In the Skin of a Lion

Totally possibly the Reines family crest.

LATE IN THE SUMMER OF 1999 I was in love with a crust punk. We met one night when he and his friend panhandled me after I couldn’t get into a nightclub. Well maybe it was more of a bar. I don’t know because I couldn’t get in. I didn’t have a fake ID. Anyway, the friend was pale and skinny, scabs up his greenish arms. He just made the guy, who said his name was Johnny, look better. Johnny was hale and tan in his boots and ripped t-shirt. He got kicked out of seventh grade, he said, for reading Isaac Asimov, and out of his girlfriend’s Boston College dorm because he wanted her to open her eyes while he fucked her. She preferred to keep her eyes closed. There had been some kind of argument. Obviously he was perfect for me.

When I got home that night I prayed to God to let me see Johnny again. God did not fail me. I saw Johnny at all times of day. Hey, he said, where are you going. I would tell him where, then pretend to go there or actually go there. One night, no doubt bored by my lack of courage, God helped me. When I got off the bus from Brighton to find Johnny and seven or eight other punks hanging out by the 7-11 on the edge of Harvard Square, the delightful but unfailingly terrifying moment of my again-answered prayers was acclaimed, this time, by a thunderclap and a bolt of lightning. The heavens opened, and then came gale-force winds. I would have to take refuge from the storm with them. I would have to.

We sat in a circle, in a kind of alcove beside the 7-11. They were passing around what tasted like rum and grape soda. Johnny was talking about how he had got caught by the cops that week fucking a girl in a football field. I didn’t care if it was true. If I were a man, I thought, I’d be just like him. He spilled some of our drink on the sidewalk, then took his shirt off to wipe it up. I remember finding this particular detail highly erotic. Only a holy man or a saint would clean the sidewalk with the shirt off his back. He started giving me a massage. I can’t remember how we maneuvered it. He had been sitting opposite me saying, The true story of Western Civilization is the delay of gratification. But then like a miracle he was beside me. He put his hands on my shoulders. They moved down my back, then under my shirt, above and below the line of my bra. The heat rising from deep in my pants and the elastic heat stretching my heart out of its cage, I almost couldn’t stand it.Then at some point some other guy started talking about how he had a tongue ring. I have never kissed somebody with a tongue ring, I heard myself saying. Johnny’s warm hands were moving on me. The next thing I knew I was leaning over, on my knees, kissing the tongue ring guy. He tasted like Bubble Yum. His mouth was wet. When it was over the rain had stopped. The wind had stopped.

Guess I’ll head to my friend’s place now I said. I got up. I felt like I had to. I don’t remember what Johnny did with himself. You’re going? I have to I said. I didn’t have to do anything. I walked around the corner and hailed a cab and directed the driver toward my basement apartment. There had never been a friend's house to which I would be going tonight. There was going to be Johnny and there was going to be me and at least one of us was going to get fucked. In the cab, my agony descended. The mulch it made of my insides was indescribable. Unharmed and unmolested I was alone with my victim. God had again provided for me, and again I had failed him and myself, but especially myself, because as far as God was concerned, whether he existed or not was immaterial. I continued to pray for another chance. I continued to be granted another chance. Hey, Johnny said, where are you going. I’m late, I replied, and hurried on.

Asatiani Street, Tbilisi, July 30, 2018 (Photo: Ariana Reines)

The astrologers remind us that this Saturday’s partial solar eclipse in Leo arrives on the 19th anniversary of the total solar eclipse of August 11, 1999. Some of you were not yet the mean gleam in your fathers’ eyes on that day. Some of you were well on your way to becoming the people you now are. All of us, born and unborn, if you believe the sages, were already on our way. Travel back to where you were then, or to where the people who made you were, and see what you come up with.

It could be argued, based on the above, that my field of study that fateful or fateless summer, was self-made misery. Yearning for its own sake, desire too volcanic to be acted upon, accompanied by an apprenticeship in appearing nonchalantly inhumane—plus an unmentored independent study on the cowardice with which answered prayers are sometimes met—or to put things another way, a brief intensive on the history of Western Art. There were a lot of other things going on for me that summer, and all of them were arguably more important, but when I tasked myself to return to that time, the truth was Johnny and the way I walked around him.

Julian of Norwich: Thus I saw Him and I sought Him; I had Him and I wanted Him.

Tomorrow’s New Moon in Leo and partial Solar Eclipse occurs at 5:58 AM EST/9:58 AM UTC, at the smoldering point of a stark Yod with Pluto in Capricorn and Neptune in Pisces. It as though a pair of javelins have been hurled, are now being hurled—one by the lord of the Underworld and the other by the god in charge of dreams and illusions—straight into your heart. And while the heart of our corner of the universe is partially eclipsed tomorrow, we are invited to witness in what ways we occlude, divert, and distort what the heart inside our bodies wants, and the ways, moreover, we harass it with endless delusions and the horrors of hell.

In light of all this, it occurs to me that when praying to God (or whatever) one might first do well to ponder, and then to figure out how to really keep one’s part in the bargain. There are people unafflicted by such a problem, but I am not one of them, and I am the one whose job it is to write to you now. Suppose our prayers are always answered. Suppose there is always, absolutely always another chance. Living would then become simply a matter, then, especially for the meek and deformed among us, of developing the nerve, the guts, the abs, and the good humor to withstand the immense bounty awaiting us.

