Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 43

Bikers at the park in Parsley Bay, standing around in amazement after Blodgett throttled half the gang.

Geoffrey Hill in the special room he had built off to the side of Yeats’ oyster shed. He is shown here preparing for his reading of King Log during the festival.

The ‘Woman washing her hair’ tree outside Geraldton in Dennis Hopper’s vision.

As Blodgett reached the road he saw a group of bikers at a smoking hotplate in the park. On the crest of a hill, kites dipped and soared as if the trees had released them. A cockatoo wheeled over. Blodgett stopped to watch it tumble and angle away into the blood-letting of a huge angophora. He could hear the bikers. They were talking about how The Little River Band should have been invited to the festival. “And Max Merritt and the Meteors,” said one. “Fucken oath,” said another, “and don’t forget Bill Thorpe and the Aztecs.” Blodgett had been a fan of country music since he was a teenager. He also considered himself an expert Australia’s contemporary music, and he knew that these bikers were out of their depth. Their vision was so narrow and obvious, it made Blodgett laugh. As he passed their picnic area, he said “So, you love your country music then?” The bikers stopped eating and drinking and stared at him. “Can’t see how you’d call Max Merritt country,” Blodgett scoffed. Two of the bigger bikers edged around the picnic table and took a few steps towards him. “I mean, The Little River Band might just get one vote for their pseudo country airs and faces, but c’mon fellas, the bands you mentioned are rock and pop and,” he stopped to make a huge theatrical show of wiping his brow, “they’re gone! The time of Sherbet and John Paul Young and all those other saccharine pansies has passed uneasily into history. It’s time to move on.” The other bikers had abandoned the barbecue. Blodgett knew he was in trouble, and he welcomed it. “So tell me,” he said loudly and slowly. “What’s a bunch of filthy, leather-bound, pop-loving, out-of-time-and-mind fools like you doing in a dump like this” The bikers came at Blodgett like the remnants of a heathen tribe on the edge of madness and starvation. They wanted blood and meat and they were going to feast. Blodgett side-stepped and hammered the first two into the ground with his fists. The others came on blindly, swinging and cursing and throwing saliva. Blodgett grabbed them, lifted them off the ground and bashed them together. He crouched and turned, kicking them away as they came again. “For a bunch of flowers in a strange land, you’re feisty,” he laughed as he belted a biker into the river. “Who are you?” a biker said from the grass. “My name is Blodgett,” said Blodgett,” and walked off over the grass to the track that led around to the main harbour.
Dennis Hopper stared from the rear window of Andrew Burke’s Monaro. “Can’t say I’m going to miss Geraldton,” he said. “But it does have a certain... red allure.” Burke adjusted the rear-view mirror and looked at Hopper. “Is it true you’re an explosives expert?” Dennis removed his sunglasses and spoke to Andrew’s eyes in the mirror. “Expert is a bit extreme, but I know my way around a detonator, a fuse and the sweat-stains on a stick of dynamite.” Michael Dransfield turned and leaned over the seat. “We might need your help,” he said. “But first we’re going to where the ghost of Randolph Stowe still blows through the dunes and trees near Greenough,” he said. “But Stowe isn’t dead,” Andrew said, a hint of alarm in his voice. “Is he?” “Michael is using the word ‘ghost’ parenthetically,” Dennis Hopper said, his breath blooming on the window glass. 
They drove in silence until Dennis started whistling Ghost Riders in the Sky. When he finished, he said “I still don’t know what you two have planned, but I’m sensing there’s magic and intrigue afoot, and I’m up for it.” Michael Dransfield smiled. Andrew Burke looked through the remaining legs and wings and shells of grasshoppers on the windscreen. He saw how the road out of town was empty and coated with red dust. He re-adjusted the mirror and looked at himself. We wasn’t smiling.
