I insert a coin into the hermit that sits atop the holy mountain, but instead of showing me the manifold path, he says he cannot cure me. Of what, I ask, proving his point. Instead he tells me the one about the emperor’s new skin. How every desert was once a delta and before that an endless ocean, but we call it a flood so that there may be civilizations lost to it, their wisdom glinting like pyrite in brown silt, waiting to be collected and hawked as gold.
From this, we have made the most sacred profanities. Votive money, dream catchers, angel dust, and suddenly there’s a million hippies surfing down a melted paisley wormhole chanting holy cowabunga. They think it’s ninja turtles all the way down, but they’ll hit bottom soon enough. Puked up into the bell curve of a cul-de-sac, mortgages hanging over their heads like keystones, they build a shrine to the forgotten trance of Sunday morning cartoons. But don’t we all mistake talking beasts for deities until we see their sunburned smiles as pacific fronts? Kowtows so deep they tunnel to the other side of the world where they find me squandering my inheritance at my ancestor’s boomtown casino. Aligning chakras in the slots. Fasting at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Here you can invent different kinds of Indians just to send them to the same leper colony.
That’s where the emperor has been, touching the untouchables to prove his mandate. When he returns to the continent, whiter than ever before, the high priest of his court has a vision of a great alien race from which the royal line descends. He says that when every last one of us wears the new skin they will return in a ziggurat so massive that the sun won’t set because it won’t be allowed to rise. To save us or damn us, I ask, but the hermit will not say. He’s already spent my coin on firewater, answering my question.
There is no cure for needing to be sick. Maybe there once was, flowering in a virgin jungle somewhere, but we cut this down to build the silk road. Its tollbooths dot the land like an ellipsis, or rather, its symbol, a mystery known to be a mystery. A man with the head of a jackal. Behind glass in a museum. Once upon a time.