My work with collage has led to a new way of painting. This one is still in progress. It’s in acrylic, a medium that demands much different handling than oils and works well with the flat, fragmented character of collage.
The bewitching breezes wafting from the intermediate zone that had vexed our northerly course along the bleak, rocky coast gave way to an absolute calm as we stood off the rank harbor of Virtual Babylon. It was as though the anchorage were under the spell of some vengeful deity that held the stagnant seaport in irons-a fitful sleep of waking dream.
McWhirr called from the wheelhouse:
“All right, Mister Spencer.”
I let go the anchor. The silence was broken by a low rumble as I paid out 3 fathoms of chain into the muddy bottom of Moloch Bay.
After 2 weeks of foul headwinds and devilishly flukey breezes, we were ready to don shore-going rig for a nice row to an ancient, stone pub at the head of a dilapidated wharf to splice, as they say, the proverbial main-brace.
The melancholy treble of a loon-bot echoed over the still anchorage as McWhirr sat in the bows of the skiff brooding upon the lurid, crimson sea. Not wanting to disturb his meditations, I rowed on.
I’d heard Saturnius McWhirr was a pious man of Quaker stock who had fallen into some branch of the Zoroastrian persuasion. Or was it some Sufic offshoot of Shi’ism whose adherents await the 12th Imam’s return and wander the storm-wracked shores of this world seeking some vestige of a golden age–a relic safeguarded from the literalist creed by occult signs that can be decoded only in the secret halls of pure imagination?
Be that as it may, McWhirr gazed into the offing as the violet light of dusk fell over his weathered brow and said:
“I first heard of the Babylonian Theme Park when but a nipper on my grandfather’s knee. He told me of the Neo-Art Exhibition, the wonders of the Pharmaceutical Pavilion and how he touched the robe of the King of Wall-mart. He told me yarns of how it’s foundations had first been laid in the 21st Century by drones captured during the great cyber wars.”
“But,” continued McWhirr with a tone of caution, “he also told a darker tale. He said the streets were paved with sorrow, the walls built with the grief of mothers who toiled over an illusory harvest, it’s ramparts manned by desiccated souls who invested all their goods in the virtual fun-house of Mammon.”
“Yes sir,” I said though, in my green youth, I could scarce fathom the depths of his narration..
We landed the skiff and walked the cobbled street toward the the ancient, stone pub. Soon, my attention was caught by the droning whirr of something hovering overhead.
Could this be one of the fabled harpies that had long plagued unwary mariners who sail these latitudes–these droning machines of evil and ubiquitous surveillance that kill with rockets as well as with the bland, droning sameness that reduces our citizenry to penile servitude to the sexless god of materialism?
McWhirr drew his cutlass and, slashing at the malignant thing, thundered:
“Get thee hence, instrument of Satan!”
“Hang on to yer hat, lad. Looks like we’re in for a dusting.” McWhirr pointed at the darkening horizon and commanded: “Ready to man the pumps.”
I scrambled aft and pulled the aged, bronze pump from the lazarette before looking up to see the immense, glassy wall looming over the masthead like the adamant finale of doomsday.
Old Hand rose up the vertical wall to its breeze-feathered crest and launched skyward with a spray of rainbow light. It was as if she sought escape from her natural element, to take her place amid the constellations as guide to unborn mariners of this tropic-this weary globe where man has long toiled on the treacherous seas.
We landed in the trough with a bone-jarring crash as the wave broke with a deafening roar astern.
Old Hand yawed like a stunned boxer shaking off a vicious right hook and steadied up, ready to meet the next one. We mounted the second wave of the set and were again hurled down it’s backside, until I thought we might sound the very depths of the Mariana trench.
Each time McWhirr counted each wave until, after the 8th had thrown us rudely on our beam-ends, he said: “This is it, lad-the 9th wave. Say yer prayers, this may be the end of our pleasant, little cruise.”
The sight that met my eyes as I braced against the wheelhouse was enough to make Blackbeard blanch and Ahab drop to his knees and beg for mercy.
“No, it can’t be that big,” I said, upon seeing the wave’s awesome height. It’s aspect was all the more terrible for its calm refulgence-as gleaming and resolute as an executioner’s ax. The crystalline beauty of it seemed to mock all our puny efforts to survive.
Again, we faced the interminable ascent. As it jacked up over the reef, it turned a back-lit, emerald-green hue.
Good reader, we’ve all heard how time stands still, and the imagination falls prey to odd fancies in times of extreme terror. So it was with me. I thought I saw strange shapes in that massive beast of a sea-spectral figures who swam before my eyes and vanished again like mackerel flashing upon the wave’s face. One such apparition was dressed in a flowing white shirt and tight pants. He had the angelic look of one inspired by the muses and held, in his delicate hand, a goose-quill pen. His melodic words seemed to echo above the dismal keening of gulls that circled overhead:
…My spirit’s bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am born darkly, fearfully afar…
Poetry from Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelly