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Further up and further in.

Posted on Saturday, 21 August, 2010 at 08:40PM
Mood: gratefulgrateful
Music: Rogues Gallery.
This place has grown silent; I miss the little notes we used to send one another. I've still been writing, though, and I'm more than a little hopeful that you might be kind enough, if you enjoy what I've written here in the past, to continue reading what I'm scribbling. If you care to follow me elsewhere, I can now be found at: http://fightingthesea.wordpress.com/ Thank you for your kind attention.

Yours always,
Jack Grey

this machine

Slán agus beannacht.

Posted on Saturday, 29 May, 2010 at 06:08PM
Mood: gratefulgrateful
Tags: , , , ,
Alexei Kondratiev died last night.

I read most texts on magic the way that one might read a pulp novel. I'm looking for the lurid, the exciting, the amusing, the ridiculous, the novel. As Grant Morrison likes to note, the relationship between reading about magic and doing magic is, in the majority of cases, only the same that exists between pornography and sex. It's unusual if it teaches you a trick or two, and there are those for whom obsessive observation of the thing is likely to eclipse their enjoying it more intimately and directly.

I was on an email list with the man between 1999 and 2001, approximately. I was in my late teens, a brash little slut. In that space, at least, I had sense enough to be quiet. In doing so, I learned something about honesty, hospitality, academic striving, a cheeky love of the gods and the ancestors and our stories, and a few (mostly deeply profane) words in Irish. It was in watching the reconstructionists tumble with the traditionalists that my own style started to develop. I swallowed the seeds of tradition there. I let them lie in the cave of my belly for years. I knew these things; I memorised them. It was such a long time before they were birthed into the world as anything other than rote repetition, quite alive, shining and white like a fire in my head. I don't remember all of their names, but I remember the characters of the people writing there. They taught me that paganism could be intelligent and demanding, and that people, even adults, could choose the way that they walked in the world. They were among the best teachers I've had, and I remain grateful. Admiring as they did the Celts, they were also cut-throat braggarts. Their boasting and fighting could raise diseases of the skin in the people who dared disagree, and they all disagreed. They may have taught me some small thing about that, too.

Prime among those teachers was Alexei Kondratiev. He was clearly the most brilliant in an intelligent group, but he was kind, humorous, even, oddly enough, humble. His scholarship was flawless and beautifully presented. I only own one of his books. I discovered a few months ago they are now out of print and fairly valuable. Nothing could convince me to sell my copy. I'm considering buying his other works, certain they'll be worth whatever price is asked. I go to that book when my people die, when the sun turns, when the moon is dark. It will be my great honour to count the man among my ancestors as it has been my honour to call him a teacher.


Witches on the Ice.

Posted on Saturday, 17 April, 2010 at 10:53AM
...Always be wary of flowery speeches disquising lack of feeling, he thought to himself, unaware that the fullness of the soul can sometimes overflow into the emptiest of metaphors, that no one, ever, can express the measure of his desires, his ideas, his sufferings, and that human speech is but a cracked cauldron on which we beat tunes for dancing bears, when all the while we long to melt the stars.

Gustave Flaubert,
from Madame Bovary

There has been a black plastic bag caught on the telephone line outside my window for as long as I've lived in this house. I've watched it disintegrate in storms and winds and blizzards like a prayer rag. I make wishes that won't come true on stubborn bits of ghetto trash, but I expect part of the thing to still be there when I leave.

geroges barbier mermaid

Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis.

Posted on Saturday, 27 March, 2010 at 12:19PM
Tags: ,
It is the habit among fishermen to keep two sets of records. There is the true catch, the lists of weights and market prices and bycatch and routes. And then there are the records that are tailored to match the laws of the seas, the ones that deny that anything rare, unusual, or of any particular value was ever caught. Should the ship be chased and searched by authorities, the true records can be flung overboard, their contents quickly destroyed, the truth obliterated by its source.

I am pouring over the various methods of accounting that I've kept on the subject of us. Edited in different ways, several different stories can be told, and I can no longer decide which volume, if any, holds the truth. I read passages from them as they fall open around me as my ship is torn apart and searched, a sad and frantic cut-up offered in answer to the authorities. It reveals a series of laws that I have broken, the equipment that I have allowed to fail or have always been unable to read, my mad boasting of my own powers, numbers and prices and lustful poetry marked in abrasions made by ropes on my hands and in your gills, a dozen compendiums in which I forget rational figures entirely and scrawl in small script the endless, countless beautiful things that I have drawn up from your depths, stopping only when I've run out of pages with which to detail them. The search goes on, and I offer torn pages that, individually, convey nothing. And I jettison none of my fictions in case my boat is seized and I must spend the last of my days on land, turning to the comfort of my accounts, attempting to remember the thrill of the pieces of you I could find in my nets, the taste of salt.



