slant

SUNRISE: January 5, 2018

Anonymous, Nadir Shah on the Peacock Throne after his defeat of Muhammad Shah, 1850, watercolor on paper, 12 1/8 x 16 9/16”.

I’VE LISTENED TO THIS POEM a couple hundred times. And read it over & over too. I never get used to it.

It induces a kind of hypnosis; a lucidity on the edge of total oblivion. It’s not an easy effect to describe; I think it has to do with magic; I think it casts and means to cast a spell. And yet it is descriptive, direct, etched, and bright, like the plain narration of a thousand-year hallucination, like the Wikipedia entry for a dream.

David Rattray reading “Mr. Peacock” in 1992 at Anney Bonney's studio in New York.

Peacocks started showing up in my life in the summer of 2013. How do I explain “showing up”? All of a sudden I was seeing them, like they were everywhere in visions & dreams and also the birds themselves were around: a dead one in a beet field in Normandy, a pair of them on a beaded cloth from Gujarat, a pomegranate tree in a New Mexico colonia in late August, into which two bored & over it-looking peahens had flown to escape a horny male, who was spreading his tail . . . watching myself see. Watching myself see an overdetermined allegory for panoptics and visibility for the very first time . . . like an efflorescence of negative space: what I had thought was mere decoration, what seemed so badly to want be looked at that I didn’t even want to see it, was suddenly flaring like a signal of some fundamental process, as though, as John Ashbery put it, to protect what it advertised—the bird of all superficiality, it turns out, is ridden by gods and goddesses of wisdom and war, turns out to be the shrieking guard at the gates of eden, somehow has something to say about the cruel order of life on Earth these last seven thousand years or so.

Mere attraction is never enough. It seems to me we neither choose our animals anymore than we really choose our lovers. Likewise the bestiary of stars wheeling overhead, a refracting mirror to the plant and animal alchemy at work in our guts and souls.

January 5, 2018. Photo: Ariana Reines.

THE PERFECTING conjunction of Mars and Jupiter in Scorpio has something to do with both the martial and the wisdom aspects of this bird; the violent iridescence of death and resurrection. Heads of state tweeting about nuclear buttons: an avian parody of the radioactive waste clogging the gonads of certain persons; the Mughal peacock throne; the perverse realities of might married to wisdom, of wisdom having to apprehend the idiot realities of might . . .

Do you have a peacock story? Send it my way. You can use my personal email, if you have it, or letters@artforum.com.

Ariana Reines is a poet & playwright. She astrologizes at lazyeyehaver.com.

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