Today, having just fallen off the edge of 2016, I’m wondering about the power that we give years. We open and close a chapter of our lives based on a number imagined in the mind. But, there are so many markers we can set our years to. For those of us who are teachers, the year begins every September and the end is summer, an unclaimed time measured in how many weeks before the water is warm enough to walk all the way in. For those of us who dip our apples into honey, Jewish New Year came in October and the lunar year is now 5777 (which, by the way, adds up to the number 8—a number that indicates beginnings and endings). Chinese New Year is at the end of January but we won’t leave the year of the Monkey for the year of the Rooster until February! And, reader, I will let you know that I just began my Saturn Return a couple months ago, so everything feels like either a door on the verge of opening or a house that’s been lit on fire.
Whatever 2016 has meant to you, whenever it beings and whenever it ends, whatever happened or will happen, a year is only a river made of days—the girl in the boat rowing along that river, she is the mystery. Where did she come from and how long has she been coming? Was the boat given to her or did she build it herself? And, how did she make it so far down the river? And when, if ever, does she raise her oar so that the current captains her?
What I mean is, even if you are grieving an intimate loss, even if the oldest bones in you ache with fear waking into this political climate, life has to be lived before we can know what it is*. And we can still make something beautiful together. We can defy separation. Even through the thickest, darkest, clouds of fascism, we can look up to each other, we can fall in love and rise in resistance.
*Lisel Mueller, “The Triumph of Life: Mary Shelley”
P.S. THANK YOU Claire Skinner, poet & clairvoyant extraordinaire for being my first and best reader.
P.P.S. IF you want to support the writing of these astro-love letters, you can donate here.
Have I used the phrase “pilgrim soul” when I’ve written to you? Today as I sit in the golden light of a house in the woods, I’m thinking about that William Butler Yeats line “but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you.” I’m thinking of your pilgrim soul, which is to say—a soul that journeys to a sacred place to practice worship.
It’s just that I’m beginning to feel like maybe any place where we can be together without fear for the safety our loved ones is a sacred place. And since our country is not that place, since most countries are not, we must create sacred worlds together. We are charged with making the voyage and the destination.
An architect must know a strong foundation when they see one, Aquarius, and you are the architect of our resistance. Just remember, before you begin the arduous task of mapping a world where joy is a seed in everyone’s backyard and the skylights show us unconditional heaven, you might spend some time learning what a good foundation is worth.
And, that means that there will be days when you will have to learn how to feel when the ground is crumbling under you before it crumbles. And, what that means is ,there will be days ahead when fortifying the support systems you already have in place will be your best-laid plan.
The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects—born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the life-force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.
-“Uses of The Erotic,” Audre Lorde
A wound calls for care so the wounded tends to it, or learns to. It isn’t easy, after all, to care for oneself. The puncture grows smaller over time, barely visible, but the memory of the puncture—its impact and its consequence—the memory can grow large without regard to time.
When the wound’s call was deafening, how did you care for it? Did you seek relief in the arms of others? Did you lie very still and run your hands over yourself, thinking “I am here, I am here, I am here”? Did the past year teach you that relief comes only when you are ready and readiness will look nothing like what you imagined?
And what is the erotic if not a working toward opening? Here, the lover enters through the wound and their entrance is both a salve and a reminder. A salve is not salvation. The wound’s call is subtle now, but it is no less powerful. What can it teach you about your purpose here? You will learn how to gather your life in your hands, you will learn how to answer the call. You will be the one who tends the wound always, but how you tend to it will change. Pisces, you grow strange and you grow stronger.
Once, when the heart was young, the heart did not wonder if love was enough. It loved. It pumped so fast, you were running across wild grass, toward someone who loved you or you were the field and the heart of all things pumping. Once, the heart was young and love was enough, the world was so many tight buds opening and you were a part of all that, fragrant and damp with opening.
I promised you a love letter, but I don’t know what love is. Each to each, bodies cleaving in the open yard and under dark heaven, a panting gesture we have waited to make all our lives. You begin in the garden of love and it is a garden of possibility. Each seed is a promise, an ambition, an idea that could go either way. A girl crawls on her hands and knees through the garden, she says, “look, I crawl on my hands and knees—I make a path in the dirt, follow me.”