Posted on Sunday, 21 March, 2010 at 08:52PM
Music: Zoe Keating.
Tags: , , , , , ,
We made flyers and organised a bicycle parade to celebrate the equinox. We gathered at the loop near the river, rode thrice in a circle before heading off along a path crowded with strollers, wheelchairs, joggers, bicyclists, and flâneurs. I'd tied a crowfeather to my handlebars, and two bells. I wore a chicken feather in my hair. I always keep my lock in my basket, and for the occasion I'd perched my antlers in the basket, too, so my bicycle rattled and jangled ferociously when I rode off the trail onto the grass or over a bump. We rode along the river, over a bridge, past a waterfall and a dam and geese who didn't fear our wheels at all. We all got a little sunburnt on our noses. We rode to the crowded park where we stood in a circle around a statue of two children holding up a sunflower. We clapped and chanted, "Spring! Equinox! Day! Night! Spring!" and others clapped with us, bemused and laughing. We sacrificed a chocolate bunny, passing it around the circle, nibbling away at it from ears to toes until it was gone. We went for beer afterwards, joining with those who wanted to celebrate but couldn't make the ride. Camden was there, back from a trip to West Virginia to clean out his grandmother's house. He gave me a red leather coinpurse filled with tiny, mysterious antique keys. What a lovely thing. When I'd finished my beer and went to free my bike and ride home, I found that the feather was missing. That crow feather, a gift, has been tied to my bedpost for six years. The bells I've had as long, although I only discovered their source a week ago. They were still there. I waited for the pang of sentimentality over the loss, but it didn't come. Anything can lose its meaning. The gods speak when they take their sacrifices. It isn't loss that I feel, lately. It's the sense that this is the life I have chosen, that the parts I have cut away have revealed a perfect core. I love my ghetto, my land, my work. I love my fish, the long hours spent doing precisely what I want to be doing. I love the things I make, the friends I have, the things I've learned to do. I swallow the light and the darkness both, and I find that I like the taste.


The Society of the Woman in the Wilderness

Posted on Saturday, 20 February, 2010 at 12:08PM
Location: The Church of the Tin Vagabond.
Mood: ecstaticecstatic
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
So. He and I run the department like duel emperors. He's my superior, certainly, and he's better at gathering information silently without letting on how much he doesn't know. I am, as usual, not the elegant presence I might hope to be, but young and fumbling, often angry and biting, but willing, perhaps too willing, to ask when I don't know. And we're both always up for work: furious, confused, savage work. We're quietly at one another's throats most of the time, but we handle things together, and we respect one another for that. There are so many things there that only we can do.

And the bastard has gone and broken his ankle on the ice.

For two weeks straight I worked like I couldn't die. There were so many things that no one else could do, so I was there, every day, my arms to the elbows covered in scales and in blood, some of it mine.

And yesterday and today, through some strange magic I don't understand, I was given some time to myself. Other people have been found to handle things for a short while, and my time is mine.

My last evening of work I celebrated, gathering with friends and fishmongers around a fireplace with magnificently crafted beer.

In the morning I woke to make myself a worthy breakfast. My breakfasts are always good. My oatmeal, I'd wager, is better than yours. But we start so early that a fishcutter's breakfast is usually a touch rushed. Given the opportunity, we endeavour to give it the proper attentions. I made a pot of Russian caravan tea, American style buttermilk pancakes made from scratch and topped with slices of banana and good maple syrup, black forest bacon, and smothered potatoes made with thin slices of golden potatoes and sweet potatoes, following as best as I could remember the family recipe of a dear friend who grew up in Kentucky.

