. It’s one thing to pull out a tarot card, but something on a completely different level to go into a trance and paint a picture.
What a charming woman she is. We chatted about the upcoming picnic, and she said Eli had mentioned it. I told her that she should come, that everyone was curious about her and wanted to meet her, and she fell into a trance. When she finished painting and said, ‘What’s up’, I got up to look at her work. She had made a copy of a Titian portrait that I have always admired. I told her that when I first saw this portrait, I wanted to look like this man, and that my beard is modeled after his.
She had captured my essence.
Man with a Quilted Sleeve by Titian, ca. 1509
Eli walked with Helie, introducing her to his friends. His friends noticed that he wasn’t so high-strung when he was with her. She made him calmer; you could even say she gave him elegance. Everyone was interested in Helie’s gift; could they make an appointment to see her? ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘Eli can give you my number.’ They wanted her to give it to them directly because Eli was too possessive of her. ‘Really?’ she said, laughing and holding Eli’s arm. She told them that he wanted to arrange for her to have Security at home when she had people over. ‘You don’t have to worry about us,’ they said. ‘We are Security.’ Their own affirmation took them by surprise. The realization that they were it sunk in and left them in silent contemplation. Helie sensed what was going through their minds and said she’d be back in a moment.
She saw Charlie and went over to say hello to him. She asked him if he could pull out a card for her, and he asked her if something was wrong. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I just need to know if I can take charge of something. I need some reassurance.’ He shuffled his deck and drew the 9 of pentacles. He said he saw her establishing her craft with the help of a hooded falcon. She laughed and said that in her case it was with the help of a wild turkey. She rummaged through her purse, found some business cards, and went back to hand them to Eli’s friends.
Helie and Eli’s friends
Some patterns began to emerge in Helie’s work due to recurring questions. Wild would help her decipher their meaning when they first showed up on canvas, and she’d recognize them after that. Many would come with questions about a promotion, for example, and she’d either paint a person riding a horse or standing beside one. A person riding a horse meant a triumph of some sort, and a person standing beside one did not.
Shah Jahan on Horseback, ca. 1630
Some people came out of curiosity, simply to see what would show up for them.
With Nick, she painted her first sports car, and he said she’d done an excellent job; he was in love with that car. With Dave she painted the portrait of a monk, and he confessed that he was considering a career change. Wouldn’t that be a drastic change? she asked him. Yes and no, he said, philosophically. He was already counselling a lot of people so they wouldn’t end up in jail; he now wanted to counsel people so they wouldn’t end up in hell. He was leaning more toward matters of the soul, than matters of the law.
A monk with a book by Titian, 1548-52
Her favourite types were the lean and lanky one, with longish hair, très artistique. They’d sit on the couch and pose for her, and she’d say, ‘No, no, please relax. I’m not a portrait artist. Why don’t you tell me what sports you like to play.’ They’d talk about hockey or soccer, and she’d fall into a trance. When she’d finish, they’d look at the painting intently, stroking their chin, admiring themselves and asking her, What does it mean? She’d smile and say that they were fit enough to be an artist’s muse.
‘I yearn to be your muse,’ by Alberto Gálvez, 2013
The women were also fun. They would come into her house crunching an apple, sit on a chair and look around, unable to be still. She’d ask them to tell her about themselves, and they’d chatter away with lots of movement and facial expressions and waving the apple around. She had to look out the window not to get distracted by all their activity; she’d turn away and just listen to their sounds and fall into a trance. When she finished painting, they would look at her work and finally quiet down, remembering that moment in time.
Girl on a Swing by Winslow Homer, 1879
When curiosity about her died down, Helie went back to seeing people in need of an oracle. A woman called her and said that her boyfriend had left her and taken all her money. Could Helie help her understand why? Helie invited her to come and watch her paint. The woman arrived with tears streaming down her face and Helie couldn’t get her to talk. ‘Do you play the piano?’ Helie asked her, pointing at her piano. The woman nodded and sat down to play. Helie listened and fell into a trance. When she put the paintbrush down and said, ‘What’s up?’, she saw her work and had a déjà vu. She looked outside, and there was Wild, and she felt that electric current run through her body. The woman stopped playing and came over to see painting. ‘Are you a body artist?’ Helie asked her. The woman said, yes, I work with henna. ‘Was your boyfriend a body artist too?’ Helie wanted to know. The woman said he was trying to become one; he was learning from her, watching her, tracing her work. ‘He took away your money, but he left you your talent,’ Helie told her. ‘More than that; he gave it back to you, because you were willing to give it away for love.’
A portrait by Alberto Gálvez, 2014
Helie and Eli
People who come to see me can take their painting with them or blur it out with a paintbrush before leaving. The body artist took her painting with her; it was her portrait, but I noticed that there was a bit of me in it. Every self-portrait marks a turning point in my life, and I sensed that something new was coming. I played some music, took a fresh canvas, and stood in front of my easel, ready to paint.
I walked into her living room and saw her looking out the window at Wild. I said her name, and she turned to look at me. She had painted the candy cane rings I was holding in a paper bag. I was going to propose to her with a candy cane ring; they’re her favourite candy.
“Will you marry me?”
“Yes, I will.”
Imploding Bubbles by Isaac Quigley, 2019
Eli and his friends
Two cars parked in opposite directions with the driver-side windows lined up. Charlie and Dave are in one car; Eli and Nick are in the other. They’re all sipping milkshakes.
“Best milkshake ever.”
“Best thing is that you drink it with a straw and keep your beard clean.”
“Don’t have that problem, but yeah, it’s good.
“I asked Helie to marry me,” said Eli.
“Did she say yes?”
Eli nodded and his friends congratulated him.
“So you’re establishing your 2 of cups, Eli,” said Charlie. “Good for you.”
“You should pull out a card for him, Charlie,” Dave nudged him.
“Okay,” said Charlie, reaching for his deck.
“We’re not changing anything about our relationship,” said Eli. “We’re just getting married.”
“Not moving in together?”
“No. I like my space and she likes her space,” Eli explained.
“You can both have your own space in one house -“
“Would be more economical -“
“She works from home; many people come and go; she needs privacy,” said Eli.
“That many people. Who are they?”
“You guys are. I saw Jeanette and Dina in her appointment book.”
“My Jeanette?” asked Charlie.
“Yup. Same last name.”
“Funny, she hasn’t mentioned it,” said Charlie.
“You sure it’s my Dina?” asked Nick.
“Yup. Same last name too.”
“She hasn’t mentioned it either.”
“Please don’t tell my girlfriend about Helie,” said Dave.
“You’re still going out with her?”
“Weren’t you going to become a priest?”
“I can’t. She’s pregnant,” said Dave.
“Sorry about that, Dave.”
“That’s okay. I’m actually looking forward to becoming a dad,” he said.