A T-Square between retrograde Chiron in Aries and Venus in Libra to Saturn in Capricorn emphasizes the rigors of what Jenny Zhang calls your ancient pain. What this heavenly triangle points to is not rocket science, and like abuse of power, it comes as no surprise. You know this ancient pain, you are familiar with it, and you are overfamiliar with it. There is something easeful and frank in the sky making it possible to simply step out of keeping on doing that same thing you know how to do so well that reinscribes you in its misery. Your sense of justice and beauty and the ways you feel you cannot fully, truly be yourself, are bearing down on the part of you in charge of how you spend your time. A little less conversation. A little more rock ‘n’ roll. It is time to build it into your schedule. Jupiter in Scorpio is squaring the entire festival in Leo, bringing cha-ching to the whole affair. Everything icky that comes up for you can be profited from, provided you have a sense of humor.

Lunar Eclipse, Tbilisi, July 27, 2018. (Photo: Ariana Reines)

A few days after the lunar eclipse I lay in a woods above Tbilisi with a stranger. We watched an unusual light dart around, at the height of the pines, to burn itself out. Behind it we beheld the tiny lights of shooting stars or UFOs or Russian surveillance drones, moving in patterns we could not understand. When I visited the Yazidi temple in Tbilisi my friend Nooria said, for us a stranger is a king. For us, I said, meaning the Jews, a stranger is the messiah in disguise. That too for us Nooria said, smiling. A dust storm had descended on the city. One had, absolutely, to ride into the mountains to breathe. The dust had blown in from Azerbaijan. There was a place part of the mountain had plunged into the valley, killing twelve people. I think this is becoming my favorite place, the stranger said. There was grit in my mouth and on my lips. My nose had started to form bloody clots around it. Nevermind that I had spent the past two months researching sandstorms and dust storms for a book. Nevermind that there was a process behind whatever was happening to all of us that none of us could name. Or that, when talking of the stars, or of anything else, I sometimes wonder whether the least important and least noticeable, least photogenic matters, like dust, or the quiet progress of insects, might be where the real action is.

The days between the eclipses were accident-prone. To put it mildly. I was teaching poetry in a summer writing program, from which I wrote you last year. More than a dozen people got the vomits and the shits. I lost a filling on a piece of chocolate cereal and had to get three root canals. One of my most gifted students went into anaphylactic shock over a haze of roasting walnuts and was flown home. Saying nothing of Georgia’s being under “creeping occupation” by Russia, whose force I guess Canada might have to grow the mettle to parry? Since annexing Ossetia, the Russian military occupies a few more inches of Georgia every night.

And yet the atmosphere was of a rare and a sweet buoyancy. The faculty were brilliant and also kind. Our students were talented and the questions they asked and the way they gave to each other felt special. We were there because we wanted to be. The lights of the city were golden, the gracious buildings were crumbling, the street cats and dogs were earmarked and cared for, dazed in the heat. I bought a plastic fan from a toothless woman in a long black veil.

There are unkind things I could say about the quality of my attractions in the old days, and crust punks, junkies, and the delay of gratification in the history of western art, but the point is a quality of absolute attraction, a curious abyssal attachment to the impossible, a willingness to walk in circles, indeed, a life of constant travel, and an undiminished drive to worship and to venerate that which grips my attention, and whatever grips my attention is probably ludicrous and laughable—but it’s all still with me. It’s all still true. I’m just sitting here on the same ass I had then, in an atelier in Paris that does not belong to me, in leather shorts and salmon sweatshirt, doing my job.

Tbilisi, July 31. (Photo: Ariana Reines)

It was Disney that first taught me about the regency of lions and that preached to me the gospel of following your heart. My parents did not really say that kind of thing. To follow one’s heart is part of the American gospel—a translation could be “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But to follow one’s heart—even for Leos—is hardly simple. Especially not when They—whoever they are—seem to want us so confused. And yet, in these vicious and clement times, we have no choice. This third and final eclipse is the lintel over the door we now pass through.

With Mercury, Mars, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto, and Chiron all in retrograde, this close to eclipse season is both an initatiory moment and a period of peculiar, almost effortless retrospection—the past just comes up, and this is a time that at least the more personal side of the audits on the unfinished business of our lives are coming into focus, even beginning to make sense. Things should be becoming obvious right about now. Mercury stations direct August 19, Mars moves direct August 27. Saturn moves direct on September 6, right in time for back to school, back to work, back to the serious business of living.

Saturn trine Uranus at this New Moon seems to be screaming: rather than serve an outworn present, marry the future, and commit your daily schedule toward building a livelihood and a cohort based on your true values. And yet, at the same time as this practical magic is brewing, Jupiter in Scorpio trining the retrograde Neptune in Pisces pours great fortune into plunging headlong into dreamland. I want to emphasize the beautiful dream here, the unequivocating and absolute most ravishing and delightful scenario you can come up with. Somehow, whatever that picture is, you can use as a lens to focus in on whatever it is your heart truly desires. If this is where I start to sound the most cliché, it is also where the hardest work begins.

Ariana Reines, Imareti, Georgia, July 22, 2018. Horses don’t care about astrology.

Ariana Reines is a poet & playwright. She astrologizes at