Most early treatises on space beyond Earth focus on the meaning of celestial events as pertains to life on Earth. A Comet Book (Kometenbuch), created anonymously in 1587 in northern France, focuses on the meaning of comets for terrestrial beings, occupying a lane of medieval philosophy focused on disaster (disaster, n. Latin, bad star). Comets portend fire, wind, war, famine and death.
Comet oh damn it, you sang.
I roll into the Rocket Inn in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Out front, a neon VACANCY sign glows under a rectangular lightbox proclaiming the motel’s name, ROCKET INN, with a toy rocket shooting between the two words.
Purple and yellow color scheme, like a Planet Fitness. N, nice.
Motel-style, my door opens to the outside of a gravel driveway. My room is decorated cutely. On the bed, there’s a pillow, teal and orange, with STARS written across the top in block lettering. There’s a throw quilt, a spikey atomic design, in teal and orange atop white bedding. Oh my god, I think the tissue paper box matches the bedding. I take my inhaler. Pet dander irritates my lungs. Motels always have pet fur;, it’s just the unspoken rule of doors that open to the outside.
I want to write you, I’m in Rocket Inn, T or C, at long last. Spaceport A tomorrow. Because you would understand how it feels. Like a local tourist, a New Yorker in Times Square. I’ve been hoping to make this journey ever since I read about the space industry coming to New Mexico. I’d send you a postcard. Thinking of you! Cute, like a 1950s ad. Like watching the moon landing on Mad Men.
The fact that the Spaceport venture in New Mexico feels like it was essentially a failure, that the Virgin Galactic company it was constructed for transferred to the Mojave Air and Space Port California launchpad, that the New Mexico spaceport hosts mostly school science contests, millions in the hole, is no surprise and no real deterrent. This only adds to its appeal, makes it more local. Our social services may be lacking, but we have an economic plan that exists as potential, as a dream, a kind of weird, bad dream.
Meanwhile, we have another place to sell postcards.
The Comet Book’s chapters have origins in an earlier book produced in Spain around 1238, discussing the Earthly meaning of comets. One of the few remaining illustrated copies survived an air raid in WWII, when allied planes bombed Kassel, Germany, destroying ninety percent, or around 350,000, of the State Library’s books.
Aurora comet: A city rages with fire.
Wish you were here! Lipstick kiss. Minus the lipstick. But then where’s the kiss?
Thinking of you, writing
against time and erosion. Something
so simple: your last sentence
I read about the medieval Comet Book, folding myself into a pretzel on my bed. Truth or Consequences has dark comet history, tales I don’t particularly wish to recall, but which cling to several small towns south of Albuquerque. I lurk in a cool dimness in my room.
Truth or Consequences, formerly Hot Springs, got its town name from a radio show. Ralph Edwards, the host of a popular NBC Radio quiz show, made an announcement. The program would be broadcast from the first town to rename itself after the show on its 10th anniversary. Responding to the opportunity, the town voted, and Hot Springs officially changed its name on March 31, 1950. The following evening, the show aired from the newly named Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
Renowned for its thermal springs, Truth or Consequences became known nationally when its first public hot bath was established in the late 1800s. The springs were called Geronimo.
Geronimo Springs. Geronimo, Goyaałé, leader of the Bedonkohe band of the Ndendahe Apache, who led the Apache resistance against U.S. military campaigns and
settlements on Apache lands.
Geronimo Springs is now the name of a 3,578 mile real estate development. 15 miles north of San Antonio, Texas.
I thought art was something
I put quotes around words
to point to the scars language bears from its histories.
In the Comet Book, fantastical illustrations of comets mirror textual descriptions, full page scenes of blazing rocks, some with faces, hurling into dazzling heavens above dark landscapes. They read like omens of disaster in the saturated night.“Veru” as a lance, “Domina capillorum” as burning wheel, “Rosa” with beaming face, and “Scutella” as some kind of heavenly Asclepius’ staff …In the print for “Aurora,” which was thought to be an omen of impending conflagrations, a city rages with fire.
Geronimo’s storied raids took place during a prolonged conflict between the U.S. and Apache, who rose up to resist forced containment on a reservation to return to nomadic life on their own lands. Geronimo led several battles against Mexican and U.S. forces, was eventually captured, was held as a prisoner of war. Stories serve different purposes for different people. What purposes does Geronimo serve for the settlers of so-nominated Geronimo Springs?
I adjust my position on the bed. I don’t know what I need. Rocket Inn hums outside, a generator or an unidentified being.
You’re writing about Mars, this bizarre twist that’s made everything make no sense. You’re living as an imagined astronaut for weeks on end. Someone has calculated how much oxygen and carbon dioxide you need in your dome, how to control the temperature inside your suit, so that it feels as though you can survive -255 degrees. Someone has freeze dried food and packed water. Your shoes are dusted. You walk a rigged treadmill that gives you the sensation of altered gravity.
I’m in a local inn flaking skin off my leg. 5 stars.
Why am I so obligated, affixed, to you? What on Earth is it distracting me from? I can’t get free of my wish to be amorphous to you, the same floating signs I get from you and not these bad jokes in my mouth. You going dark on my page. You leaving me alone in the night. I’m at the Rockett Inn, wishing I could access my own drive to story. Because there is no chance of reply, I perhaps feel you’re the only one who will listen. I write on the back of a postcard, I’m here, and address it to myself in Albuquerque. How we’ve barely met.
In 1995, a group called Heaven’s Gate moved near Truth or Consequences. In 1997, as part of its 4,000-year orbit of the sun, the comet Hale-Bopp passed by the Earth.
During the early 1990s, Heaven’s Gate began heavily recruiting. Led by a music professor, the members abandoned families and Earthly possessions and moved to Colorado, and then New Mexico, under assumptions that extraterrestrial spacecraft would take them to a Kingdom of Heaven. The group prepared, learning, studying and waiting. They remained celibate for years.
When, in its orbit, the comet Hale-Bopp entered its closest distance to Earth, the whole Heaven’s Gate community drank a lethal mixture of alcohol and toxins, completing a mass suicide. 39 people lay down to enter their alien spacecraft.
This is disaster, bad star.
Or some kind of bizarre omen, remnants of social life in a land rife with conflict and suppressed colonial history. A kind of group pathology or exit. A star eating itself to supernova.
On Mars, you walk and walk and walk on your treadmill and tell yourself you’re moving forward. But there is a door back to Earth. You could, you could, you could, walk outside.
As it lost weight, it started to incline its orbit toward the earth: it was dangerous, above and beyond anything else. And the nearer it got the more it slowed its course; we could no longer calculate its phases. Even the calendar, the rhythm of the months, had become a mere convention; the moon went forward in fits and starts, as though it were about to collapse.
I do want a love that is fundamentally inhabitable. I want more art, I write you, thinking of what our distance produces. But I want it at no expense.
The night falls and the novelist leaves his lover at shore, disease spreads, and the evening apocalypses as under the passage of one perennial comet. I drink orange juice from the carton and turn the heat high, pay with the restlessness of night sweats. Little beads of salt water on my eyebrow. I hope you feel as free as I do, briefly. There are many other positions.
Free breakfast starts at 7:30am tomorrow, enough time to load up for my tour of the Spaceport.
In Comet Song, Bjork sings, With our fingers we make a million holes.