Ouroboros

I wake sore and empty in my absent roommate’s bed
And watch you tug jeans over tired hips,
And run your belt through its loops,
And lace your boots to face November chill.

Retrieving a battered bomber jacket from under the bed
You goodbye me with cursory words
And the dormroom door snaps shut.

I roll my face back into the warm depths of the pillow and wonder
Why you bother, and if
I want to know why.

You’re walking now
To your car wedged in amongst many like it:
Kept running in spite of your best efforts,
And soon you’ll roll off into the sunrise-
Just another low whine to mix with the birds chattering from the trees
And the pop album wailing down the hall.

I am warmed by the comforter gathered into an illusion of safety around my toes
And my hungover eyes shielded from the blinding dawn by drawn blinds.
As I will sleep to wash over my tired mind I remember something you said last night
About a marquis and philosopher and what he thought of human desire.
They locked him up,
You said,
So he couldn’t hurt anyone,
You laughed.

In the dark there are shadows surrounding you,
Neither Platonic nor ideal,
Which sweat cannot wash away.

I remember when I met you,
And how the Moon fed my romantic fantasies
And the rough rub of the Earth as you fed your own.
And my soiled skirt and bruised limbs,
Which later I couldn’t explain away,
Even to myself.
In the graphic novel series of the manga Battle Angel Alita (written by Yukito Kishiro), the Ouroboros Program is a program developed by the mad scientist Desty Nova. Alita is trapped inside the program in the final two books: first, Fallen Angel, and later in Angel's Ascension. Nova states, "Her psyche is trapped inside my Ouroboros Program. She'll wander the labyrinth of her karma--for ETERNITY!!" A footnote in the book explains, "Nova's program--named after the symbol of disintegration and reintegration, the serpent swallowing its own tail--can manipulate Alita's memories and subconscious."

Alita is first transported back to the Scrapyard, where she is forced to fight her old enemy Jashugan in a game of motorball (which is reminiscent of Rollerball). When she defeats Jashugan, thus overcoming her karma, she escapes from the program. The second time, she is transported to a time when she first became a Hunter-Warrior, and is forced to kill her beloved father-figure, Daisuke Ido. She lives through this dream for months, enjoying a happy fabrication of the past, until Kaos Nova invades the dream and fights alongside her.

The Ouroboros is also briefly mentioned in the novella Singularity, a great sci-fi novel about two boys who stumble upon a shed which houses an event horizon, allowing time to move significantly faster than the outside world. A monster eventually obliterates the shed, coming out of the sink and thrashing about as it tries to eat its own tail.

The ourobouros (also spelled ouroboros, uroboros, aroboros), is a usually circular symbol of a creature (traditionally a serpent, lizard or dragon) following, biting or consuming it's tail in an endless loop. Many modern interpretations have also become popular now, such as impressionistic works like 'Drawing Hands' by Escher.

Though frequently thought of as a medieval symbol, images of such a thing have been seen as early as 1600 BC in Egypt, Japan in the 14th century and Meso-America in the 1500's. The name we know it as, however, comes from the Greek for "tail eater" (ouro = tail or remainder, boro = to consume, as english bore).

Though an undoubtedly popular symbol throughout history, the meaning has never remained concrete and has been reshapped by whoever adopted the symbol. It has been a representation of people and Deity through the ages, from Isis and later Abraxas in ancient Egypt to Jormungand, the serpent of Midgard, in Norse legend. It also serves to represent many philosophies and ideas, from the cyclical nature of reality, the karmic cycle and chaotic interplay to even such things as thermodynamics and the nature of matter and energy.

Red Dwarf Note: as ohe marks, Dave Lister's box was inscribed with the name ourobouros. But when he was told later in life about it, he understood it as "our Rob or Ross" and thought that it meant that his biological parent's couldn't decided on naming him "Rob" or "Ross".

Last week I went looking for the St. Germain elderflower cordial I first tasted because Ouro sent me a bottle. I thought of him as I criss-crossed the town checking in shops. But I did not write to say hello.

A few weeks ago, I heard from a filmmaker who liked a photograph I had taken at Pere Lachaise. I had only taken it because it reminded me of Ouro. He liked it too, and had used it as his avatar icon on various sites for a long time. The filmmaker wanted to use it on a movie poster, but a smidge of the border around the ouroboros was cut in the frame. Could I tell him where in Pere Lachaise (a cemetery the size of a small town) I’d taken it? I did remember. I remembered finding it, and thinking of Matthew as I got down on the ground to frame up my shot just so. I should have, but I did not write to say hello.

There are regrets. Regret and terrible confusion and a visceral sense of loss, even given the distance of time and space between his death and our last conversation. There’s this amazing book, and you read halfway through – the protagonist is a craftsman who works with the most evanescent of mediums; sound and spirits and metaphysics. The reader knows he begins as a composer, joins an architecture firm, moonlights as an arcane mixologist, that he lives for creating harmony (of sound, of spirit, of sensation) and that he feels the absence of harmony intensely. I imagined I knew how the hero’s journey would culminate – I always thought that some day all that he learned from his work in flavor and spirits and architecture would come around to music again, that the book would end with notes spilling across a page, filling it like a magical feast.

But the last half of the book is blank, and the author is gone.

 

We don’t find out how it ends.

This is how it ends.

These two intersecting statements are the paradox, the koan, and the crux.

 

Frustration and anger come first. Then comes fantasy: this can’t be how it ends. It ends another way; it ends a hundred different ways. A thousand. It ends in any other way but this. Not like this. My mind skitters away from the truth of it, racing down all the paths he might have taken but will not take, banging on the doors to the worlds in which he is alive and happy. Give him back.