“When Dina goes over to see Helie, could you tell me what shows up in the painting?” Nick asked Eli.
Eli shook his head and said he couldn’t. “Helie says she can’t remember what she painted once the session’s over.”
Charlie pulled out the Moon card.
“She’s hiding the truth,” he said. “The Moon means secrets; things that are hidden and kept away from you. She probably remembers but doesn’t tell you.”
“That’s ethical of her, isn’t it?” asked Dave. “She’s protecting people’s privacy; you’ve got to give her credit for that.”
“Charlie, pull out a card for me,” said Nick. “I’d like to know why Dina’s going to see Helie.”
Charlie shuffled and pulled out the Strength card.
“Strength is about facing the unknown and having the courage to do something you haven’t done before. Look at it; it shows a woman putting her hand in a lion’s mouth.”
“What’s she getting into…” mumbled Nick.
“Hang in there, Dave. I need to pull out a card for myself. See what’s going on with Jeanette,” Charlie said. He shuffled and pulled out the Devil card.
“The Devil!” cried Dave.
“The Devil speaks of addictions; not being able to let go of something or someone; it can also mean temptation.” Charlie paused and scratched his beard before continuing. “Jeanette’s addicted to sugar, always on a diet, and she’s been going on and on about a weight-loss vacation. I guess I better take her.”
“Is that a real thing?”
“Yes is it. Damn expensive. Google it.”
“My turn,” said Dave.
Charlie pulled out the knight of cups.
“Someone’s bringing you a cup of love, Dave. It’s that baby coming,” said Charlie, and Dave gleamed.
“Eli’s getting married,” said Charlie, shuffling the cards. He pulled out the 10 of cups. “Looks like a happy marriage to me, Eli. Cheers!”
“Cheers!” they all said, raising their milkshakes.
Loud gurgling slurpy sounds as the four of them polish them off.
Dina and Nick
“Guess what? I went to see Helie today.”
(sudden coughing fit) “You- You did?”
“You okay? Shall I get you some water?”
(clearing his throat) “I’m okay. How did it go? I mean, with Helie.”
“Amazing. I sat on the couch, watching her paint, thinking about the weight-loss vacation Jeanette has been telling me about; and guess what she painted?”
“The cover of the weight-loss vacation brochure; can you believe it? I’ve booked us the package – flights and stay. We’re joining Charlie and Jeanette. We’re going!” she said, hugging him.
“But babe, what about my fear of flying? You know I don’t do so well on flights – “
“But Nicky, it’s a shorter flight than the last one we were on, and you did so well, remember? Please do it again for me, please. I’ll give you all my strength and courage and – “
“Okay, okay, babe,” he said, caressing her cheek. “I’ll do it for you.”
Jeanette and Charlie
(sitting beside him and stroking his beard) “Guess what, Charlie? I went to see Helie today.”
(sudden coughing fit) “You- You did?”
(rubbing his back) “Need some water?”
(clearing his throat) “No, no, I’m okay. How did it go? What did she paint for you?”
“She painted the cover of the weight-loss vacation brochure; can you believe it? I guess we’re going.”
“I don’t mind, baby.”
“Nick and Dina are joining us, and I’m trying to get a few more people -“
“Why can’t we go alone? Just the two of us?”
“Because of your addiction, Charlie.”
“The Tarot cards! I end up alone while you pull out cards for all these people! Remember how they’d line up to wait their turn on our last cruise?”
“It’s true, Charlie! And I really don’t mind, as long as I have some company. I mean, it’s kind of nice to be married to someone who can read cards.”
“You’re okay with that?” he asked her, loving her.
“I’m okay with that,” she answered, loving him back.
Dave and his girlfriend
“Guess what, Davie? I went to see Helie today.”
(sudden coughing fit) “How?” cough “Who?” cough
“You okay, Davie?”
(clearing his throat) “I’m okay, honey.”
“Jeanette and Dina told me about Helie, and I went to see her.”
“What did she paint for you?”
“Here; take a look. Careful, it’s still not dry,” she said, showing him the painting.
“What place is this?”
“Open this envelope and you’ll see,” she said, handing him an envelope.
“A weight-loss vacation?”
“Your first Father’s Day gift, Davie,” she said. “We’re going with Jeanette and Charlie, Dina and Nick -“
“Thank you, honey,” he said, bringing her close and kissing her. “Thank you for this cup of love.”
Helie and Eli
“Helie, there’s a group going on a weight-loss vacation. You pretty much know all of them; there’s Charlie and Jeanette, Nick and Dina, Dave and his girlfriend. Should we join them?
The Bridle Path by Winslow Homer, 1868
Helie went on the moderate hiking trails, accompanying Sandy, Dave’s girlfriend, and she noticed each time that a cardinal came with them. He was a male, but unlike other males, he had a black crest. He was a black-crested and black-bearded cardinal that made her laugh. She wanted to paint him and she asked the resort owners, a friendly couple, where she could get art supplies. They gave her directions, and she came back with everything she needed, and she painted the cardinal. The owners came to look at her work and said that the cardinal she had painted belonged to the town’s Oracle.
“Your town has an Oracle?” she asked, surprised.
“Yes,” they said. “He came on vacation, discovered his gift and never went back.”
“How does he work,” she wanted to know.
“See those fields of wild grass down there?” the couple pointed south. “He walks the trails surrounding those fields with a jump rope. When he sees the cardinal rest on the branch of a tree, he stops and jumps rope to clear his mind of all thoughts. He then strips, sprays insect repellent on his body and walks into the fields. He sits and listens to the rustling grass; he says the grass sings the answers he’s looking for.”
“Have you ever asked him questions?’ she asked the couple.
“Many times,” they said. “He’s helped us find lost items. We once had a guest who could not find her passport. That was the first time we asked him for help. He came back from the fields to tell us that the passport was in-between the covers of a magazine in the guest’s room, and it was true – that’s where it was.”
“I’d like to meet him.” she said.
“He’ll be here this afternoon,” they told her. “He has an appointment with 3 of our other guests, Léa, Mary and Rose. Have you met them?”
Helie shook her head no.
“Come with us,” they said. “We’ll introduce you to them, and we’ll make sure you meet the Oracle after he sees them.”
The couple introduced Helie to the 3 women, and Helie spent the rest of the morning getting to know them; where they were from; what had brought them here – not to lose weight, surely. They had come to enjoy nature, be fed healthy food and to be pampered, they told her. Helie said that she was here with her boyfriend and some friends, and she was loving the place.
They saw a tall man come in, walk up and down the lobby, looking for something or someone, and not finding what he was looking for, he sat on a bench and checked his phone. The owners appeared, and seeing the man, went over to him.
“Good to see you again, Singing Grass,” they said. “Good to see you so well dressed too. You almost gave us a heart attack when you appeared in the nude last time.”