Terry Hack and Moose had been following the Waggaists around town. Whenever the group stopped, the men pretended to be deep in discussion. When they reached the oyster shed, Alison Croggan stepped away from the group and confronted Hack. “Why are you following us?” she said. “We’re not followers, we’re leaders,” Moose said. “I’m not talking to you, budgie-features,” Alison said without looking at him. “We’re not followers, we’re trackers,” Terry said. “Well track yourselves back to whatever oyster lease you were spawned in and leave us alone,” Alison said. Moose looked her up and down. When he saw a lyre-bird feather trailing down outside her jeans, he said “Bit of an ornithologist, are ya?” “What?” Alison said impatiently. Moose pointed to the feather. “Bit of a collector of local imitators, are ya?” Alison tucked the feather into her jeans. “Listen,” she said quietly. “I have no issue with you, so leave us alone.” Terry Hack spoke into his two-way: “Terry to Bill. Come in, over.” “Bill here, Terry. What’s happening, over?” “Get yourself to Yeats’ oyster shed immediately. And bring some planks. Over and out.”
When Lynyrd Skynyrd walked out on stage the crowd erupted. Ronnie van Zandt was beaming. As was his style, he was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and bare feet. As guitarist Steve Gaines picked the opening chords of Simple Man, Ronnie spoke to the crowd. “We’ve come a long way to be here, but it’s not about distance. Brooklyn is a backwater, and that’s the kind of country we know and love. Give me the swamp over the city. Give me the dirt road over the highway. C’mon, let’s kick the loose gravel home!”
Blodgett had to knock out three security guards at the rear festival gate to gain access. He had no tickets, no money, no clothes. Since the Island War, he’d been living on his nerve and cunning. Using a bagful of palm-fibre snares he’d stolen from Amanda Joy, he’d been trapping rabbits and birds and collecting water from the toilet block in Parsley Bay. When young, growing up in the wilds in the far north of Canada, he’d had a reputation as a brawler, but had long since let that part of his life slide by. Now the brawler was back. He was going to sort the Waggaists out once and for all, and anyone else who got in his way would be dealt with swiftly.
W.B. Yeats, Devin Johnston, Wallace Stevens and Earnest Hemmingway were in the back bar of the Angler’s Rest. John Berryman was beside himself with nerves. Yeats had taken him aside. “Nerves are a fine thing, John. They restore our faith in feeling the dark and the light. Square your shoulders and step into the fray.” “I’d give anything to sing with Lynyrd Skynyrd,” Wallace Stevens said. “Damn right,” Papa Hemmingway said. “Great band, great venue, just get your ass out there and give ‘em hell.” John Berryman finished his pint of Guinness and walked to the door. He saw Geoffrey Hill over in the corner of the main bar talking to Robert Duncan and a few of the golden codgers he’d brought with him from Budgewoi. Duncan raised his cup of tea: “Have fun, John,” he said. David Gilbey and Elizabeth Campbell stopped playing pool and wished him luck. Chris Wallace-Crabbe was still upset at not being offered the job as leader of the Poets, even though there seemed to be no core group to lead and nothing much to do. “Are you coming to hear me sing, Chris?” Berryman said across the crowded room. “No. I think I’ll just stay here and read,” Wallace-Crabbe said. As Berryman walked down the steps towards the marina, Emmylou Harris came running towards him, waving her arms madly. “Where have you been?” she shouted. “You are supposed to be in the green room, waiting to go on.” Berryman shrugged. “Ok,” he said. “Let’s do this.”
Andrew Burke stopped the car outside Greenough. He pointed at a huge tree, its branches lying along the ground where the prevailing winds had prevented it from growing normally. “Randolph Stowe called it the ‘woman washing her hair’ tree,” Andrew said. Dennis Hopper got out of the car and walked to the side of the road. He could see the image clearly, but he also saw death, and sadness, and memorial. He saw a sarcophagus. He saw beauty and decay. The scene overwhelmed him, and he wept. He walked over to the tree and ran his hands along a branch. “Darling,” he said. When Dransfield and Burke joined him, he said “I must read this Stowe fellow. I feel he has much to tell me.”

G. Lehmann.

Dispatch From The Front: Day 42

Bob Russo at Hawkesbury River Station.

Blodgett emerging from his cave above Parsley Bay.

