[Retelling the Myth:
and the Wandering Vagina]
for Christine Thomas
My sister has problems. She’s a real bitch – and
I mean that literally. But you’re not going to believe
a word of what I have to say without some heartfelt explanation.
So, let me get this over with right up front: I’m a
god. Well, I’m a goddess; however, given the exacting
scruples at this feast of tact we call the postmodern age,
where actresses pass as actors, I guess I’m a god. I
know that sounds alarming. Just hear me out, and what I have
to say will piece together all the arbitrary plastic of this
world’s broken heart.
My name is Kapo-‘ula-kina-‘u, which means "the
sacred night streaked scarlet" – or "red eel
woman" depending on whom you ask. I picked up those aliases
among the islanders, I suppose because I like the night and
I hang out a lot with my sister, the bitch I mentioned, Pele,
whose name means “lava flow.” Night above incandescent
volcanic badlands is one of my favorite forms. Many times,
I have been eelish streaks of scarlet light in the night.
I’ve also been birds, deep sea fish, a variety of butterflies,
and distinctive boulders. The akua – the gods –
can take many forms. Right now, I’m an astrophysicist,
and I work on Mauna Kea at the University of Hawai‘i’s
0.6 meter telescope where I train undergraduates and experiment
with focal pane arrays for various low bandgap infrared photodetectors.
But enough about me. “I” is a bird that tugs the
reins of the wind. “I” is a fish without a thought
in her head. “I” is a butterfly heavy in the air.
“I” is a boulder feeling for some inner truth.
“I” is an astrophysicist with a shoehorn smile.
“I” is mythology.
Let me tell you, instead, about the bitch, my sister. She’s
a white bull terrier – the ‘gladiator of the dog
world.’ When she’s a bitch, she’s always
white. Le rouge et le noir of lava wear thin after a few centuries,
and she prefers white when she’s a bitch. This thing
she has about dogs, I’ve never understood. She says
it smells good. What’s good about it for me is that
when I’m at work these days, I never have to walk her,
because she adores romping around the observatory, where the
landscape is so grim it is beautiful.
Unfortunately, the tainted dog food from China that made headlines
a while ago began a cavalcade of problems for me. Pele got
sick. That was the real cause of the strongest earthquakes
in twenty years that rocked the Big Island on 15 October 2006.
The temblors broke safety bolts at most of the observatories,
including mine and bollixed my scope's alt-azimuth drive.
That kept me plenty busy, and I wasn’t as attentive
to my sister as I usually am, which led to Pele drifting again
into her obsession with the opposite sex. And that’s
always been trouble, because she has this monumental penchant
for other women’s men.
But before I get into that, a necessary and salient aside
about akua. I just said that the ‘real’ cause
of the earthquakes was my sister’s sickness. I should
explain, because it is probably news to you in the manufactured
world that the gods are real. We are things, as you are –
only different. For over a hundred years, science has closed
in on a definitive understanding of who we are, and physicists
even have their own name for us: Boltzmann Brains.
Oh, you were expecting something more poetic? "Long ago
on the path of stars, midmost between the worlds, there strode
the gods. In the bleak middle of the worlds, they sat and
the worlds went round and round, like dead leaves in the wind
at autumn’s end. And the millennia went where the millennia
go, toward the End of Things, and with them went the sighs
of all the gods as they longed for what might not be.”?
That’s from another writer, Lord Dunsany, a lantern-bearer
for the gods, who wrote fantasies around the time science
first began to speculate about Boltzmann Brains – so
long ago that now his words are in the public domain and I
can bandy them about to make my point: the gods recline in
tinted fields above the morning, their bodies swirling up
and down the world with other dust, all in the center of life’s
hopes, rejoicings and laments.
Do we really recline on clouds? Nah, it’s not like that.
The gods are random vibrations in the fabric of spacetime,
aka vacuum quantum fluctuations that attain the status of
actual observers who are, in the parlance of legal scholars,
“not erroneous.” That’s me. And Pele and
all the akua.