“Sorry about that, folks, but I couldn’t find my clothes when I came out of the fields. I knew you were anxiously waiting for an answer, so I rushed here. Oh! I forgot to bring back the robe you lent me,” he said.
“Don’t worry about returning it, please; it’s yours. But do come and meet Léa, Mary and Rose; they’re expecting you. We’d also like you to meet Helie.”
Singing Grass and the women greeted each other.
Helie got up and said, “I’ll leave you to your appointment -“
“No, no, Helie; you can stay with us,” said the 3 women, pulling Helie back down on her chair.
Singing Grass asked the 3 women what answers were they looking for, and the 3 women told him a bizarre story about a lawyer and a detective gone astray, love misplaced and cell phones. Even though it happened a long time ago, they still had flashbacks, especially when they drove by the lawyer’s office. In fact, whenever they drove by his office, they felt like making that left turn into his parking lot, walking inside his office and confronting him. But here was the thing; each time they were about to make that left turn, an ambulance with its siren blaring and lights flashing would block their way and bring them back to their senses.
“Is the ambulance someone’s calculated move?” asked Léa.
“Is it a coincidence?” asked Mary.
“Or is it divine providence making sure we don’t go in there and get charged with harassment?” asked Rose.
“Is the ambulance protecting us? asked Léa.
“Is it warning us?” asked Mary.
“Or is the ambulance reminding us how stupid we were?” asked Rose.
Singing Grass said he would take their questions to the fields. Before leaving, he asked Helie if she too had a question, and Helie said, “No; I’m just curious to know what the grass will tell you.”
Singing Grass whistled and the cardinal appeared. He walked to the fields of wild grass with the bird fluttering and flying beside him. When the bird found a branch to perch on, Singing Grass did some stretches and readied his jump rope. He began jumping with even breaths, and he cleared his mind of the past, the present and the future. When his mind was quiet, he stopped, rolled the jump rope and left it on the ground. He took his clothes off and sprayed insect repellent all over his body. He then walked into the fields and found a place to sit. The tall grass rustled in the gentle breeze, singing to him a melody of welcome.
In his mind, he asked the grass, what about this ambulance?
He heard a siren.
Is it a calculated move, a coincidence or divine providence?
He heard a siren.
Is it protection, a warning or ridicule?
He heard a siren. He opened his eyes, and there was an ambulance parked on the trail.
“You Okay there, man?” the ambulance driver asked him.
“I’m Okay. You’re not allowed to drive on the trail!”
“I’ve been asked to go to the next town and I thought I’d take this shortcut. Saw your head floating on the grass and stopped to see if you’re Okay.”
“I’m Okay. I’m meditating.”
“Mind if I take a picture of you? To share with my tribe? We like to share weird things we come across. Wild man meditating in wild grass will give me 15 minutes of fame.”
“Thanks, man! See ya!”
Singing Grass got up, got dressed, picked up his things and whistled to the cardinal that it was time to go. Together, they made their way back to the resort.
He found the women in the pool and went to the sit by the edge. He told them that the answer to each of their questions was yes. Is the ambulance a calculated move? Yes. A coincidence? Yes. Divine providence? Yes. Protection? Yes. A warning? Yes. A reminder of their stupidity? Yes.
“So we can stop arguing about who’s right?” asked Mary.
“Yes,” said Singing Grass.
“Would you like to join us for dinner?” Rose asked him.
“I’d love to.”
“Would you mind if I painted your portrait?” Helie asked him.
“Not at all. I seem to be getting my 15 minutes of fame today.”
Helie got out of the pool and brought her painting tools. She painted Singing Grass conscious not to fall into a trance. Whenever she was on holiday, she made sure her oracular gift was kept a secret.
Singing Grass by Alberto Gálvez, 2016
Singing Grass loved the painting, and Helie gifted it to him. She said goodbye to the 3 women who were leaving the next day, and she rejoined her group.
“Where have you been, Helie!”
She told them about Singing Grass, and they all wanted to meet him, especially Charlie.
“You’re telling me he communicates with wild grass?”
“He goes into a meditative state and listens to the sounds of rustling grass. He says he listens to the grass sing the answers he’s looking for.”
“Fascinating. Let’s call him,” said Charlie, excited.
Helie pointed at the restaurant and said, “He’s actually having dinner right now with 3 of his clients; Léa, Mary and Rose.”
“Those names ring a bell,” said Charlie, rubbing his beard and heading to the restaurant. He saw 3 women dining with a tall man and introduced himself as Helie’s friend. “Mind if I join you?”
“Please do, ” they said, pulling up a chair for him.
“I read the Tarot cards myself, but the Tarot does not answer specific questions, and I have a very specific question. Do you think you could help me?” Charlie asked Singing Grass.
“I’ll try my best,” he answered. “Are you comfortable telling me your question in the presence of Léa, Mary and Rose? Or would you prefer telling me tomorrow before I go to the fields?”
“I don’t mind telling you now if the women don’t mind.”
The women looked at each other and said they didn’t mind at all.
“On the contrary,” said Léa. “We’re curious to know what it is.”
“My hair’s receding at the temples. See here?” He showed them the beginning of a widow’s peak. “I want to know if I’m going to be bald.”
“I hear going bald can be a traumatic experience for a man,” said Rose.
Charlie nodded. “I want to be prepared. I’ve modeled my hair and beard after a Titian portrait. If I’m going to be bald, I need to start searching for another portrait I can identify with.”
“How original,” said Léa with admiration.
“A very healthy approach,” said Mary.
“I will go to the fields of wild grass tomorrow and ask your question, Charlie,” said Singing Grass.
“Thank you,” said Charlie. He wished the 3 women a safe flight, and as he rose to leave, a light bulb went off in his head. He was sure these were the 3 women the Detective had told him about.
“See you tomorrow, Charlie.”
“See you tomorrow, Singing Grass.”
Singing Grass sat in the fields for hours the following day. No matter how many times he asked if Charlie would be bald, the blades of grass kept singing the song ‘Que sera sera, Whatever will be, will be.’
He felt a presence and opened his eyes. A fire truck was parked on the trail. After his experience with the ambulance, seeing the fire truck did not surprise him. The door opened and a firefighter jumped out.
“Heard about you, man. I even saw a picture. Wanted to know if you were for real,” he told Singing Grass.
“I’m for real.”
“Are you some kind of guru?”
“No. I’m just looking for answers.”
“I have a question for you. My granddaughter wants me to teach her a song for her mom’s birthday. What song should I teach her?”
“Que sera sera, Whatever will be, be.”
“Okay; I can handle that one,” he nodded with approval. “Good family song, too. Thanks, man. Need a ride?”
“I don’t need a ride, thank you, but I do need something else. Could you take a selfie with my phone; it’s lying on top of my clothes over there. I’d like to show a friend what he could do with his hair.”
“He’s having hair trouble?”
“My hair looks good, doesn’t it.”