M.C. Escher adjusted a large screen and then stepped back as it came to life: a flickering, luminous scene involving hundreds of boats, seagulls and sparkling water. “We will not be able to negotiate a safe passage down this crowded river,” he said. Ted Hughes thought for a moment, then said “I suppose we could swim ashore. We’re not far from land.” Dorothy Hewett laughed bitterly: “Not far from land, but much too close to those fucking Waggafish. Forget it, Ted.” Lucinda Williams was pacing up and down. “I don’t care how we get to Brooklyn, but we’ve got to make it there soon. I’m expected on stage. I can’t let Emmylou down.” T.S. Eliot rubbed his chin: “To live is to fly,” he said. The others turned to look at him. Escher smiled: “Mr Eliot is right. I wasn’t going to suggest this because it might seem too odd.” “Too odd?” Dorothy said. “Are you kidding? This whole thing has been beyond odd. It’s beyond surreal. What’s on your mind, admiral?” Escher strode to a large red box against the far wall. He lifted the lid, reached in and withdrew what looked like a deflated rubber bladder with cords trailing from its riveted edges.  He held it in front of him. “What’s that? An octopus head?” asked Ted Hughes. “A box jellyfish?” asked Lucinda. “It’s a balloon,” Escher said. “I have been experimenting for years with personal balloons - small, intimate versions of your standard hot air balloon, except my balloons don’t have a basket, obviously, and they are controlled by drawstrings.” Ted Hughes knew something about aerodynamics. He understood the basics behind maneuvering parachutes to earth accurately. “Ridiculous,” he said. “Can’t be done. Too dangerous. We’ll die. Fall to earth. No thanks.” M.C. Escher lowered the balloon. “May I at least give a demonstration?”
Alison Croggan was taking in the scene. She was standing back from the stage as preparations for Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Berryman were finalised. At the back of the stage was a huge photo of Ronnie van Zandt on a palomino horse, and beside him, on a John Deere tractor, John Berryman, staring out from under a large straw hat. “This is a bloody circus,” Alison said. 
Bill Wisely had been watching Alison. There was something not quite right about her. It wasn’t just that she had been leading a group of badly-dressed people around Brooklyn; it wasn’t just that they didn’t seem to be that interested in the town, the people, the buskers, or the general atmosphere; it was a dark feeling that had been growing inside him, and now he wanted to find out what was going on. He watched as Alison stood before the stage, her arms folded. He tucked his plank into his trousers, buttoned his coat, and moved to stand beside her. “Lovely evening,” he said. Alison jumped. She looked at Bill through her hair, then returned her gaze to the stage. “Are you a Skynyrd fan?” he asked. Alison did not speak or move. Bill looked around at her followers. “Are your friends fans of country music?” he asked. Alison Croggan turned to him. “Please do not speak to me again,” she said. Bill smiled and touched the handle of his plank through the fabric of his coat. “Sorry,” he said. “Just trying to be friendly. It’s just that you look like a country-loving woman, and I thought you might like a chat.” Alison’s face was going red. “You see,” Bill continued, “I live here, and I’m also head of security for this festival, and I like to know that everything’s on the level, if you know what I mean.” He leaned in and put his mouth to Alison’s ear. “And you look a bit off centre,” he whispered. Alison’s face was now the colour of beetroot juice. “Fuck off,” she said, and turned away. The Waggaists followed her. Bill watched them walk off through the crowd. He spoke into his two-way radio. “You there, Terry? Over.” Terry Hack’s voice came through: “Hearing you loud and clear, Bill. Over.” “There’s a group of people heading your way led by a woman with a red face. Can you let me know where they go and what they’re doing? Over.” “Will do. Wilco. Roger. Over.” “Shut the fuck up and just get onto it Terry. Over.” 
Dr Greene had finally arrived by train and was standing at the base of the railway station stairs. Bob Russo was beside him, the tail of his fox-skin cap whipping around in the wind. Dr Greene was looking at the festival program. “I don’t want to miss Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Charlie Daniels Band,” he said. “And The Jayhawks,” Bob Russo said. Dr Greene looked down at the red, humming container at his feet. “Are you ready for the country, Bob?” “Ready,” Bob said, and grinned like a hillbilly.
Blodgett woke from a fitful sleep and stretched. He was in a cave high in the bush overlooking Parsley Bay. He had a pounding headache and his feet ached. He’d been more reclusive these past few weeks than at any time in his life. He knew the other poets would be worried about him, but he’d had to do what he sensed was right. He’d been drinking heavily, but now it was time to get back to community. His isolation had given him the charge he needed. Things were in sharp relief. The situation was clear. He was missing Canada, but he had to tie up loose ends. He emerged slowly from the cave and looked down at the bay. From the other side of the hill he could hear a guitar coming and going on the wind. The evening was perfect. The time was right. He stepped down into the scrub and set off for the marina.
It took a lot of convincing before the poets and Lucinda Williams accepted the balloons Admiral Escher had offered them. Dorothy Hewett was first to take one into her hands. She looked down at the large collapsed balloon with its trailing cords. “If I end up in the fucking river, I’m going to put a curse on you that will turn your drawings to mush,” she said, then she smiled. “Imagine. Coming down outside The Rest. Old Bill Wisely will shit planks.” Admiral Escher opened the roof of the Red Oblong and began filling the balloons from a cylinder of helium gas. When all the balloons were bobbing and straining at the ends of their leads, everyone stepped into their harnesses and got ready to fly. T.S. Eliot stepped up the velvet-covered ladder and stood on a small panel below the lip of the roof of the Oblong. Admiral Escher waited for the breeze to swing around to the West, then called out for T.S. to jump. He jumped, and sailed away, slowly and steadily towards Brooklyn. As the others watched him go, an air of excitement filled the Oblong. Lucinda Williams stepped up, took a deep breath, and jumped away. Ted Hughes and Dorothy followed her. As Ted lifted away, he looked down and saw that Escher was standing inside the Oblong holding a balloon in his hands. “Admiral, come on!” Ted shouted. Escher waved and smiled. “My place is here,” he said, “Buon viaggio, Edward!” 