After that I met Jamie at a park in the heart of the city. We'd both been craving some time in the woods, so he showed me the bike trail that seems to leave Philadelphia long before it really does, following the river out to more and more trees and rock faces. We passed good graffiti that read, "read more" and one that depicted a snake eating an egg. We biked until the snow and ice ate the trails, and then we walked and slipped and caught our balance with graceless and comical waving about of our arms. We found bits of surprising and magnificent green hiding under overhanging rocks and feeding on the snow above as it melted and dripped. So many trees had cracked and fallen under the weight of the snow and ice, their roots already loosened by the year's heavy rainfall. He told me that in Antarctica there is a volcano, and the scientists and workers who live near it, upon hearing an eruption, do not run. Instead they stand still and look up, waiting to see which bits of debris and flaming rock might be coming their way. Only when they've gauged the trajectory do they run. We discussed hearing the cracking of wood, waiting to decide which way to run. We considered the ways that we wouldn't mind dying in those woods. Trees can take us, although not without a fight. He fears a bear attack, impossible in our area but not on his upcoming walk of the Appalachian trail, while I long for it. My cousin drowned in that river, the Schuylkill, and I wouldn't be saddened to set us up as the dead guardians of the place, or even as a family cursed by those waters. We found strange buds on trees, things like little wooden flowers with saucily protruding pistils. We named the animal and human tracks that we found, identifying what could have been from a large dog, but was more likely evidence of a bear. There was something that was either a smaller dog or a cougar, and bicycle tracks or those of two snakes. Jamie found what may have been the evidence of cross country skiing, but I corrected him: clearly someone had caught the snakes and was dragging them along behind them. We marched up and down hills, digging our heels into the snow and often sliding and laughing anyway. He took me to a small manmade cave, possibly the meditation space of Johannes Kelpius, a Rosicrucian monk, the leader of a group of healers, stargazers, and mystics who lived in a community of doomsday cult celibates in those woods, or possibly someone's old root cellar. The confusion between those exact two things, by the way, describes my religious attitudes precisely. According to legend, Kelpius possessed the Philosopher's Stone and cast it into the Schuylkill before he died in 1708. Someone had artfully stacked thick branches in the back of the cave, and crafted a simple handmade besom from curling twigs. I'll be returning to that place, alone. Doubling back along the same trail we rode home, me with a branch that I found and liked strapped between my travelling sack and my back.

Once home, I worked on painting the antique writing desk I'm refinishing. I ate an unusually delicious apple. Fearing the soreness of my first twenty mile bicycle ride, I took a bath with a book and a blend of scented sea salts I'd made. I went to visit my massage therapist and my bone cracker, the twin priests who section out the sacrifice of my flesh to my will, who poke it and bruise it and break it to keep it doing what I require. I stopped in at the tattoo shop to visit Carla, gorgeous and finely attired as always, to discuss future plans, some art that I requested for the canvas of my thigh.

Next I ran off to an open house at a graduate school for fine arts. A dear friend of my sister was showing her work, and I attended mostly in order to visit my family. I held the baby and let her tug on my earrings. I gave my older niece rides on my back, let her feast on the snacks that must accompany any showing of art while her mother wasn't looking, and tried to prevent her from touching the artwork. I loved the artists' studios, their interesting collections of objects and the utensils of their trade. I loved the artists themselves, their paint stained shoes and trousers and hands, their nervous or bored smiles, their hope that we'd ask them about their approach. The work itself was not to my taste, but also not very good. I expect graduate school to produce art that is dull, honestly, but I also expect a certain level of technical proficiency. Even that was lacking. But the studios were really charming.

Today I spent too much time laying about in bed, which is a favourite activity of any sane person, and one in which I'd been unable to indulge in too long. While writing this I ate another good, but far more reasonable breakfast of more Russian caravan, another apple, the last of my bacon, and vanilla granola with goats' milk. I have so much love to give to goats' milk. Once this is through I'll mount my bike again and ride south and east, searching out fabric for a blanket I'd like to sew and perhaps more paint for my writing desk.

this machine


Posted on Tuesday, 2 February, 2010 at 08:18PM
Tags: , ,
I've been fasting. Trouble seemed to follow wherever I went, so I retreated from the world as much as I could. I was grounded, I decided. I was staying in, being good, eating only healthy food, not drinking, not sleeping with anyone, reading books instead of stupid things on the internet, creating more, being still. At first I thought that I was hiding so that I couldn't destroy anything. But in my silence, I found that I was less unscathed by these wars than I'd thought.

An ancient Imbolc tradition involved putting out the hearth flames, travelling long distances to a central location, and re-lighting the fires from a communal source. That's what I've been doing. Yesterday I started gathering with friends, bringing my bit of cold peat. My thanks, to those of you who have been listening. And happy Imbolc to all of you. How did you celebrate, if you do?