Which is how I ended up back here. A place I don’t particularly like and didn't miss; but it was still the place we met, and I figured he still had friends here. I expected to find page after page of daylog, of memories, his write-ups chinged to the front page for days, I expected to find an Irish wake in the catbox; I expected much – probably because of how things went after Hermetic - and found… Nearly nothing. Nearly. And that was hard to accept as well. That was also painful. Because time is cruel. Because he understood this place and loved it for awhile, and it is just staring blankly at his death. Which is what places do, after all. One can hardly blame them. Places are not people.

 

Places can become empty, or even just Mostly Empty. 


Don’t get me wrong. I love ruins. In my life I have sought them out with patience and determination, usually breaking various laws to get inside them but sometimes not. I have climbed cliffs, crawled into dugouts, hacked through overgrowth. Most recently taking to backroads in Kansas where long-abandoned farmhouses are just as likely to be full of a working meth lab and its unsavory attendants (all of whom are apt to react very poorly to the sight of someone packing a DSLR rig) as it is to be inhabited by nothing but a family of wrens, even though seventy-year old dresses still hang in the closet above shoes which crumbled to dust when touched.

I risked the former out of a love of the latter. There is a feeling that one only gets in abandoned places; it is similar to the sense of sacred space in some churches and cathedrals, a sense of quiet, of largeness, of the profundity of time and the reality that some day all that will be left of us above ground may be nothing more than a dusty, ancient button caught in a wayward sunbeam.

In the oldest ruins, you find nothing but the traces of where rooms used to be, marked off by the sudden discovery of regularity in rock patterns in the prairie, or a forest; it isn’t even rubble, it’s an outline of a life led a hundred years ago. Or more. Maybe you find the remnants of a chimney; you imagine the meals, the laughter, the tears. In ruins, the departed are present. Present in the smallest artifacts, in the imagined lives, in the groove of a lintel stone.

But this here - these aren’t ruins at all. It’s something else. It’s a house you used to live in, and someone else lives there now. Someone with a very short memory. It’s kind of heartbreaking, even though everyone knows that going back is doomed. You can never go home. People think that means something kind of like “you never step in the same river twice” and I suppose there’s truth in that, but it’s stupid. I step in the Wakarusa River three or four times a week, but not being able to go home because it’s literally not there any more – that’s just different.

The place I met him is gone and still here. He is gone and not still here. More riddles. Fuck you all. I’m mad at you for being here while he isn’t, for not marking the passing of one of your pantheon. It’s not your fault. It's nobody's fault. He wasn't here much anymore, along with most everynoder else who knew him. I know that. It’s irrational. I’m sorry. I’m not sorry. It just is what it is. It's negative space; it's a place you can only see by drawing what isn't there. It's a reminder that nothing lasts forever. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

 

The Alchemical Ouroboros

 

What I admired most was his deep engagement and devotion to producing a sense of well-being in others by the careful, meticulous crafting of things for people to consume, to put inside of their bodies, to feel from their insides out. He sought transformation. Food was adventure, escape, comfort, joy, accomplishment, exploration. His cocktails were a communion of spirits. He understood each individually, and then sought to arrange them in evanescent melodies that evoked specific ideas, places, feelings, concepts. He even made one for Klaproth.I lost touch with him for awhile after I first left e2, and a real whack of time went by. I’m talking years – three years? Maybe four? And one day I get an email from him. To say hello. To find out where I was writing, to reconnect. (And relevant to this story is that I asamothed. So it’s not like there were reminders or anything like that.) But he remembered. And he reached out, and he said hello.

To be remembered: it is powerful. I was so touched by just hearing from him that I cried, without sadness, just because of the intensity of the feeling it produced. To be remembered, when you have left nothing behind. When you have burned and salted the earth, and someone leans down and whispers to the ashes: You are roses. And I miss the smell of roses. Come back and be roses again.

 

And you do.

 

And now he is gone.

 

Email dated 5/30/08, in which an interrupted conversation about E2 is continued:

 

Thanks for the phonecall last night, Sarah. That was a rare treat to hear the sound of your voice. A rare treat to hear such crazy violent street life too. Was anything resolved over there last night?  (NB: Our phone call was interrupted by a wild rumpus in the street between two drunk co-eds, nothing as interesting as on The Wire.)

I have found that there are several different perceptions of the reasons one participates in Everything2. I tend to think of them clumped together under the rubric "the Project". But because it is a participatory project and the reasons aren't explicit, when someone retires, there is generally a sense of loss left in their wake. And should someone return, there is a sense of validation of the Project.

None of that even begins to address that wonderful recognition of the content in Everything2 as a sort of mirror that distorts the reflection of one's mind into shapes simultaneously edifying and profane. Or the chaotic nature of softlink surfing. Or the curated nature of deliberate pipelinks. Or those dyads that pipelinks allow: shading by synonym, dissonant irony, contrapuntal narrative,foundational chord for a metaphor.

And Other Users. Most of them are pretty damn fascinating in text. Or at least they try to be.

I wonder if each user becomes a member of their cohort's own diaspora, sooner or later. I mean, when people retire, it is probably for similar reasons as others have, whether or not they are aware of them. Or, as I'm beginning to start to consider thinking about, it might be like the way a friend gets involved with someone and gradually that pairing serves to transit that person from a member of a social circle into a tight orbit around their partner.

What is your schedule like again? I could easily send over a sample of the Creme d'Violette, and maybe the St.Germain Elderflower Cordial as well. Both are aggressively flowery, which I find difficult to deal with in a cocktail.

I would be interested in the recommendation of a good culinary rosewater and orange flower water, if you know of one.

--Matthew

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