Murking my way through the twilit gardens and sputtering neon harems of Lese Majesty, I recollect the nightmare of a half-remembered mythology…
Transcontinental-bound from New Delhi, a Boeing sept-quad-sept erupts in a shower of shrapnel and limbs and in-flight duty-free. Fuselage rent open and loosing a cascade of sick confetti, the piñata-Titanic shucks its guts rudely into the English Channel below. From the shores, the metal and flesh and warped plastic mingle in lovely contiguity with the falling Christmas snow. A laminated tri-fold safety manual flutters tragicomically in the brisk rush of wind, grazing past a pair of humanoid silhouettes.
And so it came to pass that amidst all this gross hurly burly, two men plunged from the debris very much alive — transfigured, as it were, into a Bollywood archangel and bowler-hatted demon, respectively — and with a song on their lips,
“To be born again, first you have to die.
Ho ji! Ho ji!
To land upon the bosomy earth, first one needs to fly.”1
What a lark! What a plunge! What horrific sublimity: to tumble from the heavens unscathed and arrive on terra firma intact like some miraculous Kaaba meteorite. No small feat, eh?: this brushing against the cosmos. Lese majesty! Assault to power! Enough to make petty oligarchs tremble and mere kings quake within their mortal walls of stone and mortar!
And I? Indeed, what says the critic? Wise up habib! For what use are stoicism and conditioned sobriety in the face of meteorites?! Aye, better to put down the cynic’s pen and learn to dance the twisted convolutions of the ozone breathers! To parlay mano-a-mano, tête-à-tête with this Space Odysseus, with this Disenfranchised Other turned Transcendent Extraterrestrial. To wring a few precious drops of warped sanity from all this starstuck madness.
On the subject of space travelers and such interstellar souvenirs, another artifact of historical curiosity bears recounting. Stumbling through a bazaar lodged in cyberspace, I once chanced upon a slab of meteor polished down to a millimeter-thin plate, laced with hairline spiral etchings and sheathed within a thin paper envelope postmarked from a distant planet. Embossed on the pouch, above the cryptic black insignia of a myriad-toothed trident, I recall the exclamation BLOWN APART TOMB — or something to that effect — as well as the archaic timestamp ©1994. And lo! Rotating the ebony slab ‘round and forcing a fine diamond shard along the second-to-outermost concentric groove, I declare voices spoke from out of the aether in ghostly interlude —
Alright boy, give you your rights. You have the right to remain silent. Give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be held against you.
Whatever, man. What-ever.
Do you understand each of these rights I’ve explained to you?
Oh, like I ever had rights.
Do you wish to give up the right to remain silent?
Audacity supreme! To utter; to articulate; to forfeit the numb safety of silence! Miranda Law be damned! And to whom do we attribute this forgotten shard of logocentric insurrection? Enter stage-left our deus ex machina, our Ishmael Butterfly (né Butler): occasioned poet, jazzmancer, silver-tongued dissident and architect of verse. A model revolutionary, he was: all soulful eloquent and full of that pre-9/11 NYC piss and vinegar. For that was back, back, way back when the pen was still mightier than the scimitar, no?
But 20 solar cycles is a lifetime in the blink of an iPhone. Plenty of time for a quick suicide plunge through the Twittersphere. And so, newly crashlanded and re-baptized as the resplendent Palaceer Lazaro, our romancer of comets took to leashing serpents and snorting stardust. Retreating from the banks of the East River to the lost Le Corbusier metropolis of trans-Saharan Uqbar, he erected himself an electric Xanadu and studiously acquired the forbidden language of downed airliners. Listen closely, and you can hear him from oceans away, murmuring out from behind curtains of light. Whispering in the soft seductive sibilance of satanic verse.
Meet us there?
We throwing cocktails at the Führer?
Blackness is abstracted and protracted by the purest
Moderns, Cubists, or Surrealists?
To sleep they couldn’t lull us so we synthesize our realest one
(Killers: you put them)
And like that, the floor falls out from beneath you.
Kaleidoscopic-acid-tripping through the abrupt puncture of a paradigm shift, notice how everything seems to stutter in film-reel staccato. “#%&” — the shriek of an ATM tone punctuates the dusk, as a rhinestone dawn lays its first clawing talons on the rotting mirrored pyramids and melting sugar sphinxes of Neo-Luxor. Hustlers and dope slingers break bread with high priests in subterranean tunnels. Crashing guillotines leak congealing puddles and ICBMs detonate “back-against-the-wall!” in firing squad thunder. Torsos entwine on plush velvet ottomans in the humid geometry of lovers’ agreement. In the waning desert shade of a glass and steel Ziggurat, raw sewage leaks from Coca-Cola telephone booths. A peacock feather falls softly in a philosopher’s courtyard. Head hunched over the gaping porcelain, a belching smoke-eater exhumes curdled stomach acid; shits his eyeballs out. Children in refugee camps are treated to poundcake off Mary Antoinette’s finest china.
Somersaulting thusly through the light and sound and falling debris — compelled in Newton’s waltz along gravity’s rainbow — I am reminded of a footnote I once came across in an arcane tome on the geometry of curved spacetime: that a body in free-fall is in every way equivalent to one tumbling through the vacuum of outer space.
There then occurred to me the ‘glükischste Gedanke meines Lebens,’ the happiest thought of my life, in the following form. The gravitational field has only a relative existence… Because for an observer falling freely from the roof of a house there exists — at least in his immediate surroundings — no gravitational field. Indeed, if the observer drops some bodies then these remain relative to him in a state of rest or uniform motion, independent of their particular chemical or physical nature. The observer has the right to interpret his state as ‘at rest.’3
What a lovely sentiment, the Palaceer replies as we pass beside a whirling row of first-class seats, tray tables still secure in upright-and-locked position. What a pretty thought, this relativistic dogma. And as I shutter my eyes against the searing rush of air, I swear I feel just like a space traveler myself. Like a crestfallen cosmonaut, swimming butterfly stroke through lightyears of void. A ramshackle conquistador in the voluminous palace of a strange and ancient kingdom. Lese majesty, indeed. Hell of a power trip.
And then the ground falls up to meet me halfway.4
1. Adapted from Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, 1988
2. Transcribed from Digable Planets’ “Black Ego,” 1994
3. Albert Einstein, as quoted in J. B. Hartle’s Gravity: an Introduction to Einstein’s General Relativity
4. Profane delusions, you say? Would that it were so. For we all know by now that such human meteorites do indeed exist. That they live to walk amongst us and sing such monstrous, beautiful songs — now that is merely wishful fiction.