I don’t want to lose you in the je ne sais quoi of technicalities.
It all makes sense once you get a handle on the 21st century
realization that the universe is a vast membrane hovering
among lots of other membranes in a higher dimension …
sort of like Dunsany’s dead leaves in the wind, where
each leaf is a universe and the wind is the fifth dimension.
On any given leaf, including this one we call our cosmos,
there may be things like you, Ordinary Observers (OOs), who
have evolved over billions of years to a physical complexity
capable of making elegant observations about the universe.
But you should know that OOs are not the only kind of entities
capable of making observations about the universe that are
not erroneous. Sometimes – very, very rarely (but then
‘rare’ has a special significance in the fifth
dimension where ‘time’ is infinite) – sometimes
observers simply appear who are not ordinary, not biological,
but made up of manifold properties of spacetime itself so
that we can be anything anywhere anytime and fully conscious.
Weird, huh? For an OO, you bet. Bear in mind, though, the
truth is democratic. The truth plays the lottery with skull-bones
and Boltzmann Brains alike. In this universe, on this planet
called Earth, humans and gods happen to have both won the
cosmic lottery simultaneously. Now, the gods have made a harp
out of the heart strings of all humanity, and we play upon
that harp the song of scorn and mercy, of love and homicide.
And every note is a life, caught up among the many notes and
lives entangled with flesh, that plaything of the gods. And
although in the prison houses of all the skulls on earth all
memories must die, the gods forget nothing. Boltzmann Brains
capture everything, every memory of every life, weaving together
the filaments of memory into a melody that passes between
the gods sad at heart for memories which are not. Be very
quiet, Ordinary Observer, and you shall hear that melody,
where the things that might not be have at last become. Be
but very quiet, man and woman, and hear what voices cry from
the harp of heart strings, for the things which might not
Such is the busyness and business of the gods, iridescent
as flies swarming among the organic mess of human life. Hence,
when my sister got sick as a dog and her convulsions shook
the whole island leaving me busy fixing the equipment in my
observatory that she had knocked loose, she was done with
being a dog. Fraught with charisma, wearing volcanic mist
like a negligée, Pele took off to fool around with
Pele can be cruel. The oblique joy of sadism is not unknown
to her, and she gets a kick out of dancing nude in front of
tourists and luring the intrepid close enough to coil a brimstone
wind around them tight as a sphincter dropping them dead.
March 2, 1983 she got the crimson thought to enter Royal Gardens,
an OO community under development, and burned down the first
house on Queen Avenue. Who is the Queen? Her vengeful lava
spoke louder than words. Four years almost to the day, she
poured into a capacious, water-filled fissure at Punaluu known
as Queen’s Bath and filled it to the brim. Who is the
Queen? Twenty-two OOs who didn’t answer that question
right have died in the quarter century since Pele started
strutting around naked again.
She was up to her usual mischief after the bad dog food, not
just with the OOs, burning down rare protected rain forest
near Kane Nui o Hamo, but causing trouble with our older sister
as well. Namaka is a headache of a Boltzmann Brain. As our
elder, she is so big with entitlement she tucks the sun in
her back pocket at the end of the day, smokes twilight, and
exhales the Milky Way. At least, that’s what she thinks
of herself. She’s haughty, and you’d never catch
her representing as a mere bird, fish or rock. She does everything
large: the whole coral reef is her recliner, the coastline
her shawl, seacliffs stupendous bling, and the moon her dance
partner. When Pele seduced Namaka’s husband, Aukelenuiaiku,
king of the ancient homeland, a cosmic brawl ensued that continues
to this day down in Kamokuna where lava and sea meet and recreate
The thing to remember about Boltzmann Brains is that they
are not made up of atoms and molecules but the fabric of spacetime
itself; so, our demeanor – what you call myth –
repeats endlessly. Our natures don’t really change:
each god is a freeze-frame of behavior. And you … well,
you are nothing but change, all jittery atoms and tangling
molecules. That is the real matter of the human soul, isn’t
it? Behind the dirty windows of sense and the door with your
name on it, in the house of self sits the mutable “I.”
