Christine Shields | Claire Light

Christine Shields
Apocalypse Artist (2011), Christine Shields, cell vinyl on paper, 22 x 30 inches

by Claire Light

One day the glint of the Bay caught the eye of the daughter of heaven. She stopped weaving clouds to study the water. The texture of the waves fascinated her, the bubbling forms cast upward, the way the water pooled and swirled in its enormous hollow, and magnified and twisted the million shades of dun and earth and moss. The way it reflected her work in the sky. Until now, she had had only cumulus and cirrus and the like to work with, fluffy and pattern, the downstroke and the upstroke and the wavering. Finite sets of marks to work with.

This water had something to teach her. She stepped down. The edge of her robe shattered the water's surface, and birds of light flew radiant outward. But the robe wicked up the water and immediately weighed. Interesting. She removed it, squeezed it, and tossed it away onto the bank. She sank naked into the water and studied it from within, touched its cold, leaned back, and let it flow over her skin.

Elsewhere, Antaeus called to his wolves. They came bounding from day jobs sniffing piss in Mission doorways, only stopping to leave their own calling cards. They barked him a tale of a beautiful ice-maiden bathing alone in China Basin with no eyes around. Come now, before she melts, before the creek goes underground. He ran to see, gathering orange poppies along the way, just in case.

The hounds were right, the Virgin was bathing in scatterings of light. Flights of shipping cranes attended her. Juan Antaeo tossed the sunset blooms over the bay to announce himself. They fell in scaffolds, in grids, upon the water, tainting the pool with their beauty, a soprano beauty, holding its fire note wavering, drunken, sinking. Even fascinated with the myriad orange pupils bobbing round her, she did not know she was observed. So he called to her, demanded her attention.

That sound. A man. The gall! To interrupt her work! She reached for her cloak to hide her nakedness, threw strew her gaze around. But when at length her eye alighted on the robe's blue feathers, they were in the hands of that man. That man! Stole her covering! She wove that herself!

Enraged, she cried out a command. Her divinity of hands invested his hands. His hands obeyed her. He tore his own ears off his head, slapped his eyes flat, grabbed joints and pulled out his haunches to length, ripped rough reeds to bind his limbs, wove bound his skin. At the very last, his hands gave up and melted into his penis to form a rattle. His weight compacted to a steel cable, the pain, the length of his stride reformatted to a writhe. It was good, the man-weaving-into-serpent. But not her best work.

The dogs' noses were torn for a moment between "master" and "snake." His form settled. They decided. But the man was not a herder a hunter for nothing. As they leapt upon him, in snake-strike he writhed seized flung her cloak around himself. He rolled and twisted it around him. He girded the smell of serpent around with the smell of broached maiden. He slithered away.

The Jade Emperor saw it all. He howled down to the man, What have you done? No!, the man cried, No! I didn't! Look! He slithered out of the robe, rolled it open, exposed it to the furious father. He hadn't! No! Look! But there, on the robe, where he had been inside, the imprint of the maiden was plain to see. Where he had been inside. As if in confirmation, melon petals fell out. He had been inside!

Juan-coatl had been drunk on light, drunk on drink, deceived by water and dog-patch. Deceived! His snake had been feathered with purity, truly. … at least, he thought his intentions were pure. Had been. The robe itself was pure. Or had been. Before he before he was before he was inside. He looked at the robe. The shining robe faded. It was not pure, not untouchable. Niu-coatl knew himself a traitor.

The Green Monsignor was not calm or patient by nature, but vengeful and vindictive. Whose fault was it? The daughter's, for exposing herself, going beyond the bounds of her discipline? The man's, for looking, for going to look? The beasts', for bearing telling tales? Everyone's! It was everyone's fault! The fault he lay upon the earth. His fury rent the earth. He reached out tore the earth in half: the man on the one side, the woman on the other. Separate them forever!

The earth bubbled liquefied bucked and ran. Trees loosed as in a flood houses juddered as in a dance. Hmm, she said.

The snake knew himself a pillager, flicked his remorseful tongue, a litter of felled hounds about him. Guilty. He. Was. He drew breath, he drew in penitence the hot rage up into his nose, into himself, he let it in, and he burst into flame.

The city delicate as dry feathers, as summer clouds, all wood Victorian facades, the city caught immediately. The knife of flame sliced and divided and sliced again, and divided again. Division. Divisadero. Hill after hillock. The fire birthed, calved, reproduced, until one burning feathered snake became a burning city.

The sidewalk melted first, and ran away along the street. Asphalt cracked and bubbled, edges of molten fire rising here and there. Then wiring caught and wicked fire along its lines, running under and over, and above the ways. Light poles catching and smoking, houses lighting up from within with a roar, gas lines, pockets of air, wooden facades tearing at the sky gleeful, paint peeling, picture tubes exploding. The city shifted, sprang, strew its records across zephyrs of fire. All kindling. All fuel. Marches, geysers, gouts of fire.

It was water. It was air. It was cloud. The fire ran billowed flowed like water, gusted stormed blew like air, smoked steamed and thundered like cloud. It was better best, and only temporary. It was now.

Ahh, she said. Let me study this.

She rose dripping out of the Bay, weaving the water fog smoke into a heavy robe, wrapping herself quickly as she went. All this to avenge a long-lost virginity, she thought but did not say. Not saying gave her more to work with.