Portrait of Andrea de’ Franceschi by the Workshop of Titian, ca. 1500
Before getting up, Singing Grass gently and lovingly ran his hands over the wild grass around him. He got dressed, picked up his things and whistled to the cardinal that it was time to go. Back at the resort, he told Charlie that he wouldn’t go completely bald, and he showed him the picture of the firefighter. Charlie said he could live with that. In fact, he was sure he’d seen a Titian portrait that looked like that guy.
Nick asked Singing Grass how it all began for him, and Singling Grass said that it all began when he saw a plant’s ECG.
“Really?” said Nick.
“Really,” said Singing Grass. “Plants have a beat.”
Expériences avec électrocardiographe by Cheryl Pagurek, 2014
Helie wanted to know more about the black-crested cardinal, and Singing Grass said that the day after he arrived to this place, he woke up early to go for a walk, and the cardinal simply appeared and led him to the fields. He couldn’t resist walking into all that lush wild grass, but the mosquitoes got under his clothes and almost ate him alive. He made his way back the following day, and once again, the cardinal led the way. This time, he stripped, sprayed insect repellent, and walked into the fields without getting bitten. He sat down to meditate, and he heard the grass sing the words, “Stay, stay, stay.”
“I stayed, and the cardinal has led the way to the fields ever since,” said Singing Grass.
“Have you ever thought that you may be hearing the words of a god?” Sandy asked him. “Like the Oracle of Embrun who channelled the words of the god Op-Pollo.”
“Who’s to say?” said Singing Grass. “Op-Pollo’s the god of prophecy, poetry and music. His words could very well be in nature’s music.”
“But Op-Pollo’s bird is the crow, and not the black-crested cardinal,” she told him.
“I had never seen a black-crested cardinal until I came here,” said Helie.
“Me neither.” said Sandy. “But I’ve read a story that mentions one, and it’s in relation to the god Op-Maul .”
“God of chaos and conflict?” asked Singing Grass.
“He’s my favourite god!” said Eli.
“Tell us the story, Sandy.”
“Okay; it’s when Op-Pollo sent Op-Maul to earth for the first time,” she began. “He sent him to a kingdom where people lived in silence, serving a mighty king. Op-Maul went around stealing things and stirring things up, and people found their voice and began accusing each other. In the end, they rose together against the king and demanded justice. When it came time to leave, Op-Maul begged Op-Pollo to let him stay on earth; he loved it here. ‘Let me stay, brother! Let me stay!’ he cried, and the echo of the word ‘stay’ reached the heavens.”
“Hey, Singing Grass; that’s like your grass singing the words, ‘Stay, stay, stay,” said Charlie.
“Wow,” said Singing Grass.
“Op-Pollo told Op-Maul that he would come back to earth from time to time, but he couldn’t live here permanently,” continued Sandy. “He gave him permission to take something with him that would remind him of earth, and Op-Maul chose the black-crested cardinal. He chose it because it has his battle colours – the black and red lines he paints on his face to look scary.”
“Singing Grass, you should ask the wild grass if Op-Maul speaks the words you hear.”
“I will, first thing in the morning.”
Red Cardinals (with model: Olga) by Katie Watersell, Digital Art, 2016
At dawn, the following day, he followed the cardinal to the fields. He looked at the bird with new eyes, wondering if he was the mighty Op-Maul’s chosen bird.
He jumped rope and cleared his mind, and went to sit in the grass still covered in dew drops. He took a deep breath and asked the grass, “Who speaks the words I hear?” He heard the sound of a motorcycle on the trail, coming closer, coming closer, rushing by and going around the fields, around the fields, then coming closer, coming closer. He opened his eyes and saw the motorcycle rush by with a rider in a billowing black robe. He waited for it to go around the fields, around the fields, then come closer and closer, and rush by again. This time, he caught a flash of a face painted red and black. “Op-Maul,” he whispered, and the sound of the motorcycle disappeared. He heard the grass sing, “Yes, yes, yes.” He got up with goose bumps all over his body; got dressed and whistled to the cardinal that it was time to go.
Sandy saw him walk into the restaurant and called him, “Singing Grass! Come join us for breakfast!” As he got closer, she saw how pale he was. “What happened?”
“You were right, Sandy. I hear the words of Op-Maul.”
“But that’s wonderful, Singing Grass. He chose you to be his Oracle; it’s a privilege.”
“It’s scary,” said Singing Grass.
“You should ask him a fun question,” said Eli.
“Yeah, ask him who’s the better looking fellow among us,” said Charlie.
They joked around and the air of joviality in the room made Singing Grass feel better. He said he was going to ask Op-Maul when would he find love. He often felt a pang of jealousy when he saw people coupled up and him still single.
He walked to the fields the next morning, and followed his usual routine. When he was comfortably seated, he asked the wild grass and the god Op-Maul when would he find love. He listened to the sounds and felt the earth tremble. The next thing he knew, he was in a sinkhole.
He tried to scramble to the top, but the sides kept giving way. He heard the sound of a motorcycle and held his breath. The motorcycle stopped close to where he was. He heard someone make a call and say, ‘Sinkhole in the fields; the Oracle is down there.’ Singing Grass realized that the guy – the god! – was using his cell phone. He heard the motorcycle leave, and then he heard sirens.
A woman gave orders and the sound of her voice was music to his ears.
She said, “Let’s get moving everyone!” and he heard music.
She said, “Haven’t you seen a naked man before! Let’s speed things up!” and he heard music.
She said, “Pull him out of there! Careful with his ribs!” and he heard music.
When he was back on solid ground, she asked him, “How are you feeling?”
“In love,” he told her.
Universal Man in Love (after Leonardo da Vinci) by Alberto Gálvez, 2016
He saw Charlie and Nick and Helie and the rest of them running to him.
“You okay there, Singing Grass?”
“I’m okay,” said Singing Grass. “And I got my answer too.”
“What a way to get an answer.”
“Told you it’s scary.”
They walked back together to the resort, with the cardinal whistling a song.
“Am I imagining things or is the cardinal singing, ‘Come on, baby, and rescue me; come on, baby, and rescue me…” sang Charlie.
“Cause I need you by my side; can’t you see that I’m lonely…” Nick joined in.
“Rescue me…” they all sang together.
Before their vacation came to an end, Helie told Singing Grass about her own oracular gift. He asked if she would paint for him; he wanted to know if the woman whose voice had extinguished his fears in the sinkhole would love him back. They chatted by the pool side, and Helie fell into a trance and painted. When she finished and said, ‘What’s up?’, she was startled to see the cardinal perched on her shoulder. She told Singing Grass that at first, the woman would think he was suffering from Opposite Florence Nightingale Syndrome. What’s that? he asked her. ‘It’s when the rescuee falls in love with the rescuer,’ she explained. ‘But with time, you’ll grow on her and she’ll love you back.’ So she’s the one, isn’t she? he said with a smile. ‘Yes, she’s the one,’ Helie told him.