Sit there very still, gentle reader. Don’t dare walk
around in skull hall. You risk what the Belle of Amherst so
poignantly calls “a Funeral, in my Brain – ”
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
I dropped down, and down –
hit a World, at every plunge,
Finished knowing – then –
And … and … and … and finished knowing what?
What did Emily D see? I don’t want to frighten you.
Yet, consider the Laughing Greek?, who observed that “atoms
and the void” are all there is for your ilk. Whereas,
for us akua, the void quivers like a drum and atoms dance
to our tune. Our actions are excursions to infinity. Our lives
become proverbs among Ordinary Observers. And so, Namaka with
all her waves about her seizes hold of red hot, adulterous
Pele, and they grapple furiously till the centuries make them
hard but no more wise – and not all the marvels of the
future shall atone to them for those old memories that burn
sharper every year as they recede into the ages that the akua
have gathered. And always dreaming of her sister’s bitterness
and the forsaken husband and lover of an olden time, Namaka
and Pele both shall fail to see the grandeur to which a hurrying
people attain in this fabricated age. Soon, they shall perceive
OOs changing in a way that they shall not comprehend, knowing
what they cannot know, till they discover that these are Ordinary
Observers no more and a new race holds dominion over the earth
whose forebears were their worshippers. These shall speak
to the akua no more as they hurry upon a quest that the gods
find surprising, and the gods shall know that they can no
longer take their part in shaping destinies, but – in
a world of luminous cities crystallized from cyberealities
run by nanotech phantasmagoria of Planck-length sylphs and
djinni, holographic artificial intelligences, genomic miracles
and monstrosities – only pine for the time when flesh
was the gods’ plaything. Then even this shall end with
the shapes of the akua in the darkness gathering all lives
and memories, when the hills of Earth shall fling up the planet’s
long stored heat back to the heavens again, when this rock
shall be old and cold, with nothing alive upon it but numb
atoms and the void.
But, hey, I’m getting way ahead of myself. That’s
my luckless propensity. As a goddess of sorcery and an astrophysicist,
I already hear the deep gong at the end of the world. This
universe is flying apart ever faster, accelerating to nowhere.
Dark energy, science dubs it, having no idea what ‘it’
is except that ‘it’ is the opposite of gravity,
pushing apart atoms in the void faster and faster the farther
apart they get. Inside our own telling, there is this sweet
moment of ‘now,’ of ‘I,’ and of ‘being’
someplace in the order of nothingness.
That’s why I like it when my sister is a dog. As a white
bull terrier, she yaps and darts, craps and farts. We play.
It’s fun to watch her scampering around the observatory,
up and down slopes of gray scree in full sunshine above the
clouds. At this altitude, snow sits in the saddles of hillsides:
Poliahu the snow goddess lives here, and the wind frequently
lashes us with ice crystals on our walks or, during my undergrads’
scope time, fouling our sunspot observations with surreal
swirls of snow gleam. These are spiteful reminders that Pele
once stole a lover from Poliahu. In her original fury, the
snow goddess smothered this volcano with thick blizzards,
dousing the fire pits and forcing out my lascivious sister.
Now Mauna Kea is an extinct cinder cone, which is good for
astronomers – though troublesome for me when the ice
wind freezes the sponges of blood in my bones and I get to
thinking about sex and love and their impossible deadlock.
No, that doesn’t ring true in the acoustics of skull
hall. Poliahu’s ice cold shoulder on these dead gray
elevations makes me realize sex and love are a lifelock –
like the sphinx, serene and terrible, inventing a primal spirituality
out of bestial depths. Desire riddles organic life, because
DNA single-mindedly climbs its spiral ladder up from the slime
to the stars (I think of the Hubble photographs that DNA has
taken of remote, monumental and majestic star-birthing clouds,
the mass of which relative to the mass of an Ordinary Observer
is greater than 1040 -- an astonishing and overpowering relationship
between minuscule organic sentience and cosmic immensity).
