Mater Dei – Jonathan van Belle

Vincere,” she says, “or die.”—her first words to me (and her last to me, as I die on my beloved Anacapa Island).

In her grass crown, her red-feather ruff (to match her scarlet teeth), and necklaced with the heads of Dodo, Laughing Owl, and Great Auk, she dances, dances, dances. She dances like Stalingrad and the Somme.

Cuncti simus concanentes!” (“Let us all sing together!”)—but she bleats, hisses, growls, moos.

“Why must I dance?”

Deo fecunda!fecunda!—or die,” she neighs.

We had met everywhere; arroyos, the sea cliffs of La Jolla, in vernal pools hid among San Diego mesa mint—we met even in the sepals of the mint. We met every hour; in the eyes of dead crows, in the corners of ceilings, at the bottom of the Lafayette Reservoir.

Pugnare!—or die,” she always said, smiling, palms extended, meat cleaver hung from a ring in her nose.

Together we killed bluebucks, red gazelles, the Cathars, the Carthaginians, Gandhi.

“Why do you kill?”

In response, she quoted from Martial’s Epigrams: “Os et labra tibi lingit, Manneia, catellus: non miror, merdas si libet esse cani.” (“Your little dog licks your lips and mouth, Manneia. No wonder, since a dog likes eating shit.”)

“I love you,” I said 29,214 times. We mated—mated through the dinosaurs, through their organs, their lizard hips and tongues. We squirreled away their scales in ash and ice. If need be, we mated as maggots. We danced maggot-masked on every continent and island.

She loves power, overpowering, exponentiating powers—maximizing power (thus her grass crown—thus I knew that she would kill me, inhumanely, someday).

I chose Anacapa Island for my death (she let me choose a few of the details). She dressed me in gray hair and liver spots. She built an altar of mushrooms, bound me in rope worms, and laid me on the altar. She reached out her winged left hand with its beaked fingers and they plunged into my eyes, my nostrils, my mouth. I wish I could transfer to you the winding-in, giving-out, distant, derealized sensation of dying (my perfect love has promised me that she’ll grant my last wish—for her sake).

Gloria in excelsis Natura! Vincere!—or die.”




Jonathan van Belle is a bookseller at Powell’s. He’s the author of three books,
including the pre-posthumously published Charter Party Companion
to Private Holidays (all available in the most spider-infested kudzu
undergrowth of Amazon). At the moment, Jonathan is working to build
a philosophical community in Portland, with the aim of establishing a
permanent residence for the Portland Philosophy Museum.

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