Rescuee in love with Rescuer by Alberto Gálvez, 2017
They were settling their accounts at the front desk when Eli looked out the window and saw ER getting out of a cab.
“Look, there’s ER.”
“Yup, that’s him.”
“Who’s ER?” the women wanted to know.
“Short for Elbow Recognition,” said Eli.
“He can tell your age, weight, height and more, just by looking at your elbow,” said Dave.
“If he gets a chance to look at your elbow when he meets you, he’ll never forget you. He’ll remember your name by the look of your elbow, not your face,” said Nick.
“You’re kidding us,” said the women.
“No,” said Charlie. “He blew my cover once because of my elbow. I was driving a cab with my elbow sticking out the window, when I hear him call out, ‘Hey Charlie! How come you’re not in your cruiser!’ He was driving an ambulance behind me and couldn’t see me at all – just my elbow.”
“I don’t think I’d be able to recognize you by your elbow, Charlie,” said Jeanette
“Here, watch this,” Dave told the women. He had the men stand with their backs to the lobby entrance.
ER walked in and exclaimed, “Hey Charlie! Nick! Eli! Dave! Good to see you! Did you just get here?”
“Good to see you ER!” the four of them said, turning around. “Nah, we’re about to leave.”
“What about your fear of flying, Nick?” ER asked him.
“How do you know I have a fear of flying?”
“I can see it in your elbow.”
“What!” said Nick, looking at his elbow.
‘Just kidding man. We were on the same flight last year, remember? You were about to pass out and Dina came to get me.”
“That’s right; forgot about that. I did much better coming here, so I’m hoping I’ll be alright going back.”
“Good to hear, man.” He turned his attention to Charlie, and said, “Say, Charlie; have a minute to pull a card for me?”
Charlie shuffled his deck and pulled the 4 of pentacles. “The suit of pentacles has to do with resources. I’m not just talking about money and the things you own, but about your training and skills. Here you see a man who’s king in his field,” he showed ER the card. “His whole make-up and mind-set is in tune with it. He’s defined by his field, but he’s also confined by it. If you hold a pentacle the way this king is, you’ll see that you cannot move it around too far.”
“Is that bad?” asked ER
“Charlie! The bus is leaving!” the others called.
“Gotta go ER. Call me when you get back, and go see the town Oracle,” said Charlie, pointing at Helie’s portrait of Singing Grass hanging in the lobby.
When ER met Singing Grass, he showed him a picture of the 4 of pentacles. “I’m defined and confined by my field, Singing Grass,” he said.
“Do you feel burdened by your job? I mean, this king looks like he’s burdened by those pentacles.”
“You’re not a psychologist, are you?”
“Not at all. I’m an Oracle.”
“All I want to know is why I got the 4 of pentacles; if it’s a bad thing.”
“I’ll ask the wild grass tomorrow and let you know, ER.”
“Say, Grass, you need to hydrate yourself better. Your elbows look pretty dry.”
Singing Grass walked with a water bottle to the fields. He noticed a crow following the cardinal but keeping a certain distance. When the cardinal found a resting place, the crow flew higher and found a resting place higher up. Singing Grass finished drinking his water before he jumped rope and cleared his mind. He went to sit on the wild grass and asked why ER got the 4 of pentacles; if it was a bad thing. The wild grass sang, ‘Defined and confined by his field.’ He asked for clarification, but there was complete silence after that. ‘I’ll come back later,’ he thought to himself, and when he stood up, he saw an older woman on the trail standing beside her bicycle.
“Nothing wrong with that,” she said.
“Sorry – ” Singing Grass began to apologize.
“Nothing wrong with that. For a moment, you brought back the magic of Woodstock. All of us meditating in a state of nature. The god Op-Pollo must have been sleeping when we were there; he can be so over-protective and prudish.”
“Caw!” said the crow, and Singing Grass and the woman looked up and saw him fly away. The woman got on her bike and rode off, and Singing Grass got dressed and whistled to the cardinal that it was time to go. On his way to the resort, he saw a black feather and bent down to pick it up.
“Are you familiar with the god Op-Pollo?” he asked ER.
“Yes, of course. He’s all about being… he’s all about being defined and confined by your field,” he looked at Singing Grass.
“Nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, there’s magic in it.”
“Thanks, man,” said ER. After a pause, he added, “Your elbows look better already.”
David Campese by Paul Newton, 2000
Singing Grass and ER joined the resort owners and a few other guests for lunch. One of the guests was recounting her experience in a parking garage. She had been driving around, looking for a parking spot, when she saw a man pull a car door handle – as if checking to make sure his car was properly locked. There was a softness about him, even his backpack was made of soft cloth. The spot beside him was empty and she instinctively pulled into it. When she got to the elevator, he was holding the door open for her. She thanked him, saw that he had already pressed the ground floor button, got off there and went to an outdoor yoga class.
On her way back, she got on the elevator, and the same man came in after her. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ she said. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘So what?’ She asked him if he had gone to the yoga class and he said no, but he had seen how popular yoga had become. She chatted with him and walked beside him in the parking garage, letting him lead the way. After all, they were parked next to each other, or so she thought. The man suddenly stopped and told her she had missed her car. It was way over there, closer to the elevator. ‘Aren’t we parked next to each other?’ she asked him. He laughed and pointed in the direction he was heading. He was parked somewhere over there, he said.
“Isn’t that weird?” she asked.
“He was a Siren,” the owners told her.
“A Siren. He tapped into your herd mentality and scored a point.”
“He was a Siren like those mythological creatures?”
“Those mythological creatures were based on real people known as Sirens. They used to play a couple of notes on a flute over and over again trying to draw people to them. All they needed was to draw one person, and a crowd would follow. They tapped into people’s herd mentality.”
“What was the purpose?”
“People would give them money.”
“Do they still play the flute?’
“The notes they played over and over again had a hypnotic quality about them. When enough people had been drawn to them and given them all the money they had on them, they began to warn others to stay away from that tune. With time, the tune became a memory associated with ‘Stay away.’ Memories are in the air we breathe, so the tune doesn’t work for Sirens anymore. They use other techniques, like the one you came across in the parking garage.”
“I’d like to hear the tune they used to play.”
“You hear it all the time,” said the owners. “Of course, much louder than you would have when Sirens played it on a flute. The fire truck siren and other emergency vehicle sirens are based on that tune. Someone must have thought it would make people move away quickly to make room for them on the road.”
“Doesn’t always work,” said ER. “Many people are confused when they hear it. There’s this hesitation before they move away.”
“Still holds its hypnotic quality.”
“Some people are probably drawn to it before they remember to stay away.”
“Too bad my soon-to-be girlfriend isn’t here. She’d love to hear this,” said Singing Grass.