But the gods? For we who tread the void, blood and its emotive
compulsions mean nothing. We have no DNA. There is Something
Else coupling the akua, an obscure power of penetrating desire.
I didn’t fathom It until I became human and an astrophysicist.
What makes the gods couple is what physicists refer to as
– surprise! – the coupling constant. Delirious
about names as Adam, science also identifies this Something
Else as the fine structure constant, the symbol ‘alpha,’
the ratio 1/137 and the decimal 0.007297351 +/- 0.000000006.
No matter what you call It, this constant is the sex life
of matter and energy. It measures the promiscuity of atoms
and light – how readily they couple (pronto fortissimo!)
and how often (a lot!). It doesn’t have to be that way.
There are darker universes where the fine structure constant
is so large that matter and energy rarely hook up. In others,
they copulate so vigorously molecules can’t form and
space is a radioactive glare of busted open atoms forsaken
of form. Ours is an uncommon cosmos. The fine structure constant
is fine tuned to precisely the balance that marries here and
now and births you and me and the glistening dew.
Most of the akua have sex frequently and with many partners,
because spacetime has that propensity. The coupling constant
makes sure that Pele is not constant to any one partner, any
more than is Aphrodite or so many of the gods. The pact with
death works the same for you. Trade up or even sideways, because
you only go around once. And though the gods keep going around,
we’re not original or inventive with our differences.
That’s how I knew exactly what mischief Pele would get
into when she got sick of being a dog.
At 14,000 feet, repair work on precision optics is tedious,
and – despite the fact I was aware that my sister walked
fire sidelong to the sea leaving lost paradise in her wake
– I didn’t focus on her until I heard her unsayable
cry for help. The contrapuntal echoes of telepathy and our
mythic past pierced my human dream. With lightning-flash prescience,
I knew what was happening before the hugeness of memory closed
in like a thunderclap: the divine swine, the hog-god Kamapua‘a,
had determined to rut with Pele.
Pig God and Lava Flow share a long, aggressive history. The
love-hate relationship of these two akua is the story of Hawai‘i.
And it begins long before Pele and I showed up in these islands.
We are haoles, meaning foreigners. We come from another island
of underground fire, the far away magma plume of Lýðveldið
Ísland?, where the tortured feud with Namaka began
when Pele scored with Aukelenuiaiku (Storkjøre-svømmer-soldatsønn
as he was known on that island: "Great traveling swimmer,
son of the officer"). After one too many of Pele’s
flagrant adulteries with the overeager husbands of troll queens
and ice giantesses, we fled and got as far away as we could.
Only spiteful Namaka followed, and we thought we might make
a clean start (still young and ignorant of the eversame malady
and compulsion of myth). One of the first akua we met was
Kamapua‘a – ‘Pig-Child.’ His father
had named his handsome son that in a blind fury at the boy’s
mistaken illegitimacy. That warped the kid, and he stalked
the mountains like thunder, harrying his father’s people,
raiding their lands. Named a hog, Kamapua‘a maliciously
acted like one. He turned goth, shaved his head to a bristly
Mohawk and tattooed his body black. After he killed the old
man, he went on living his father’s curse. Then, he
My sister is a looker. Not as lean lovely and fragile as Poliahu,
who as a snow goddess has that ‘hollow of cheek as though
she drank the wind?’ look, Pele carries a more robust
beauty, a fierce grace and challenging smile that plays with
fire. Her proud, tough glamour radiates psychosexual rawness,
an argument with reality. Kamapua‘a recognized a match
for his tantrum passion in that outlaw tita and fell for her
hard as the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.
