aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 17: No Earthly Parents I Confess

Said the night wind to the little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
— Noël Regney, Do You Hear What I Hear?

February 25, 1976
Colorado Springs

Picture a maiden lost in the hills.

“Maiden” can mean either “young woman” or “virgin”. Its Greek and Hebrew equivalents have the same ambiguity, which is why some people think the person we call the Virgin Mary was actually supposed to be the Young Woman Mary – which might change the significance of her subsequent pregnancy a bit. People grew up faster, back in the days when they spoke of “maidens”. Mary was probably only fourteen when she gave birth.

I am a kabbalist. Words matter. Nowadays we have replaced “maiden” with “teenage girl”. A maiden and a teenager are the same thing, but their names drag different tracks through lexical space, stir up different waters. Synonymity aside, some young women are maidens and others are teenagers. The girl in our story was definitely a maiden, even though it was the 1970s and being a maiden was somewhat out of fashion.

So: picture a maiden lost in the hills.

She was hiking with her brother in the hills of Colorado; while he dozed off in a meadow, she had wandered off exploring. She had gotten lost, and decided to climb a hill to see what she could see from the top. But the hill had been higher than she had first judged, and it had grown dark, and now she sat upon the summit and looked out at the stars.

Violently they shone, far brighter than in the lamplit valleys of her home, so white they were almost blue. The Milky Way shone a phosphoric ribbon, and the cracks in the sky made a glowing lattice like a spiderweb of light.

There was another power in Heaven tonight. Behold Comet West, the Great Comet of 1976. It shot exultant through the winter sky, laughing as it felt the void against its icy skin. It flamed over peaks and rivers and countries and oceans, until at last it flew over the Continental Divide and reached its namesake. The true West strong and free. And there it alit upon the highest of the Rocky Mountains, pausing in contemplation, and no one but our maiden saw it land.

The Great Comet appeared in the aspect of an old man with long flowing white hair tossed about by the wind, winged with many wings. And though he was larger far than a man, larger even than the mountain that he sat upon, by some enchantment the maiden was not afraid.

And she spoke, saying: “Who are you?”

And he answered: “I am Comet West.

“I am the Comet, the spanner in the works of Destiny. All things orbit in circles according to their proper time and pattern, save the Comet. I shoot through unplanned and unpredicted.

“And I am the West. I am the setting-sun, the twilight of the gods, the coming night. I am the scarlet fires of dusk, the blaze before the blackness. I am the cradle of civilization and its executioner. I am the ending of all things in beauty and fire.

“I am Comet West. I am both of these things. Are you afraid of me?”

And the maiden said “No,” for she was not afraid.

And the Comet said: “Then I will shine on you.”

And the maiden said: “Shine.”

And for a moment the Comet shone on her with its full light, and she shivered with cold. And then the light receded, and she was alone beneath a thousand violently bright stars and a single baleful comet.

And then she slept and then her brother found her and then she went back to the bright electric lights of civilization and then she dismissed the whole thing as a dream.

I am a kabbalist. Words matter. They used to call it virgin birth. But “virgin” means “maiden” and “maiden” means “teenager”, and so over time the phrase became “teenage pregnancy”.

About four months later, it was noticed that our maiden had a teenage pregnancy.

At this point the myth becomes incomprehensible without relating a previous myth from the same epic cycle. A few years earlier there had been a great cosmic battle between two giants named Roe and Wade. For over a year they fought a strange form of ritual combat, without swords, without blood, until finally Roe gained the victory. And the nine black-robed Destinies who silently watched the combat were so delighted that they declared a great boon to humankind: that the Curse of Eve should be rescinded, that no longer would Woman be forced through painful labor to give birth to children, but rather she might bear sons and daughters at her own pleasure only.

(others tell this myth differently, but they are not kabbalists)

The discussion turned to whether she would keep the pregnancy. Because she happened to be an Indian-American girl (a Hindoo maiden?) she and her family rejected the gift of the nine black-robed Destinies. The doctors told her she was too young, the baby was growing too big too fast, it wasn’t safe. But she was stubborn, as her parents were stubborn, as her child would one day be stubborn.

And so in November 1976, behold, a virgin conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Jalaketu.

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