“His soon-to-be girlfriend’s a firefighter,” the owners told ER.
“Hypnotized you, did she?” ER asked Grass.
The Snake Charmer by Charles Wilda, ca. 1880
“I’ve heard of a soon-to-be wife or husband, but never of a soon-to-be girlfriend,” said Alice, the guest with the Siren experience. “What makes you so sure she’ll say yes?” she asked Grass.
“I take her a rose to the station every day, and she accepts it,” he responded.
“I’m told you go out to the fields to meditate and get answers,” she said with curiosity.
“Yes, I do.”
“I saw a man in black and red levitating on a motorbike out in the fields. I’ve seen people do stunts on motorbikes, but never levitation. It wasn’t you, was it?”
“Sounds like something the gods would do,” said ER. “In my profession, you hear things and experience things that open your eyes to other dimensions. A man levitating on a bike in an open field with no strings attached is either an illusion or a god.”
“It was Op-Maul,” said Singing Grass.
“Of course! Op-Maul!” said Alice, briefly covering her face. “I feel so blessed to have seen him.”
“You’re talking about the god of conflict and chaos?” asked the owners.
“To me, he’s god of life,” said Alice. “He has the energies of Mars and Uranus and he’s all about shaking and waking us up.”
Grass nodded agreement, “He does that, yes.”
“What would you say are the energies of Op-Pollo?” ER asked her.
“He’s the authority up there, but he’s also the protector, so I’d say Saturn and Jupiter.”
“Shiv is the magician… I’d give him Pluto and Mercury; I’d give Op-Yoda Neptune and Venus. We, of course, are Earth.”
“Of course,” said everyone.
“You have beautiful elbows, Alice,” said ER, stopping himself from touching them.
“Thanks ER,” she touched his shoulder. “What’s this tattoo about?”
“It’s the Wheel of Fortune in the Tarot deck. A friend of mine pulled it out for me once and told me I was on the right path.”
“Maybe noticing it on your arm tells me that I’m on the right path too. I’m a body artist, by the way.”
Body painting by Nelson Delgado, 2018
Every morning, he’d wake up and look at the skylight above his bed. He’d then rise and tend to his kingdom. He had named his kingdom the Kingdom of Sky Blue to remind everyone to look up. No other planet but earth was covered in soothing sky blue, colour of peace. His kingdom attracted peaceful people, like Port Hope attracted the hopeful, and Baie de Ha! Ha! attracted the lighthearted. The King of Sky Blue believed in the power of a name.
When a young man called Yogi Handsfree moved to his kingdom, the king wanted to know all about him; how had his name affected his makeup. He found out that Handsfree was attending the same university as his daughter, and he asked her to observe him.
“He’s just like everybody else, daddy.”
“Daughter, my biggest mistake was to name you Star. You spend most of your day trying to look like one and you do not take my instructions seriously. With the name he has, he cannot be like everybody else. Observe and report!”
Star by Andrey Remnev, 1997
“Hey, Star! Sorry can’t stop! Late for class!
“Can you come to the palace for dinner tonight? My dad’s curious about your name!”
“Sure! What time?”
Half his friends worked part-time guarding the palace, and by the time he exchanged pleasantries with everyone, he was late for the royal meal. He apologized to the royal family, and they told him not to worry, take a seat. They asked him if he had any food restrictions and he said he was a vegetarian. Ah, thought the king, a vegetarian yogi. The king wanted to know about his name, and Yogi said that his real name was Yurgi, a Latvian name that meant ‘gift of god.’ When he was small, his younger brother pronounced it as Yogi and Yogi stuck. He liked it because people used it in texting to mean, ‘you ought to go inward.’ The king asked him if he managed to go inward often, and Yogi thought about it and said, only when he rode his bike hands-free. Satisfied, the king finished his meal and left the table, and Star gave Yogi the thumbs up.
Yogi had never before analyzed his name. It was at the royal table that he first realized his surname was a portmanteau. He asked his parents where Handsfree originated from, and his dad said that once upon a time, his family was a noble family, and that all members of the nobility were surnamed Handsfree because they had servants to take care of every task. Handsfree equalled smooth hands, and Yogi looked at his hands.
He needed to think and he went out for a bike ride; hands on his waist, balancing a bean bag on his head, and moving his torso left, right, left, right, in rhythm with his pedalling. He found himself chanting: hands, free, hands, free, and for a second or two, he levitated, and then touched ground. What just happened? he asked himself. He kept pedalling to see if it would happen again, but it didn’t. He’d try again tomorrow; in the meantime, he needed something sweet.
He made his way to the Sky Blue chocolate store. Sky Blue was known for its caramel-filled, chocolate hedgehogs, and the thought of them made his mouth water. All of a sudden, he heard people panicking and he got off his bike and looked around, trying to identify the problem. He saw a bear casually walk by his side and make its way to the chocolate store. The bear got busy eating all the chocolates on the shelves and Yogi asked everyone to quiet down and leave the store. When everyone was out, he put a hedgehog in his mouth and calmly pulled the security-gate shut, trapping the bear inside. He told the bear to eat as much as he could before they tranquilized him, and the bear said,
The funny thing was that he understood what the bear was saying. From time to time, said the bear, one of his kind wandered into the kingdom to bring magic into people’s lives. He knew his kind brought fear too, but fear and magic went hand in hand. Previous bears that had wandered into the kingdom had told him that once he was tranquilized, people would want to come close and carry him into a bear cage. They’d want to come close to what was fearful and magical when awake, but reminded them of their childhood teddy bears when asleep. You’d want to carry me too, wouldn’t you? the bear asked Yogi, and Yogi said yes, he would.
He was asked to move away from the store, and a team of conservation officers and police officers took over. Yogi left and went to find Star. He needed to talk to somebody.
“Star! Wait up!”
“You don’t look so good, Yogi. Did my dad awaken the power of your name?”
“Is that what he does?”
“I’ll tell you my story and you can decide for yourself. I never cared about my appearance until my dad told me why he named me Star. He said that the planet Venus aligns with the earth 5 times every 8 years; in other words, there’s a Venus-Earth conjunction every 584 days exact. If you trace the path Venus takes from the first conjunction to the fifth, you’ll see that she forms a star in the sky. My dad named me after that star.”
“The pentagonal cycle of Venus,” said Yogi.
“Yes,” she said. “When my dad told me about it, I became obsessed with Venus, and I began to care about my appearance to the point that drives him mad.”
“You do have a Venusian beauty about you, Star.”
“Thanks Yogi. Now tell me what happened to you.”
“I levitated on my bike for a couple of seconds; it was probably just a millimetre off the ground, but I levitated. Then a bear spoke to me and I understood what it said.”
She touched his forehead to make sure he didn’t have a fever.
“Not fair, Star.”
“I guess your name gives you the power to be like those yogis that go off to meditate in the wilderness. They levitate, don’t they?”