Now, if the big guy had been married… Ah, well, that
was his misfortune, because my fiery sister only wants lovers
she can’t have. She rebuked him for his ugliness, thwacking
him with goblin laughter, which you can hear to this day in
the percussive noise the wind makes in ohia lehua boughs,
that red-flowered tree sacred to Pele. Her flailing guffaw
enraged the Hog God, and he tried to force himself on her.
When akua brawl, spacetime groans, cantankerous as bulls getting
castrated, sunspots flourish like acne, tides shove the wrong
way, clouds twist into the faces of dental patients, and lightning
slices rocks like a cheese cutter. Kamapua‘a doused
Pele in a hurricane torrent, and she threw it back as acid-rain.
Howling through his smoking bristles, he routed the ground
under her, and she shot to her feet again as a fiery geyser.
That seared him to a snarl of pork jerky, and he unraveled
those fire-hardened sinews to tie back her arms with tourniquet
knots and lash her legs wide open. Then, he shoved his purple-nozzled
pizzle full strength at the scarlet target.
At that point, I showed up, appalled as the falsetto sea-captain
in James Cook’s unwritten opera Tahitian Fire Dancers
in the Gunpowder Room. What was I to do? I fell back on my
specialty – sorcery. For those that don’t already
know, sorcery weaves God’s baby blue breath and Heidegger’s
‘Dasein?,’ and from the resultant array of spirit
and matter unfolds an entire chess set of powers. (This works
for akua. If you are an Ordinary Observer, there is only Dasein.
Sorry.) I quickly deployed an en passant maneuver of higher
dimensions that refracted me into cubist segments. My vagina
detached like the passenger seat in a James Bond movie and
shot between my sister and her tumescent assailant. The rocketing
pudendum trailed a comet-streak of sex chloroform. When Kamapua‘a’s
inflamed nostrils inhaled those payload pheromones, his eyeballs
clicked like dice rolling snake eyes, and he pulled back from
Pele, spellbound in a maze of amazed dreams wherein the sorrows
of this world are lost.
Kamapua‘a hurried after my flying yoni, and not all
the magic of his porcine powers nor yet any foreseeing nor
perceiving of his divine swine mind could equal the might
of my vagina’s flight. To an island far to the northwest
my genitals arced, and the Pig God followed aloft and beheld
the sea and long koa ships of the olden mariners and star
navigators since dead, and went down at trajectory’s
end into the earth on the southeast point of O‘ahu with
the whistling sky behind him and plowed into the ground, chiseling
out Kalama Valley. He lay there some while, covered over with
weeds and green with the damp of years as ever to the soul
of his lewd desire my bewitchment added a more ardent fire
while time slogged by, the rampant glory of his ferocious
past sung into song and all the clattering news of today growing
old, far down, forgotten beneath his snoring snout.
That was then. Since that distant day, there have been numerous
mythic repetitions. You can read about them in the lore of
sacred geography, such as the rugged coast in Puna called
Lua-o-Pele, where the struggle I just described ripped up
the earth. There, my sister’s hallowed lehua trees flourish
all the way to the water’s edge at this place alone
in all the islands.
Visit Koko Crater, the terrestrial imprint left by the impact
of my genitals, known in former times as Kohelepelepe, ‘the
inner lips of the vagina.’ There’s a botanical
garden there now, and you can conduct a gynecological tour
of the flora adorning a goddess’ vulva.
While on Maui, notice the cleft between Wailua and Wailua-iki
and the steep trail still traversed by letter carriers to
the valley. Kamapua‘a tore open that gap taking a tumble
during a similar assault. If you look carefully, you’ll
find my vaginal impression in the adjacent cliff.
At another Maui cliff, Pua‘aho‘oku‘i, you
can examine stone formations created when Kamapua‘a
lost his whiskers chasing Pele at Huluhulu-nui (‘Many
Bristles’) before he slammed her into the ground on
the hillside called Kaiwi-o-Pele (‘The Bones of Pele’).
But this time, it’s different. I’m in human guise.
I could change out of my mortal semblance, of course, but
my dissertation took forever – and I like being an astrophysicist.