You are the girl in love’s garden but to feel love is not enough. The garden has its own ideas. The roses shoot vines that trouble the house, wisteria threatens the pear tree which—if you are not vigilant—drops overripe fruit to the ground and invokes swells of bees. Aries, I promised you a love letter, can you show me what love is? Who will climb the ladder and gather the fruit before it is wasted? Who will cut the roses back, carefully, trading wildness for sustainability?
A girl on her hands and knees in the garden, you buried your heart in the rich earth of your devotion. Whatever grows thrives or dies there, is your charge.
Well, the new year started well enough. We were under the open sky, surrounded by pines, in a hot tub that, after many hours of prodding and tinkering, had gotten sufficiently hot. Midnight was ten minutes away and you insisted we go inside, so we went inside. I guess that’s when things got tricky, I don’t know. I’m always watching you trying to figure out what you’re feeling and you’re always watching everyone else with a calm and closed face like the guardian of pleasure.
Of course, there was an argument. There’s always an argument but this time something was pained in you, a radiance of disappointment or discouragement. We dug in, you with your passionate resistance, me with my—yes I’ll admit it—condescending patience. And, here is the place where I love you most, the force of your certitude up against your will to change. You refused my language but you’d kept asking questions anyway.
And I guess I’m still learning about you, your incredible devotion to ideas, which once accepted become part of you—a driving force of change. And, that is why you’re not easily swayed, why shades of grey seem like a weak strategy in a world where you have had to bet on yourself over and over, to be strong because weakness was not an option.
But, Taurus, no matter who you think you are or how you think others see you, the world builds itself around you in a gradient of offerings. The more you open to others, the more they understand you. The more you let the world in, the more pain you feel, the more beauty.
During her speech while receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gemini writer Svetlana Alexievich said:
“It always troubled me that the truth doesn’t fit into one heart, into one mind, that truth is somehow splintered. There’s a lot of it, it is varied, and it is strewn about the world. Dostoevsky thought that humanity knows much, much more about itself than it has recorded in literature. So what is it that I do? I collect the everyday life of feelings, thoughts, and words. I collect the life of my time. I’m interested in the history of the soul. The everyday life of the soul, the things that the big picture of history usually omits, or disdains. I work with missing history. I am often told, even now, that what I write isn’t literature, it’s a document. What is literature today? Who can answer that question? We live faster than ever before. Content ruptures form. Breaks and changes it. Everything overflows its banks: music, painting – even words in documents escape the boundaries of the document. There are no borders between fact and fabrication, one flows into the other. Witnesses are not impartial. In telling a story, humans create, they wrestle time like a sculptor does marble. They are actors and creators.”
She was speaking of being a war writer, of writing humanity back into the brutality of war. Tonight, I’m thinking about the truths your heart knows, the small daily ones and the larger ones that direct the compass of your life. I am thinking about your ability to collect fragments of a scattered life and make something remarkable out of something ordinary.
Once, everyday opened into a new idea. I thought, this is the kind of person I am meant to wake up beside. We were artists without labels, we made what we wanted to see, we learned how to do it on the fly—or we taught each other. Now something like a snow cloud. You rise, you meet the day, move forward, but who are you—what are your hands for?
Content ruptures form yes, but internally and externally. Do you feel a kind of inside outside dance, your inner tumult crashing up against the world, chaos? But, you don’t have to suffer to know who you are—it’s not a job, a lover, a sentence written on paper—it’s a beautiful mystery you have to claim every day, like the sun rising, for as long as you’re alive.
Oh, it’s a trial, being so tender and so tough, I know. On the days when my heart gets too soft to bear the world, I remember my Cancerian father. I remember his soft watchful presence, how he aimed to take care of me. I remember our long walks along the beach together full of open-hearted talks and, also, his powerful rage, which never erupted. Rather, his rage closed all access to him; he would tighten his mouth and utter what was unmistakably the “final word,” then quietly leave the house not to return for hours.
From him, I learned the impact of being quiet and showing pointed restraint. I learned how to hold my most vulnerable self back when it was threatened, even subtly, how to punish without words. It was only after he died, after my girlfriend left, after a long time of trying to open myself to love again, that I learned how much impact all that distancing had had on me. Most of the time when I grieve my father, I grieve a man with a secret heart. I know he loved me more than life itself, but he never knew me—because I never let him.
