Margaret Haines

On Air: Purity, Corruption & Pollution
Margaret Haines

Pluto Transiting the 12th House

It wasn’t immediate, her realization that drawing combat maps of the South Pacific for the US Navy during World War II’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Trident Conference in 1943 was a form of unhinged and wild talismanic magick, a retributive stupidity.

Before she fled the naval base—that stretch of an airport shaped like a cross, on the other side of the river, the coffee and late night gin, the fired-up table, and real dealings—she sat alone on the pilled orange blanket, wondering how she had not noticed her complicity, twirling like a music-box ballerina through first Cedar Rapids, then Chicago, then Washington, then Anacostia.

She had done nothing of immediate counteraction—even in California, when she had seen the Marines from Guadalcanal. Instead, she had only noticed that they did not notice her. Their thick hands shook, rattling like delicate china in the dining car, eyes shoved inwards. She was 23 years old. “The whole train was blacked out. I was on that train for four days with all these men and not one of them looked at me, they were like the living dead. It was a nightmare. I will never forget those men.” Her face was clean, powdered, white, lips red, brows arched.

She knew enough to act when she received the telegram about her brother. “They brought my brother home in a straitjacket and I went AWOL,” she told the interviewers in 1995, when they asked what had happened to the end of her naval career.

Her friends and her boyfriend, Nap, set her up with money and a registered allowance, said they were going to manage an honorable discharge. And they did, marking the “date of separation” much later—16 Nov. 1945—and listing her qualifications as “combat map drafting, spray brush painting and makeup artist & wardrobe supervisor”.

“Jesus!” Her friends said when they heard the whole story. “Fuck.”

Blurring her cataract-peppered eyes to flip into psychic vision, she channeled the vibration of newly discovered Pluto and its karmic sweep—her 12th House of taboo, from 1978 to 1986, clearing lives of abuse, persecution. Drawing as much as erasing.

Moon Phases in Pisces 1990

She crossed Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, trading shaded Genesee Avenue for the sunny landscape of sex theatres and shops, sprawls of tan cement for cruising and kink she hadn’t anticipated being so openly or beautifully spectacular in 1993. Quick sex and desire without protocol: not-so-wealthy men; thin boys.

None of her old friends in Topanga or New Mexico could understand why she liked this neighborhood. “It wasn’t by choice, entirely”, she would cough at them through a cloud of smoke until she finished smoking, quit for good. She liked the neighborhood, in part because it had found her. More importantly, she found that its coordinates allowed her to open portals. The red neon sign for the Pleasure Chest tussling with banana tree leaves, a strange comfort within the expected discomfort. She was able to talk to Jack here, dream of him, see him in San Francisco, record dreams:

We kiss—I am very glad to see him. The kiss is like honey. I tell him I can help him now and I place my finger at the side of his neck.

The whole block was a bleeding mess of open portals. The neighbours would complain of mysterious lights at night, floating vortexes, which amplified the regular into emotive peaks.

Anatomy of Madness, 1932

The doctor from Germany used to be handsome. He would still drive his 1912 Pope Belt motorcycle through the small town looking like a spider, shaving the outskirts in goggles, a black helmet. His wife refused to talk to him because he had fucked half the town. She sat mute in an attic room alone in their big house and looked at Victorian dresses, lace on black cotton.

His library was on the first floor. Anatomy books. Necks, busts, genitals. The doctor had three daughters but only two survived past five years old: Frances, the eldest, and Betty Mary, who was Marjorie’s age. The books described their bodies in detail, starting at the top and working down through levels of epidermis and meat. There was an illustration of the skin and fat, the ribs and the spleen.

Anatomy of Madness, 1989

A curator—Ed Leffingwell from the municipal museum—was looking over her poems, congratulating himself on showing her work now, in 1989. He was telling everyone her last show had been in 1957, when she decided to cut it out, the world of galleries.

The work was displayed in a row, beginning with a small doll-like figure in an ‘X’. It was bisected in two bodies, the left and right brain, followed by the seven arrangements of the subjective energy centers. “The masterpiece of all my work is called ‘The Anatomy of Madness’, which is dedicated to the German Doctor,” she later explained in an interview. “I learnt it from his anatomy books.”

The young girls learned how bones were actually not hard, but alive and caked. Not the eternal walking coffins some wished for—like how Jack wrote to her in 1950 from Los Angeles, when she was an art student in Mexico. He delineated the beauty of mortality, its gift of tragedy and comedy: “The secret strength is actually in death, in the link with eternity we wear in our bones.” He had been writing about the trick of good art and its necessary link to the eternal, to achieve perfection in the absurd, “to take nothing seriously”.

Marjorie and Betty Mary examined each other’s bodies, where the solar plexus arched into a symmetrical crown, a porous meltdown in a rigid structure.

Frances—the eldest—wore long stockings and had been to New York. Her best friend was a homosexual. Betty Mary and Marjorie would sneak into her room, run their 10-year-old fingers across high heels, bra straps. Frances would recite Sara Teasdale’s poetry in a husky voice, ignoring them: “I am not yours, not lost in you,/ Not lost, although I long to be/ Lost as a candle lit at noon,/ Lost as a snowflake in the sea.”

Marjorie was writing poetry at age 10, she had planned to show Frances, but it was never good enough. She titled her first poetry book, The Cigarette and the Soultalk. But this came after the first tragedy, and it was always drenched with guilt and a dead body, so she had left the poetry book behind on purpose, years later, when they moved, remembering only a single line, “what would I do if I saw you crying in the streets of hell?”

The Polish Agent

In the heat, I travelled from Paris to California. My first name was Piotr, but they liked to call me Pete. An anomaly, both cities at the same temperature, 45 degrees Celsius. Hot, squelching. In Paris, the women’s eyeliner would melt to soot. In Hollywood, lead lipstick was falling off starlets’ lips. A perfect kiss peeled from flesh.

I overheard this conversation about lipstick on the airplane. I was sitting next to my wife, who was wearing pressed white linen. Her skirt had the customary pleat, but it had shifted to the middle of her legs. I put my palm on her lap as the plane took off. It looked strange, my overgrown and fat hand in a dainty lap, too strange even for the new advertising.

There are many fires in Paris each year. The floors are made of thick wood. They burn to remember, a cleansing from the many wars, each hot eruption a violent erasure and equal commemoration. It’s enough to make you sick, and so I was glad we were leaving. We were here for seven months, intermittently, waiting for the go ahead from the agency to use her and others.

“In California, the fires must be different,” I thought. The desire for historical abjuration obscured by genocide, and so the fires’ existence would really only be read as experimental, or coincidental. An invisible element, as if the air is already on fire, red, Luciferian. It just needs to be tapped, sparked. I remembered the demonstration of spontaneous combustion on alfalfa in my school in Poland, and how this had caused witch trials in the 1500s. Nine million women killed, they said. This number has since been exaggerated.

The curtain bloomed in flame. Purple to gold, and in the heart of fire, you wonder how it has a name, even? In the same way, the sky is not blue. Or, this is what I have read in the writings of Paracelsus. The name blue for this color only came into existence recently. In prehistoric times, it was just white; blue itself comes from language, from notice. The violet willed into us through poetry. The same kind of trick performed by the man in the middle of République, with a monkey, the one who stole my mother’s Japanese friend’s papers. She sat in our kitchen and cried for five days before my father brought her to the embassy. And, that is where it got worse for her. A trick, like a briquette and you get fire, a name and you get blue, a monkey and you get stuck with no family in a strange land, impoverished. All your thoughts beforehand just a crowded non-identification, without the line of definition or disaster.