I was raised by a Sagittarius, a distinction few people claim (or at least fewer than the amount of people raised by Tauruses or Cancers or Pisces or just about anyone, because Sagittarius is the kind of parent who’s likely to get lost in some Quest or Cause or Ideology and forget to parent or abdicate parenting or be somehow isolated from parenting for long periods) because Sagittarius is notoriously…not unreliable, but what looks like it to the more earthbound. If you are familiar with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy or the eponymous TV series, you will recognize in Lord Asriel the behavior of a typical Sagittarius: he fights his lover’s husband to the death for his child (strange but resolute morality); he then puts that child in the care of a nurse (self-serving but pragmatic action), from which it falls into the care of a convent and, later, an 11-year-old; Sagittarius parent is blithely absent through all these transitions, but finally and with great gravitas swoops up the infant and trudges through a flood with it on his shoulder (dramatic gestures of righteousness) to entrust it to a College in Oxford where, he claims, it should receive “scholastic sanctuary,” that is, be protected by the freedom of ideas (one wonders if, to the Sagittarius parent, the child is an idea they had) before buggering off again (irresistibly drawn to own freedom/destiny), leaving the child in the care of an elderly Scholar who presumably has no idea how to feed it.
That’s Sagittarius parenting. Long on drama and ideology, short on security and nurture.
The character of the child, Lyra, acts more like a Taurus, stubborn and loyal and mendacious, tracking Asriel (spoiler alert) to his laboratory at great personal peril. Sagittarius parent opens the door and is bummed because it needs to kill a child for its research but doesn’t particularly want to sacrifice its own child (whether or not it will, fortunately for the Sagittarius, is not put to the test in this story). This dramatization will be recognized by all those with a Sagittarius parent: even if there are no floods and no murdered children, they will remember the Sagittarius swooping in and out of the nest or, as some birds will in response to a disturbance, abandoning the nest entirely for one in the next tree or the next continent or on Jupiter. Even if the the Sagittarius parent doesn’t physically abandon their kids, they will spend hours/days/years lost in their own ideas/neuroses/imaginings and only occasionally or for erratically timed periods descend to the plane where their offspring wait hungrily to soak up their presence the way baby birds wait for food.
So, children of Sag parents, lovers of Sagittarius loves: if you got the space cadet and not the deserter, count yourself lucky (Sagittarius is also notorious at disappearing in the face of overwhelming emotions; see: Emily Dickinson #640, in which the poet chooses a life of affective exile over, you know, dishes and dealing).
But we happy few who survived Sagittarius parenting are not bitter. No. We, like Lyra in the story, revere our Sagittarius parents (even as we may deplore their choices). We appreciate their verve, their capacity for strong principles and abstractions, their adventurous souls, their inability to be disingenuous successfully or for long. We delight in their peregrinations and their ingenuity, and we spend our lives pursuing them with adoration. They become our favorite people and our most constant friends. And this period, as late November explodes from watery Scorpio into the dazzling starry sky across which the Archer, in Centaur form (an apt metaphor for Sagittarius: looks like a regular human from the front, but no…), as the year turns into the last dregs of autumn’s strangeness and secrets, sees us all celebrating the beauty of this mutable fire sign in all its lovely light.
Capricorn, on the other hand, shuts the door on the year and takes us through the darkest night to winter, Cardinal Earth. And Capricorn parenting is pretty much the opposite of what I just described above. First, because Capricorn is the opposite energetically, a negative earth sign, ruled by Saturn who governs time, and Capricorn is always ticking off the hours, calculating what can be done and how, plotting and executing. The Capricorn parent will not likely abandon you, but they may be rigid or exacting, and woe betide those who disappoint them — but they will pay the taxes and start an education fund and provide nutritious meals and enforce rules and standards. Especially the latter. Capricorn is capable of holding everyone, including itself, to standards with a precision and a pragmatism that can seem dry and dreary after Sagittarius’s showy energy, but Capricorn, as this year and decade ends, is where we need to go: into a place of accountability, and into a place of steadfastness. Because at the heart of all Capricorn’s calculations and analyses, at the core of its rigidity, is care: for sustainable outcomes, responsibility, and consistent ethics. In other words, love. Capricorn, the Sea Goat, is the great lover of the zodiac, the most consistent, the most nurturing (sorry, Cancer, but you’re too often an emotional shit show to be the most nurturing, even though you rilly rilly wanna be, we know), for Capricorn has the capacity to accept the reality of who you are and to adjust to (plan for) it. Capricorn will rarely dazzle, but if Sagittarius brings the flash, Capricorn brings the follow-through, and we as a culture are all too easily seduced by the former and ignorant of the latter. You can count on Capricorn, and for those who have, you know that there is nothing more deeply lovely than the knowledge that you are being looked after, not only in this moment but for every moment in the future, until and beyond Capricorn’s death. The gift of Capricorn is to teach us to settle our accounts and to plan for the long term, with love. While Sag says never mind the details, Cap says I’m working out a plan to navigate them. And thus, the children of Capricorns do not follow them across continents adoringly. They take them for granted, which is a sign that Cap has done a good job (and many Capricorns have the wisdom to be happy about this).