This is the wildest sorcery I’ve worked in ages. The
light we take in with telescopes cuts loose our shadows, and
even Ordinary Observers can forget briefly their failed freedom
and see how beauty cooperates with truth. So, what am I to
do? I leave a grad assistant to reprogram the scope’s
guide drive and head south in the school’s landrover.
A couple hours later, shortly after noon, I’m at the
former site of Kaimu, a small town that Pele smothered beneath
fifty feet of lava in 1990. On that black cinderland, green
feathers plume the cracked lava: these young coconut sprouts
planted by residents reclaim the land and defy the sublime
otherness of the barren, uncanny terrain.
I cross the burned tract toward the sea, the fresh-minted
and secluded black sand beach in New Kaimu Bay. Here, Namaka
and Pele clashed. Plates of rock jut out at the sea’s
edge, ribbed like gigantic butterfly wings, marking the jumping
off point where fire and water took to the air striding through
steam along the road that leads across the world.
Behind me, beyond acres of primordial rock, rises Kilauea
Volcano where my sister thrashes, convulsing 200 small earthquakes
in one weekend alone. This tantrum is what brought me here.
But where is Kamapua‘a? Wearing my human form, sitting
here so quietly in skull hall, I have trouble seeing the akua
as anything but the familiar spirits of rock, wind, sea…
There is nothing to know behind these eyes other than flying
spume and salty aerosol, this din of crashing waves, this
powerful argument of sea and land under a still blue space
where all that the gods have left for us is the holiness of
sunset. That’s hours away. The brilliance of noon reveals
desolate rock and the ocean’s horizon carrying a toy-size
cargo ship bound for O‘ahu with building supplies for
the construction boom there. Ah! There is Kamapua‘a!
He’s a big, fat freighter! In my brain of an Ordinary
Observer, the gods are like passengers snoozing in the backseat
who would be astonished to wake and gawk around at the world
as people see it.
Look! My sorcery from mythic times is still working: the divine
swine follows his lust to O‘ahu. His pig heart glides
across the dazzling face of the waters. He will dig up the
islands with his greedy snout as he has always done in story.
He will root for the root of his carnal desires, burrowing
with his snoot and his backhoes, tearing up the earth to wrench
out hope from the dim future, building one crowded residential
development after another. And when he wakes, he will have
nothing. He will have lost the beauty he tried to take by
And Pele? My sister has problems. But telling you this helps.
I had to become human to really grasp the complex and consummate
interdependence of life in all life’s surprising mutabilities.
From Ordinary Observers to Boltzmann Brains, we are transparent
to Eros, the coupling constant – the depth of love.
What a wonder to find this truth in words, to make something
like beauty from truth, and know that what I’ve written
here is not disembodied like my sorcery, or simply hungering
for a body like the Hog God’s insatiable lechery, but
present through pages of text as you. My sister has problems,
and among the fading and forgetting, the ever dying and the
musing sorrow, I have you.
Writing is the most wondrous sorcery I’ve ever known.
And I must tell Pele about it. But for now she’s sulking.
She wants to tear the white clouds out of the sky. She shakes
the earth and seriously considers kicking a whole mountainside
into the sea with a cancerous shriek, shoving a colossal tsunami
over the Pig God’s heaps of houses. She stamps and fumes.
And if she could, she would char the whole earth black.
She was so much happier as a dog.
1Time and the Gods, Lord Dunsany, (John W. Luce & Co.),
Democritus, circa 460 – 370 B.C.E., pre-Socratic philosopher
who postulated that matter is composed of assorted indivisible
units, which he called atoma (sing. atomon), that comprise
all sensations: "By convention sweet, by convention bitter,
by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color:
but in reality atoms and the void." The Flemish master
Hendrick ter Brugghen, in 1628, painted his masterpiece “Democritus
W. B. Yeats, describing his lover Maud Gonne in “Among
German: Da — there/here; Sein — being = Dasein