Cancer, when you refuse access to your heart, no amount of crying or processing will ever soothe you. And, the strength you feel inside your armor will be a temporary strength, or a strength borne by isolation. When you open the door and let your loved ones in, you will find that you let yourself in, you get closer to yourself.
When one animal lives in a dark forest, her heart is a jam jar filled with ruby jewels. For a long time, the animal did not know herself from the forest and so she could not imagine her own shape. She tried to draw the outline of herself, her boundary, but the line kept running out and into shadows. When another animal came, let’s call him animal2, she wasn’t surprised. A forest is made for many animals and her jam jar, a beacon. She said, “come by my fire, animal2,” and he sat there. She offered him some jam and he ate all the jam.
A boundary breached in the emotional body: an alarm sounds in your spirit, a powerless anger.
Our animal grew hungry and resentful, still the next day she offered up her jar again. She said “I have some jam to share but it’s my only jam,” animal2 ate all the jam. It made him sad to make sad, but that’s the kind of animal he was.
A boundary broken felt through the body, an ache, a sense of shame, a resentment in the gut.
She said “I won’t give you jam if you don’t leave me some” still he never left her any and she always gave him jam so her words had no power.
A boundary is a protection spell that only works if you honor it. There is no power in a name that is written in sand.
Our animal’s heart was an empty jar she collected tears in. One day, animal2 came to our animal, he said— “Can I drink those tears?” And our animal handed over her jar, thinking he might know her heart and be good to her. But when the last tear dripped into his mouth, the outline of our animal softened and disappeared until animal2 was the only animal left.
Leo, to offer oneself, one must have a defined self, otherwise what you offer is what you might not be ready to lose.
In the car with my best friend’s mother, we wondered at what make a 15-year-old girl leave her home and a mother who loves her. What I offered her was an answer I would have offered my own mother. It had to do with the secret life of children, a life we take for granted, which is invested in perception and accumulation—change. I know all immigrant children have a different story but here is something I found shared, we did not choose to begin a new life—a new language, a new culture—it was chosen for us and it was something we were sent to do alone. We were given a mission but the closer we got to accomplishing it, the further we fell from our origins and consequently our families.
There were days when love was enough to tether us, and struggle too was a kind of adhesive, but there was also disjuncture in love language, something lost in the translation between individual difference and culture imitation.
What was lost comes back around, Virgo, and you will find that the child you were—the one who moved through this world despite your family and in step with them—is the adult you grapple with. The way you see your failures, successes, your belief in love’s power and love’s shortcomings, these things are in conversation with your origin. When the conversation becomes heated, when you feel the untenable tension of who you were born to be and who you have become, running will seem like a good option. But, Virgo, you should stay, you should put the bottle down. That child you grapple with is the one who needs you most.
All your life you’ve been looking at an image of scales and told to identify with it. But what is a scale? A means of measurement. An object attempting at balance. A sculpture made of chains, cups and lever, dancing. An implement of comparison and exchange. And you? Are you the scales or the keeper of? Do you walk through world seeking inner balance, shifting weights from one side to the other, or do you stand still before warring sides and weigh each opinion, mediating their actions and declaring their worth? The scale is an altar where justice is observed but not where it lives. This, the eternal question: what is balance in an unjust world and how do you, Libra, determine the worth of an exchange which is never equal?
Today, on a car-ride to Philly, I was reading an old issue of NYRB where (Libra) Maya Lin takes us step by step through the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I think it is important that all artists read this text if only for the line “I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth,” but here is where I thought about you and about us, about the choices that get made for us when we forget what to believe in:
There was always the expectation that since the war had been controversial, the memorial must be also. It wasn’t so much as artistic dispute as a political one. The choice to make an apolitical memorial was in itself political to those who felt only a positive statement about the war would make up for the earlier antiwar days, a past swing to the left now to be balanced. It was extremely naïve of me to think that I could produce a neutral statement that would not become politically controversial simply because it chose not to take sides.
You are always taking a side, Libra, even when you perform the dance of hesitancy. The life you want to live, a life that thrives on beautiful risk and Amazon idealism, it needs you to choose it and keep choosing it even when it feels impossible. The storm clouds are gathering and something mighty comes, you can bring the scales if you want, but you can’t stay still.