G. Lehmann.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 41

Frederick Seidel impersonating John Denver with a Waggaist at the festival in Brooklyn.

Shelby as Gram Parsons at the Angler’s Rest.

Merle Haggard looking like Bukowski and Leonard Cohen.

Led Zeppelin’s air ship outside the oyster sheds.

Michael Dransfield, Andrew Burke and Dennis Hopper were sitting out on the end of the Geraldton break wall. Dransfield was flicking lures around, prospecting for tailor. Andrew Burke was listening to Hopper talk about film. “Life is a B-Grade masterpiece. Every script is flawed and everyone knows the story. Dialogue is what happens when the lights and camera turn you on. It’s all bullshit. Sometimes I wish the continuity people would fuck off and let it all unravel. Brando might be a dickhead, but he understands the need to step away from the script. He’s ad-libbed his way through some monster scenes and you wouldn’t fucking know it. A true genius. Directors go white and tear at their hair, but in the end he brings it all on home. You can trust him to ride the edge on he backstreet, then return to the well-lit highway. He taught me how to trust my fear. Pete Fonda, now there’s another story. In a publicity shot, he used a black and white photo of Richard Tipping, and everyone was taken in. ‘Great photo, Pete,’ they said, and Fonda just smiled and said nothin’. I love that guy. Should have made more of his talent. Same with lots of guys. Sean Penn, now there’s brilliance in a blood basket. Fuck he can act. Do anything, be anyone. Studies his character with a surgeon’s precision, then roughs up the edges, so what you get is the human and the fiction in bed. I love watching that guy work. He can step out of his trailer with a hangover, rub his face, take a hit of coffee, then walk on set and into frame and be fucking spellbinding. Not many have that.” Hopper lit a cigarette and looked over at Dransfield, who was into a nice tailor, working the fish around to the shallows. “I used to fish,” he said. “James Dickey took me out on the Coosawatee River in Georgia. That’s the river in Deliverance. I had my old fiberglass pole and a bashed-up reel and a tin full of rusted hooks. Dickey had his hunting bow and arrows with blade-heads. The guy is a maniac. He shot fish. Fuck he was good. Just stood up in the boat, pulled back the string, took a deep breath, waited, then fired. His arrows had fishing line attached to the ends of the flights, and he just reeled the thrashing trout back to the boat. Dickey fishes the way he writes poetry - with his whole body. A visceral specimen.” Dennis Hopper stood up and stretched. “I want to go home,” he said. “But there are things to do.” He looked down at Burke and removed his Ray-bans. “Isn’t that right, Andrew?”
The Ambulance drove slowly through the crowded streets of Brooklyn. Alison Croggan was staring straight ahead, focussed and silent. She saw Emmylou Harris in the crowd and noticed how Emmylou was talking quickly and lightly, using her hands and giving directions. She hated her smile. She loathed the woman’s effortless way with people. Then she saw Charlie Daniels. He was leaning back on a railing at the wharf, his fiddle under his chin, chipping away at a tune. She eased the ambulance to the side of the road outside Tom’s fish and chip shop. “Stay together,” she told the Waggaists. “Don’t speak to anyone. If we need to engage with these fuckwits, let me do the talking.” The doors opened and the Waggaists stepped out into a warm day. A light breeze was coming off the river. There was music everywhere. The huge stage was ready. As they walked along the waterfront, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama began thumping through the P.A. 
