Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lot and his Wife

As a former New Yorker, I have always felt a peculiar sympathy for the people of the twin cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. We have so much in common, after all: leash laws, skyscrapers, sewers, a selection of fine art galleries and restaurants, the world's best hospitals, universities, and tourists--in a word--everything that passes in intellectual circles as sophistication.

History, amateur astronomy, and sodomy are some of my favorite pastimes, and it is rather rare when any two of my hobbies overlap, let alone three. This is why, yesterday afternoon, I was fascinated to discover that astronomers, relying upon ancient Sumerian records from Ninevah (another dissolute metropolis) have actually managed to
pin-point the very morning when somebody up there, certainly a rube, God, the force of Gravity, perhaps, Time, Dumb Luck, or in a moment of disappointed anger and disgust, Love, decided it was time to remind the citizens of Sodom of Gomorrah of their triviality. And their mortality.

And lo, on the 29th of June, in the year of 3123 B.C., at dawn, just as the curious gymnast from Iowa State had finished his 7th beer, and the predatory beasts had gathered round, each with a terrific boner, upon the horizon there appeared a disco-ball [Fox News says asteroid], and then, to the tune of Waterloo, the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from out of Heaven; and he overthrew those cities and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities ... [Abraham] looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and beheld, and lo, the disco-ball was broken, and the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace...

I am paraphrasing from Genesis, of course. And I may be mixing things up with an amateur video installation project I was tangentially involved with in college, in the late 1980s, just before we really understood how the Heavens worked. Or retro-viruses.


Still, when the dust of our party days settles, all we are left with are salty pillars, fossilized sulfur, lonely people, lonely planets, confusion, a couple of frightened friends, and the dubious distinction of having seen enough human folly to enjoy the reputation of a survivor and a cynic among one's peers--and the lingering consolations of poetry.

Jumbled in the common box
Of their dark stupidity,
Orchid, swan, and Caesar lie;
Time that tires of everyone
Has corroded all the locks
Thrown away the key for fun.

In its cleft the torrent mocks
Prophets who in days gone by
Made a profit on each cry,
Persona grata now with none;
And a jackass language shocks
Poets who can only pun.

Silence settles on the clocks;
Nursing mothers point a sly
Index finger at a sky,
Crimson with the setting sun;
In the valley of the fox
Gleams the barrel of a gun.

Once we could have made the docks,
Now it is too late to fly;
Once too often you and I
Did what we should not have done;
Round the rampant rugged rocks
Rude and ragged rascals run.

-W.H. Auden

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