Outside, for the third time today running errands for someone you love, you wonder what drives you toward service and what is it about you anyway that makes your kind of caretaking pass invisible under the radar of those you do it for? Is it to your credit that the work blends in with daily life? Not bold or showy but, rather, small adjustments attending to the foreseen needs of others. And are you really so kind, so generous with your time, so attentive to the lives of others, or are you simply wandering through the world trying to prove to yourself that you can be of use?
Nevermind, the coffee shop you set out towards to get the espresso you want is not serving espresso, do you want hot chocolate? No, you don’t want hot chocolate or tea or regular coffee besides this isn’t for you it’s for someone else and someone else is back at the apt waiting for a latte. You find the next coffee shop. The line is long. It’s ok, you can wait. You’re very good at waiting. You’re waiting for the coffee, you’re waiting for your life to change into a life you love a little bit more. Just a little bit, you’re not unrealistic.
Ok. You have the coffee, you got yourself one too—you’re not inhuman—make sure not to get them mixed up, some people like to complain when you get mixed up and if they complain you’ll take it personally. Do you take things too personally? Maybe it’s just that you’re spending all your time and energy and sweetness on everybody else. And then, when you’re alone with yourself, you’re too tired to check in and take care of the one person you keep forgetting about—yourself. So, take care of yourself. All these tiny gestures, all these small ways you try to soften yourself for the sake of others, are you telling me you can’t devote at least one act of love to yourself every day?
At one of the last surviving diners in Manhattan, in the very back behind scattered tourist families, upper west side morning joggers, and wayward teenagers clearly cutting class, I wait for you. We’re a sight for sure, you suffering from what appears to be the direst cold known the mankind and me, hungover with period cramps. We groan toward our food, order omlettes with “home fries” and “cheese” and are of course rewarded with ambiguous orange goo and browned mashed potatoes. Water comes about halfway through the meal and we’re basically guzzling coffee to survive. Still, through our individual pain, I can feel the soft relief of company. What is it about communal suffering? Is it the act of witnessing? You recognize my pain and allow me the opportunity to move beyond claiming it.
Alright, so to suffer best we must suffer communally. Red tent, Shiva, or two girls eating unnameable cheese at noon on a Thursday. But what about the general malaise we have no rituals for? The “I’m a directionless, poor, woman who is moderately depressed” malaise, the “Sure, I’m in love with my husband but that is literally the only sure thing in my life” malaise, the “I don’t know how to be in a relationship with anyone, probably because I have no idea how to be honest with myself about what I need, do I need something?” malaise.
In lieu of Dayquil for the Soul, which will—you know—not be made in this lifetime, it is up to you to come up with rituals for obtuse suffering. What I mean is, build a community around you that recognizes your sadness and your joy both, allow people to see your full spectrum of emotions, allow yourself to feel them. And who knows? Maybe in the blue tent where we just listen to sad songs for a few hours every week, a voice (a song? a story? a friend?) might embolden you to discovering your own cure.
The first time I heard the song “Wild is the Wind,” it was a recording of Ellison Glenn made for a cd of poems. The recording was not a poem. It was a drawling, crying, voicemail for what felt like a sweetheart but could have been a love letter to their most broken self. Love me Love me, say you do, my best friend and I sang it to each other—it was our crush language, our lost lover language. Like a leaf clings to a tree something delicate and undeniable.
When this year ended, I was with all my friends in a house in the woods. We said let’s play the dead and cued up George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, and Prince. And then something happened to me, it happened to the room. David Bowie came on the screen singing “Wild is the Wind.” My heart stopped. Because it was aching, it made me ache. The words from his mouth were not words but whole ghosts springing from his face like cast off masks. And it was tense, one string in his throat about to break.
I looked at Bowie face and thought to myself—this—this is what a Capricorn is—a soft sweet howling through ancient trees, a determination to enter the room of love and divine worship no matter how steep the cost or how difficult the journey. There was something patient in the ghosts that flew from him, something vulnerable and unable to forgive itself. And maybe there are things in this world that Bowie will never have forgiveness, he’s just a star now—a dead star. But you, Capricorn, you who are still here, still wind howling through trees, still a leaf clinging to this life—forgiveness is something you can learn. How to give it, yes, but mostly how to receive it.