“I have no idea.”
“But it also gives you the power to be a bear whisperer… Oh my god! The power of Yogi Bear!”
“Let’s go talk to my dad,” she said, and they headed toward the palace. “Maybe you should become a conservation officer.”
“Do you think I could get a bear to go inside a bear cage without shooting darts? You know, like hands-free?”
“You wouldn’t try anything stupid, would you?”
“Of course not. But I’d try.”
“I know you’re a gift of god, but you’re not god, Yogi. Honestly, you’re going to have to start looking more like Ranger Smith. After we talk to my dad, I’m giving you a makeover.”
Self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer, 1500
The king sat down with the two of them and told them his story. He said his Spanish mother had named him Jesús, and when he was young, he looked very much like Yogi did now. He always put others before himself, which in this world means that a lot of people took advantage of him, but he forgave them. Then a battle began inside him – a battle between who he wanted to be and who his name wanted him to be. When he spoke to his father about it, his father said that it was his mother’s fault for naming him Jesús. His father had always wanted to call him Stanley, dweller of a stony meadow, since their kingdom lies on stony meadows.
When he turned 18, he changed his name to Stanley and he became a new person. People treated him differently when he said he was no longer Jesús but Stanley. He became interested in stones; he visited Stonehenge and Machu Picchu, and these places pointed to the skies, and to lives attuned to the movement of the sun and the moon, the planets and constellations. The ancient astronomers freed him from his messiah complex.
“So you see where my belief in the power of names comes from. If you feel burdened by your name, I suggest you change it.”
“I don’t feel burdened by it,” said Yogi. “I feel that I’m just beginning to discover its power, especially after you asked me about it. I had a moment when I levitated on my bike, and another when I understood bear language.”
The king rose from his throne to check Yogi’s temperature.
“You have to believe me, Your Majesty.”
“If I, King of Sky Blue, have risen from my throne to check if you’re feverish, imagine what others will think. Proof! They’ll demand proof!”
“I can’t prove that I levitated, but I could prove that I can talk to a bear.”
“I could try to get a bear to enter a bear cage willingly.”
“Not until you’re a fully trained conservation officer holding a tranquilizer gun in your hand; understood?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Ready for your makeover, Yogi?” Star asked him.
“Not really, Star. I need some time to figure out if I’m Yurgi or Yogi, and if I’m Yogi, which Yogi I am.”
“Don’t forget Handsfree,” she reminded him.
“That too,” said Yogi.
“They’re all related,” said the king. “Just don’t go around feeling superhuman, or you’ll end up like the Crocodile Hunter.”
“You’re right, Your Majesty.”
The king suspected that his daughter was going out with Yogi when he heard her play ‘What if god was one of us?’ over and over again.
He knew for sure when he saw her new look.
“What’s going on, Star?”
“Just a fashion thing, dad.”
“Really? Seems to me like Yogi has a follower.”
A portrait (after Albrecht Dürer) by Alberto Gálvez, 2015
If Star had been exploring Venusian aesthetics, she now began to explore the Venusian art of making alliances. She approached one of the palace guards who was also a friend of Yogi. Would he take her in his Sky Blue moped for an hour a day so she could film Yogi riding his bike? She wanted to capture the moment he levitated. The young palace guard looked at Star and wondered what had happened to her; she didn’t sparkle like she did before. He told her that sure, he’d take her, but chances were she wouldn’t capture a millimetre rise off the ground; for that she’d need a space camera. Besides, he didn’t think the levitation Yogi had experienced would repeat itself. It was a ‘god moment’ and ‘god moments’ were rare. Yogi had to learn to treasure it and not go after more.
“How do you know this?” she asked him
“My dad told me. He said that once in a blue moon, Neptune opens the door for god to give you a hug. Treasure it.”
“Why? What happened to you?”
“I levitated on my moped, just like Yogi did on his bike.”
Star gazed at him; his shaved head, and the symbol for Neptune tattooed below his neck. He took her on his moped, keeping pace with Yogi as he rode his bike hands-free, and she quickly understood what he meant about needing a space camera. There was no way she was going to film any paranormal phenomena with the one she had. After a week, she’d had enough and she asked the guard to take her back to the palace before the hour was up. She was tired and she leaned on his back, listening to his radio which he always kept tuned to the weather station.
“Why always the weather?” she asked him.
“When the skies are not blue in Sky Blue, your dad ups the guard in the kingdom. He says cloudy skies invite cloudy behaviour.”
She realized there was a whole world she was unaware of. She told Yogi that he needed to talk to his guard friend who had also experienced levitation. Yogi promised he would, but could she first arrange for him to see a bear.
That evening, Star straightened her hair.
She went to the royal conservation office the following day and asked to speak with an officer. She told the officer about Yogi and what Yogi wanted to do, and the officer asked if Yogi was the man who spoke with the bear in the chocolate store.
‘”Yes,” she said.
“What a ‘god moment’ he had, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes,” she answered, surprised to hear him use the same language as the palace guard.
“I had a moment like that years ago,” he told her, and his eyes turned inward. “Someone had called to complain about a neighbour burning garbage near a forest, and I’d gone to check the area. Everything seemed to be in order and I had a bit of time, so I took a walk in the forest. I stood for a moment to breathe in the beauty of the place, and when I turned to leave, I saw a full grown bear by my side. My blood froze. The bear grunted and I understood him telling me not to be afraid. He stood up and looked into my eyes, and I looked into his, and in this way, we exchanged knowledge; and then he was gone. I call it a ‘god moment’ that cannot be repeated. Please tell Yogi that.”
“I will,” said Star, moved by the story. “Thank you.”
She sat down with Yogi and asked him if he really, really understood that he had had two sacred ‘god moments’ in one day. Yes, he really, really understood, he said, and he couldn’t bear not to have those moments back. He had felt singled out and loved, and he wanted to feel that love again. Just then, the palace guard zoomed by on his Sky Blue moped and called out to Yogi, ‘Hey Yogi! Catch!’ He threw a box and Yogi caught it. It was a box of caramel-filled chocolate hedgehogs.
“Do you feel the love?” Star asked Yogi.
“I feel the love,” he answered.
That evening, Star took a luxurious, Venusian bath. She felt more like herself again.
Warm Seedbed by Andrey Remnev, 2016
When the king saw his daughter looking like herself again, he asked her if she had broken up with Yogi.
“We weren’t officially together, dad. Just hanging out.”
“While you guys were hanging out, seemed to me like you put your sun away to walk in his shadow.”
“How else was I going to understand him?”
“Good point. But if he were trying to understand you as well, you wouldn’t have felt the need to walk in his shadow.”
“Good point. I guess when he finally listened to me and understood what I was trying to tell him, I came out of his shadow.” She walked out on the balcony and asked her dad to come with her. Pointing at the moped guard standing at the entrance of the palace, she asked him, “Dad, do you know who that guard is with the shaved head?”