A water taxi pulled into the marina and idled at the wharf as three men stepped out with their bags. Security approached them and asked them for their tickets, but when they saw who the men were, they greeted them warmly and let them through. John Denver, Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard stood and looked around from under their hats. “This is going to be good,” said Frederick Seidel. “You look even more like Denver than Denver,” said Shelby, who was wearing a country shirt with red poppies and cactus embroidered into it. “And you are Gram Parsons personified,” said Haggard. Seidel and Shelby didn’t bother addressing Haggard’s persona, despite the fact that he was looking more and more like Bukowski morphed into Leonard Cohen. Merle was was in a filthy mood. “Let’s go find Emmylou Harris,” he snarled.
As the afternoon wore on and the crowd got drunk and the sky darkened at the edges, talk began spreading about a curious shape that had appeared at the mouth of the river. The words “Red Oblong” went through the festival until they reached the ears of W.B Yeats and Devin Johnston, who were up at the Angler’s Rest, drinking Guinness with John Berryman, Ronnie van Zandt and Geoffrey Hill. Yeats stood up and drained his glass. “Let’s welcome them,” he said. Berryman declined, saying he needed to finalise things with van Zandt, as they were due on stage in a few hours. Geoffrey Hill was too pissed to move. He waved Yeats away. “Screw ‘em,” he slurred. “Let ‘em swim ashore.” Yeats frowned and nodded to Devin, “Then we will do the right thing,” he said. “While courtesy does not demand sobriety, it requires our full attention. Come, Devin.” 

As Yeats and Johnston walked through the crowd, a slow shadow passed over them. People began talking loudly, then everyone was shouting and pointing into the sky. Yeats looked up and saw a huge airship. It was moving slowly, about a hundred feet up. The crowd watched as the airship came to a stop above the oyster shed at the end of the wharf. Devin was smiling. “Come on, W.B., let me introduce you to something truly amazing. The Red Oblong can wait.” 
When they reached he oyster shed, the airship had descended and a rope had been tied to an old wharf pylon. A set of stairs had been lowered, and men with long hair and wearing colourful clothes were stepping down onto the road. “Led Zeppelin!” someone shouted. The crowd began pushing forward, but Bill Wisely, Terry Hack, Moose and the Sons of Zebedee stepped out in front of them and started waving their planks. “Hello Brooklyn!” Robert Plant shouted, and the crowd went wild. “It’s good to be back in Australia, Jimmy Page said as he moved along the front of the crowd, signing autographs. John Paul Jones said bugger-all, and moved to stand to one side, fiddling with his hair and looking uncomfortable. “Where are those fucking Waggas?” growled John Bonham, holding his fishing rod and tackle box. Bill Wisely glared at him and tightened his grip on the plank. Now was not the time to start swinging, but he sensed that he and Bonham would soon have things to discuss. Emmylou Harris emerged through the side door of the oyster shed. She was smiling, but her eyes were troubled. Led Zeppelin were one of the world’s greatest rock bands. Their presence was going to steal the thunder of the other performers. Now that word had got out, things were surely going to fall apart quickly. She called out to Robert Plant, who came over and shook her hand. She told him of her fears, and Plant just laughed. “Don’t worry darlin,’ he beamed. We love country music. We don’t have any plans to play, unless of course we’re asked. You can rely on us to help in any way we can.” Emmylou was relieved. She invited the band into the oyster shed, where she arranged to have a special corner made up for them but Plant declined. “We’ll sleep in the air ship.” Bill Wisely watched them go into the shed. “Fucken hippies,” he said.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 40