papa's in heaven


Posted on Wednesday, 20 January, 2010 at 09:48AM
Mood: lonelylonely
Tags: , , ,
On Christmas Eve every one of us worked until we bled. Covered in scales, meat like dirt under our fingernails, we smiled for the customers. But among ourselves, we cursed, and flirted, and let filth fall from our tongues until we'd all successfully made everyone else blush. And after a fourteen hour shift in which he didn't stop running once, my boss walked away, not to return. He's only working at the store across town. But some time ago we realised that he and I had worked together longer than we'd ever worked with anyone else. That, in fact, neither of us had managed to hold down any romantic involvement for half as long as we'd spent hauling carcasses and ice together in the mornings. (In the end, we worked together for exactly five years. I began work at that store on almost the same day that he left it.) I told him before he left that he was like a father to me: a father who was oddly public about the sluts that he found on the internet and how they spent their time together, but a father, nonetheless. He's an inarticulate madman. In his wake he leaves a trail of guts, misplaced knives, dirty dishes, mislaid scraps of paper, a bad smell, and a host of well-used women with unattractive faces and improbable figures. It is thanks to that man that I know what battle frenzy looks like. He works furiously, and he is secretly extremely competent. I admire him, and I love him. He made me much of what I am, certainly much of what I hope to be, and if any stylistic similarity is ever noticed between us in my fishmongering, I'll be honoured.

My favourite fishmonger followed him. He left last week. The first time that he brought his girlfriend to my house, she looked through the bones and books and fishhooks collected in my house and was flustered by it, how similar my tastes are to his. She thought it strange, how much like siblings we seemed. He's a taxidermist, a gardener, an artist, a gymnast, a climber of trees, a seeker of adventures. When we work together, we'd take brief breaks from our mad rush to dance to the terrible songs on the radio. We'd sing each other songs, perform puppet shows with fish heads, and occasionally play fish baseball, swinging a whole salmon by the tail at a lobbed fillet of tilapia, inevitably losing the grip on the slippery fish and laughing wildly as both flew across the prep room. I'd demand that he walk on his hands in the middle of the dinner rush, and we'd laugh at the unobservant customers: only two of them, of the dozens and dozens who should have seen it, ever noticed. Together, we alone understood that what we do is sacred, and that one's holy duties can only properly be carried out with a sharp knife and a dirty grin.

Our two best workers gone, I've been busy, and honestly, I don't think about these things much. I work constantly. I know that furious rush better now than I thought I had. And from time to time, when I take half of a moment to pour some tea from my thermos and breathe, I look up to note that in the past month too many of my closest friends have left to move in their own spheres, their orbits and mine no longer linked. I take a sip and put the lid of the thermos, which is also a cup, down, get distracted by some other thing that only I am qualified to do, and work at it well beyond the point that my tea has gone cold.


Shooting the sky.

Posted on Friday, 8 January, 2010 at 11:17PM
Mood: pleasedpleased
Tags: , , , , , ,
I woke this morning to snow swirling down. I stayed curled up in the dark, watching it fall. I wanted to stay, but there are fish left alive in the sea.

This has been a good winter, a true one. Do I usually hide from it? This year the season is for the socks worn scrunched up to my thighs, the rare free mornings spent knitting and reading inside, gathering firewood in the city in the form of discarded holiday trees, bundling and then braving the wind on my bicycle, warming up at the houses of friends, the long hoped for cups of tea. Even the usual despair that comes with the dark months has been something to wrap up against, to brace against occasionally, but part of the nature of things, and no great hardship.

We had a party for the Shift in the Gregorian Calendar Date. The men and I all wore suits, and the women wore their dresses, and we toasted one another a happy 1963. There were nervously flirtatious secretaries, an intelligent and attractive wife wrapped in the fur that I'd given her, the biting mistress of the office who owned the room in her sparkly New Year's dress, mayors, mobsters, and lecherous ad men. Tom slaved in the kitchen, making gallons of simple syrup, carving origami out of orange peel, and emerging with one flawless Old Fashioned after another. And another, and another. The next day I woke and worked. I rode home (still slightly hung over) along Broad Street, doing my best to catch the last of the drunks and the mummers who were singing and shouting and stumbling through the strut, falling in the general direction of Two Street.

Being First Friday, tonight we visited small galleries erected in cafes. We admired the work of friends and strangers, shared whiskey and tea, fought and laughed and held hands in an effort to deter the affections of mad drunks. We biked South and West together until we parted ways, and I came back here to my typing and my cup of tea.


Philadelphia in Winter.

Posted on Tuesday, 5 January, 2010 at 07:47AM
Tags: , , ,
snow in the ghetto 1

snow in the ghetto 2

snow in the ghetto 3

These are: my wall, my abandoned lot, and the disused back yards of neighbours; my fire pit, made of bricks scavenged from fallen houses, some firewood, eight gallon scallop tins in which I sometimes grow things; and my little container garden, asleep for the season.

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