“Pro Mark? Of course I know him. I was decorating some of our best guards with the good conduct medal, and his name stuck out on the list. It was Prometheus Markham; can you believe it? After the ceremony, I asked him how he felt about his name, and he told me he had given the gift of fire to humanity, been punished by Zeus for it, and was awaiting rescue by Heracles. I had such a good laugh! To make a long story short, I rescued him by changing his name to Pro Mark. Like it?”
“I do.” She cupped her mouth and called, “Hey, Pro!”
“Dad just told me about your name. Good story!”
He laughed and asked her out, “Dinner with me?”
“I’m off at 5!”
She gave him the thumbs up.
At dinner, she asked him why his parents had called him Prometheus, and he said, “Because he defied the gods to do what he thought was right. It was to remind me not to be a mindless follower. He’s also the Hanged Man in the tarot deck; turned upside down and looking at things from a different angle. How you see things is not the only way to see them.”
“Hmm,” she said. “Who are you now that you’re Pro?”
“Pro was my nickname from the very beginning, so I’m still the same guy. What’s a relief is not hearing comments about my name or having to explain it.”
“No, no. To you, it’s okay. By the way, you’re looking more like yourself these days. Broke up with Yogi?”
“More like, we completed what brought us together,” she said.
“For a while there, you seemed to identify with him.”
“I turned upside down to see things from his point of view.”
“Is that what you did,” he said it more like a comment than a question. “You know what the problem is?”
“Your name. You’re named after the Star of Venus.”
“You don’t like it?”
“That’s not it. I love your name. But did you know that out of all the planets, Venus is the only one that doesn’t have an elliptical orbit? Hers is almost a perfect circle.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“The side of Venus that aims for a perfect circle, and creates a perfect star in the sky is all about harmony; harmony of shapes and colours, and harmony in relationships. You harmonize with the people you fall in love with. Would you agree?”
“I’d have to think about it.”
“Well, think about it now. Let’s say you were to fall in love with me; would you… shave your head? Get a tattoo like mine?”
With elbows on the table, she rested her chin on her hands and imagined herself his girlfriend.
Cloud by Andrey Remnev, 2005
“Star! You would, wouldn’t you?”
“How do you know me so well, Pro?”
“Listen to me, Star,” he said, holding her hands. “I love your hair and the crazy things you do with it. I love you because you’re the opposite of me. The last thing I want is to kiss myself!”
She got up and kissed him.
Their kiss was interrupted when Yogi burst into the restaurant, “Star! Pro!” He sat at their table and said, “It happened again!”
“What happened again?” they asked him.
“I levitated! I’d given up on it, and was just doing my ‘you ought to go inward’ thing, and it happened again.”
“Lucky guy, man,” said Pro.
“So happy for you, Yogi,” said Star, hugging him.
“Hope you guys don’t mind me barging in like this, but I had to tell you. The king said I’d find you here.”
People were panicking around them because a bear had followed Yogi into the restaurant. Yogi felt his breath and turned to look at him, “You’re not the same bear from the chocolate store, are you?”
“Yes, I am,” said the bear, growling and grunting. “You wouldn’t happen to have some of that chocolate with you?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said Yogi, unzipping his backpack and taking the box that Pro had given him. He opened it and fed the bear while people looked on in amazement.
When the bear had polished off the box, he told Yogi to walk him to the forest, “Now’s your chance to prove you’re a bear whisperer.”
“Okay, everyone, Star, Pro, I’m walking him to the forest,” said Yogi, grabbing his backpack and opening the door for the bear.
“We’ll walk behind you, Yogi,” and everyone walked behind him.
Watching the scene from his balcony, the King of Sky Blue said, “There’s power in a name.”
The bear went back into the forest, and Star invited Yogi and Pro to the palace. The king asked Yogi what he intended to do next, and Yogi said that he now felt ready to become a royal conservation officer, and ready for a crew cut and a clean shave as well.
“I guess there are people who keep their ‘god moments’ to themselves, and people who only share them when the moment calls for it,” he said. “But for me, I needed confirmation, the kind of confirmation I just got, and I feel satisfied. I feel I can move on and, and – “
“Make use of it?” the king asked him.
When Yogi started his RCO training and Pro got promoted to head palace guard, the king had them over for a chat. He wanted to know what they considered important in the work they were doing.
“Educating the public,” said Yogi.
“Reading between the lines,” said Pro. “Body language can reveal so much. When I ask for identification, I look at people’s hands. I had a friend in high school who could tell a lot by looking at people’s elbows; I can tell a lot by looking at people’s hands.”
“Hmm,” said the king, nodding. He then looked at his daughter who was studying diplomacy and asked her, “What about you, Star?”
“Harmony,” she answered. “Dad? I’m thinking of getting a tattoo.”
“You’re not falling under Pro’s shadow, are you? I don’t want you shaving your head.”
“I won’t,” she promised. “But I do want a tattoo; some kind of symbol that has apotropaic power, like your Eye of Jupiter.”
“What’s the Eye of Jupiter?” asked Yogi.
“Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, of course,” said the king. “I call it the Eye of Jupiter, warding off evil influences. Every revolving and flashing beacon light in my kingdom is a symbol of the Eye of Jupiter.”
The Eye of Jupiter by Felipe Posada (contemporary)
“How about a Medusa tattoo?” Pro asked Star. “Athena’s identified with Venus, and she used Medusa’s head on her aegis for protection.”
“No,” she answered . “No matter what the ancients say, that story’s all about the dark side of Athena. She turned an innocent mortal who was known for her perfect beauty and glorious hair into a monster. Smells to me of jealousy and envy. I really don’t think she used Medusa’s head on her aegis for protection; I think she used it to remind everyone what her dark side was capable of.”
“Why not simply a star?” asked the king.
“Too simple and too obvious, dad.”
“How about a magpie?” asked Yogi. “Isn’t the magpie a symbol of Venus?”
“I’ve considered it, but too many feathers… I guess I want something between a star and a magpie.”
“I know!” said Yogi. “I saw a butterfly with the same colours as the magpie. It landed on the bear’s nose when we were saying goodbye.”
“A white admiral,” said the king. “But is it an apotropaic symbol?”
“I don’t think so, but I love the idea,” said Star. “A butterfly’s all about lightness and playfulness and metamorphosis. It’s the side of Venus I love best; the idea that you can transform yourself with a name, a makeover, a uniform, so many things, and play a part, like an artist.”
“The admiral itself may not be an apotropaic symbol, but the colours are the same as the evil eye talisman they use in the east. Here, we consider the colours of the milk snake to be apotropaic: red, black and yellow.”
“Then I’ll get a butterfly with an admiral wing and a milk snake wing,” she decided.
Metamorphosis by Andrey Remnev, 2012