I have a Capricorn in my family who’s a police officer. He is probably great at this job because he, like all well-adjusted Capricorns, excels at making people feel safe. He is also endowed with the dry wit so typical of Capricorn, who doesn’t get enough credit for being either perceptive or funny (most Capricorns are both, and that’s rare since in the zodiac it’s more common to find one or the other — looking at you, Virgo, Gemini, Cancer). Recently, another relative, the hot mess of the family, called the cops on their own kid, and the call was radioed to this Capricorn…who, with great social and professional dexterity, passed the call off to some colleagues on the grounds that he was personally involved, then bought them Starbucks cards to compensate them for pain and suffering.
That’s Capricorn. Handles it, then ties up the loose ends, often with great grace and style. And keeps it all on the DL so that you have to worm this out of their spouse a year later at the family party.
Still, this transition, from Sagittarian Jupiter (the planet of great fortune) to Capricorn Saturn (planet of great misfortune, which is to say THE CLEANUP CREW, a fact that Caps rightly bemoan but also secretly enjoy), is never easy. For rebellious Sagittarius, anything and everything is possible. Capricorn tends to play by the rules. But, to continue our fantasy theme, Cap in its rigor can be so much more fascinating, intricate, nuanced, and ultimately beautiful: C.S. Lewis: Sagittarius. J.R.R. Tolkien: Capricorn. One is romance, the other is entire worlds built. ‘Nuff said.
Amish Trivedi’s Your Relationship to Motion has Changed (Shearsman Press, 2019) negotiates this transition for us by investigating the difficulty of changing how we move through space and time, and dwells in the place of that difficultly changed relationship, motion arrested and changed, from the swoop and whirl of Sagittarius to the cleanly plotted line of Capricorn. Foregrounded on an American history involving Abraham Lincoln and his two great loves, Ann Rutledge (Capricorn) and Mary Todd Lincoln (Sagittarius), the book begins from a place of loss: of love (Rutledge died young, lost to Lincoln almost before she was found), but also of identity (in the careful curation of all these very American historical figures by the poet-child of immigrants who is no stranger to the question of belonging), and reads like a catalogue of American icons and villains — Lincoln, the murderer Charles Starkweather (and the film he inspired, 1973’s Badlands), the singer Bruce Springsteen) and, indeed, spends a lot of time dwelling in Sagittarian rapid-fire movement: “I cannot be happy when/I am supposed to be” and “My pulse/grows in every direction, with/no sense of where to go,/but knowing it must/arrive.”
This book is a love letter and a nastygram to our great mess of a country, both seeking and resisting a place in it, as in the poem “America,” which begins by declaiming “One more nightmare and I’m out” and ends “I’ve said this before and I’ve said it before,” paralleling America to the bad marriage, the inescapable marriage, as of course it is for all of us who live here, this nation of swashbuckling villains and solemn heroes. The Lincoln trio contrasts to the Starkweather duet (who, if Mary Todd Lincoln is the good Sagittarius, represents what happens when Sagittarius energy goes wrong: a killing spree and the electric chair), whose philosophical musings lead to narcissistic conclusions: “If we’re not the center of/the universe, clearly/we’re making a huge/mistake” and whose teen accomplice, Caril Ann Fulgate, speaks in these poems as well: “For the days/ and nights that we were running,/I knew the world/could not hold us.”
We’ve all felt it. That cosmic grandiosity Sagittarius can pull us into, propelling us like rockets in that late November sky. That manic glee that falls upon us like the slanting light of December, making everything starker and more beautiful, making us believe in ourselves as legends, making us, too, think the world cannot hold us, destined as we are to manifest every wound or joy: “It’s no sin to be glad/you’re alive, but it is sinful/to live at all if sensations you feel/are submerged.” But Trivedi’s work, bifurcated between American legends good and bad as it is, does not stop in the place of Sagittarian fantasy, but begins to find resolution in a discreet and Capricornian logic: “What begins/in silent gesture becomes aching/and necessary to contain and hide,” Trivedi writes early, in “William Seward in the Post Office” (Seward was Lincoln’s Secretary of State and a noted abolitionist), and later, in the poem Cincinnatus (presumably named for the Roman statesman), seeming to explore the impossibilities of language or silence, of action or inaction, of certainty in the face of ambiguity: “I/ want to inform you/ that my idea of/ consent is rather/ strict. I need/ a confirmation written in/ blood, preferably not/yours.”
Much of Your Relationship to Motion Has Changed, is, like these lines, both daring and banal, both awkward and transcendent, as if the poet is trying to find a logic in the world, in America, in the self, and the book, like Capricorn, has the virtue of finding or creating a logic that will sustain it: “Let me step beyond and see a new design of my choosing,” Trivedi entreats in “Dying,” and then, in the final, eponymous long poem, “We/ cannot ask to be brought/anywhere, but we can hope/to be somewhere.”
Capricorn does not ask to be brought anywhere, but in Capricorn’s studious logic, in Capricorn’s dogged preparedness, in Capricorn’s attention to impacts and eventualities, in the subtle and pervasive love that fuels all of this earthly effort, there is a word Trivedi’s book finds: hope.
Psychology tells us that those who have hope have trust. And trust is what the Sea Goat needs to learn in order to buy those Starbucks cards and make those investments and embody all the wisdom of the thoughtful and trustworthy parent, the one everyone wishes they had the luck to take for granted.
The perils of Sagittarius are, as Trivedi has it, “We go nowhere all the time.” The saving grace of Capricorn is that it can always find the hope — and the means — to go somewhere.
Happy Birthday, Capricorn. This winter, know that you are the leader we all need. After Sagittarius’s chaotic dazzle, we need your true earth, to take root in, to prepare for the new year, to grow.