JIM CARTER
THE HARUSPEX
you must look things in the belly, not in the eye
Frank O’Hara


To men of a green country she was known as a beast of the spring and willow, and she lived for always on their tongues as a rune or shem that illumined speech and unshaped thought. For they saw in the belly of the sacrificial mare the recurring bounty of the moon’s auspice, and it secured for them a time and a fate not quite so trapped in their finite world of eggs and stones.

For some the mother was born in them as thes magic formula of an animating image, and a man so marked would link her life to the sabbath of his second birth when he looked to her for the unearned boons of a protective deity. Pauper of wastes and hollows, through her might a man reject his norms for the rudiments of the spiritual quest, or defy his rule to thrive by the will of the trickster god that warmed his mind, explicit and subtle. She lived in the world with power to rend unyielding faith, and her ways were cathartic as sin must be for conquered gods that in black pools misappropriate the treasures of men. Thief of higher thought, by new kings she was renewed, each to mark his rule by birds and beasts of the sickle light, in whose brief lives are fires of immaculate ends.

By these blessings men emerged with the brute from the wood and water, the daily travail of natural hardship which at first they loved, only to reject but to love again. The uncommon creatures that coiled within them they would loath and brook and worship until, governed by the cult of the head, they began to covet the sweet, stray warmth only animals know. In course of time, contrived by law out of step with supernatural power that men impugned, she slipped from their skulls under crusts of moss and heather in search of her song and its primal beginnings. In cabals of gaps and stones she shifted shape from ewe to mare, from pen to vixen until, in this last, famished as never before in life and set in exceptional circumstance, she became for man bellwether of his own psychic emptiness.



There is but one name to which the animals answer, and the fox was called from her earth by a voice that was not man’s, that he could not hear but which spoke to her of a vessel or cache to hold her plenitude. She came out from under the ash and leapt onto a grassy wall, running for a space beneath custodial pines before dropping softly into lush pastures. The cattle were grazing under the first stars, and passing by hedges thick with maple, she felt the ground rise into high fields where, in the deep grass, she thought to hide in respite from fear. Below her, in the yellow dusk of alder valleys, the god had set the streams to run like silver beyond all memory of separation, and the light and the colour, the song and its story, they passed as a balm through each sense and on into a night magic with a clear desire and blessing.

She sniffed the cool air and looked upwards. All her short years she had watched the white bird slide the vernal arches, and it had anointed her until she knew herself alive and apart on her own terms in a mongrel universe. Soon she would know sleep as the fruit of labour, but when she dropped her nose to the damp earth, the figure remained as a sigil in her mind’s eye, made from her own canon of proportions; and it seemed to her that the seraph disclosed, on this return and by this symbol, an intimate knowledge that had roamed the world with exclusivity, faithful to the sacred geometry of the animal body.

She awoke once in the early hours upon her bed of soft grasses to the sound of birdsong, and it made peace for her so that when she fell asleep once more she dreamt of a bowl that by her side was full with moths and birds, and with fruit of many kinds. Incomparable was the gladness and the fullness of the heathen cup. Bequeathed by the grace of hill fathers, come down to her from the mother of comfort, the bird in her heart could never be extinguished. By old parables chosen as the owner of suffering, she took on light as she ate; the gilt earth was hers and the dreams in the vessel of providence and becoming. In its mantic heaven, by the white and blue, she knew she could not but make her home in abandoned places and by this effect for man his transformation. She felt, moreover, that there was upon his lips a power to elude absolutes in belief and feeling, and which, in lieu of dogma, sang truths naïve and fluid as animals are. They might still speak and think the forgotten tongues they learnt from beasts, and she was told that the time had come in the sacred drama to prepare for the act of reconciliation. Insects fluttered by her ears and she shook them and opened her eyes to the dark. The symbol was with her still, survived into worlds of weight and substance, and it issued softly at first in the eyes of moths and the revelations of their markings, in meadow flowers and scents of woodbine and April gorse. The vision bowed on travelling wings, alight with purpose, and she got up promptly and went on down the hill to the twilit wood. The voice that called her seemed in waking to look for closure to its astral propositions, so that as she passed through the trees she felt all the more that she must be profligate to get to the source of its bodiless narrative. A hollow vessel will invite a brute’s agnostic fire, and she saw she must slough all that was redundant in thought and matter to effect for herself its occupation.

Baffled by man and the work of his hands, his traps and his wires, she took unfamiliar ways, going deeper into scrub with no recourse for new channels; and it felt to her, soon returned from parley with invisible worlds, that the earth assailed her, finding in her body an answer to the full sum of man’s absence. In his utter dark he dwelt at the opposite end of things as much as she had been outlawed to unsettled margins. Twig and thorn and all the claws of the unsung night would despoil her peripheral fire, and the trees that in neglected orchards stripped her of all colour and tone thought to act in fealty to a converse vision. For the harvest gods, impatient for alms and observing in her apt sacrifice for a beggared world, sent an apple branch with which to snag her belly; and the womb, no longer with means to sustain its weight, dropped into briar and ruptured, spilling her unborn cubs over stony ground.

She dragged herself into a hidden tract of the woods, a depression lined with saplings of willow and hazel hardly seen by man for its removal into oracular time. The epiphanies prescribed to him are felt too by beasts after a fashion but which, in their own way, are more fierce in consequence being born to savage and arbitrary lives from the charnel grounds of the suffering animal. For she writhed in the grass till her voice was spent and her body was still, and able at last to look upon herself in her wretchedness, she considered the seat and shape of her bowels where they lay amongst roots and flowers.

The animal dreams of order that is lived by man only in waking but which in sleep the gods repeal for him into shining tumult. Though his charms and incantations are not the brute’s inheritance, and she hurries not towards new shapes in her understanding, still she mediates with the objects of her desire, investing them with arcane rhythm. She has fire enough to feed all stories that come after, so that each death or love, ritual, or birth, has full share, and equal, in elemental verses. She saw in the pool of her blood and milk how men displaced the soil to receive their dead, and how that space, which was once of earth but now filled by the body, endured as an effigy diffused in the trees, in the air and its light. It was unjust that animal life, fleeting, pure, but disapproved, was not endowed, by way of wind and rain in excarnation, its own age of sustained rapture.

The commoving sign was in the gut, the one to upset man’s sedate intellectual calculations and flay him on the hill of the occulting sun. She saw too from the map of her body the whereabouts of the Master’s kingdom; and whereas once she was a god inside men’s houses, now she saw herself roam in pursuit of her oppressors, brought over fields in disquiet as if by a storm. She gnawed her coat, thinking to release the animal hex. The mange glistened in the rising moon but crumbled fast so that the dream that once was set to prayer was revealed in waking as a malediction. Turning her ears to the north, she heard once more the voice as a thunder and strife of gods that battle on the limits of sense in the midnight wood. Neither promise of stars or mortal judgment could appease the fox that would bring the binary world to heel and consume it utterly. She pushed on in her grief through the trees and out into the road, but little there was to be harmed by the noise and harsh light; and the force that annulled the body dumped it not quite out of sight on the verge in a shape that eyes could not resolve.

A rain came with the dawn, and a strong wind, and they made from the tissue and blood a rough square that spoke of earth and animal and man; and its colour, which at first was hunched in black and red, drained to the pink of the outlawed body, and it rippled into lines of the leaf of a silver birch or a poplar tree, and by this was its value repossessed. Tributary prayer with the image of a god, this last a crescent, it passed to skies that clothe each loss in words of mothering air, for from old lesions such as these are new worlds populated.