Real Chaos Astrology Book Reviews, vol. 3: We Were Water
I am still gasping for air.
Pisces is the sign of the fish, as you must know, the mutable sign of water, symbolized by two fish swimming in opposite directions. Pisces is ruled by Neptune, god of the sea.
If you know a Pisces, you know that Pisces is compassionate. If you know a Pisces, you know that Pisces can be fickle. If you know a Pisces, you know that the duality it represents is murkier than Gemini and its insight more humane than Aquarius. Pisces is as ancient as the primordial swamp and just as fertile.
The duality of Pisces is that Pisces is both insightful and resigned. A Leo will identify a flaw in your approach and find someone better. A Scorpio will reverse-engineer your flaw to make it work for them. A Sagittarius will laugh hysterically and go find another amusing pastime. But a Pisces? A Pisces will sit in the car you lovingly restored and know that the steering wheel pins are going to give out and send you crashing into the wall at the edge of the Pali highway. And then the Pisces will hold your hand while you hyperventilate and thank you, because never has the view been this beautiful. You will agree, and you will vow never to be so foolish again, but Pisces is made of sterner stuff than you. Pisces is made of water, and while your flesh and bone still shakes, they are just flowing.
For some of us, diving equipment is required, or the depths might claim us.
Pisces is the oldest soul in the zodiac, the one that has figured out that there is no point in thrashing around trying to change what’s already going to happened. Sometimes this is graceful, and sometimes this just seems sad, especially to Leos. But Pisces will always win, the way water will win. Pisces knows that. Pisces is not about control and intention, like Capricorn. Pisces is not a constellation of abstract compassion, like Aquarius. Pisces is a rich lagoon. You will disagree with Pisces, and you will wish you could reform Pisces. But Pisces will just keep on being itself, and you will eventually realize that is exactly what the world needed.
Michelangelo was a Pisces. Kurt Cobain was a Pisces. Douglas Adams was a Pisces. Steph Curry is a Pisces. (See? We will always need Pisces more than it needs us.)
Okay, Adam Levine is also a Pisces. But even the video for “Payphone” will make you admit that he, too, evinces that implacable strength in grievous circumstances, that there is no greater pathos than a man in an undershirt standing amidst the burnt-out wreckage of his emotional life, yet still trying to connect. That is the power of Pisces. There is no denial or bravado. There is only the deep current of emotion (please note that Wiz Khalifa muddies the waters there with all his posturing rage, but he is a Virgo, the only sign known to get in fights with inanimate objects. And then Adam Levine sings “If happy ever after did exist…” and you feel all that Piscean longing and resignation). Deny it all you like. I understand that it’s difficult to admit being moved by a hipster trash fuckboy. But this is the dichotomy of Pisces. No matter how shallow things get, they stay deep. While some of us are bobbing about wondering how things got so murky and heavy so fast, the little fish is swimming, unbothered by the muddiness of the water.
Irène Mathieu’s Orogeny is named for a process by which tectonic plates crash into each other and make mountains, but it reminds us that such a process can happen at the bottom of the sea. Just as the fish swims in both directions, the events that reshape our geography can happen leagues below water. And water is everywhere in this book, in the swirling mythology of earth, it describes and in the blood that propels us through it. Mathieu delineates not only the process of mountain-building, but how we came to walk this earth in order to observe it.
It begins with a three-poem section called “speak good dreams into your fist” that serves as scaffold for what will follow. The first poem tells a dreamy story of the Pangaea myth, in prose: “because her being contained every think she had no words for some things like what we call sickness want love separation and if you could speak to her today through a Paleozoic interpreter she would not be able to describe them — as if someone asked you how you beat your heart.”
We dwell here in the moment of acceptance for this fragmentation that now defines and hinders us, keeping us from the place before loneliness became a state of being. We dwell here in the longing and lament that Pisces croons with that sad resignation that never fails to pull at us, as if the ground could just shift back and smooth out again, as if it so doing would give us back the “word for that feeling which is no longer pronounceable in any human tongue.”
Superman was a Pisces — did you know that? Clark Kent’s birthday was celebrated in June, when the Kents found him, but Kal-el was born on February 29th. Think of that and remember the time he flew backwards around the world to reverse its orbit, and get to Lois while she still breathed. Think of how he learned never to go to such lengths again. These are the forces at play, and when Mathieu warns that “the world will always tear us open/make its home in our blood,” you can tell she knows just how Superman felt.
Orogeny is much more than the creation of mountains; it is the minute investigation of all the history we have lost, and of what we could have learned from it. “My blood asks, do bones / carry future memories / in their marrows?” Mathieu asks, and later seems to answer: “there is something / that wants the dark birth / of words.” Water flows everywhere throughout these poems, in the bodies that inhabit them — “I am overflowing / and the taxi driver sees” — and in the landscapes through which they move, febrile, flooding, fertile, even futile: “see how you throw yourselves / into the ocean and claim / to have ten lives?” It follows Pangaea through reflection and tribulation and gathering other moments like mirrors to hold ourselves up against as it goes.
This is the great strength of Pisces: its elemental force is the most gentle and the most inexorable. It learns only after accepting and reviewing the damage it has sustained, or has wrought.
The great Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting, a Pisces, wrote of his birth season: “But Spring is / everlasting / resurrection,” and we find in Mathieu’s lyric “Pangaea’s book of March” an echo of the sentiment, the sempiternal return of the beauty and pain of birth, “every year burning myself / through and swallowing oceans-full / of water, then crying it out into the tiny veins of leaves.” Here is Pisces at its full power, aware of both our insignificance and our essential place within the life cycle, embodying “the growing knowledge / that no raindrop will ever / leave this world.” Orogeny is that powerful, that quiet, that irrevocable, its sprawling lyrics dancing with truths that echo in our heads: “and even you, you wanted to / lasso the rain” and finally, inevitably, “we were water.”
It is difficult for most of us to understand how both of these things can be true. Orogeny is a book that takes you deep into the place of that understanding.
Happy birthday, Pisces. Everlasting.