A Waggaist hiding in the trees outside Brooklyn.

An empty street in Geraldton.

Dennis Hopper on the beach at Geraldton.

As Michael Dransfield and Andrew Burke drove into Geraldton, a light rain began falling. The place was all but empty. The windy streets were lined with paper bags and other blown refuse. As they rolled down the main street, Michael noticed that many of the offices and businesses had boards and tin-sheets nailed over their windows. He asked if Andrew knew what had happened. Andrew shrugged and pulled over outside an empty bakery. They got out into a cold wind. The rain was heavier now and it angled onto the footpath. “This is very odd,” Andrew said as they sought refuge under an awning. “Last time I was here the place was humming.” As they stood trying to keep dry and wondering what to do, an old woman came around the corner with a red heeler on a leash. The heeler jumped when it saw the poets, then ran to stand beside the old woman where it curled its lip and sat down uneasily. “Excuse me,” Andrew said to her, “but why is Geraldton so quiet? Where is everyone?” The old woman spoke to her dog: “It’s because the show that never came has finally come,” she said. “What show?” Andrew asked. The old woman spoke to her dog again. “The one we said was over before it began,” she said, and nodded. The heeler was looking up at her expectantly. “Could you be a bit more cryptic?” Michael Dransfield said. The old woman looked away from the dog and fixed him with a glare. “Sarcasm is the last refuge of fools and thieves. Come along Red, these men are uneven and dangerous.” The poets watched as she turned the corner, the heeler giving them a lingering look as it went.
The Waggaists emerged from the bush. They were very cold and their bodies had been scratched and torn. Alison Croggan adjusted her lyre-bird skirt and scanned the scene. She saw how the main entrance to town had been fenced where it led down to the Angler’s Rest. A couple of bikers were standing at the main gate, arms folded. An ambulance was parked beside the gate, facing up the road, and Bill Wisley was talking to one of the paramedics. “We need to get through,” Alison said. “But not like this.” She turned and looked around. There were houses close by, and in their backyards she could see Hills hoists and pole-and-twine washing lines with clothes flapping on them. “I need two volunteers to go and steal those clothes,” she said. The Waggaists found sudden interest in the sky and earth. “You, you, and you” she said. The Waggaists cursed, but didn’t argue. They set off in a crouching run, keeping low among the shrubs and tall grass. They entered the yards and unpegged the clothes, then returned with their arms overspilling with fabric. There was barely enough clothing to go around, but they managed to cover most of their bodies. The men had to make do with shorts and jeans, some put t-shirts on, some had to go bare-chested. The women covered themselves with dresses, shorts, jeans, t-shirts, overalls, an ill-fitting assortment of casual and formal wear. The Waggaists stood among the trees and shrubs looking ridiculous and self-aware. “They’ll think we’ve run away from the nuthouse,” someone said. “Well we have,” said another. Alison Croggan stared down the road. Bill Wisely had left the ambulance and had gone back into town. The bikers were still standing at either side of the gate, their sunglasses gleaming. “We need a distraction,” Alison said. She looked around the group. “Now I need someone to get the attention of those paramedics. Who can do a convincing fainting spell?” A man put up his hand. “I can do them for real,” he said. “So what needs to happen before you faint?” Alison asked. “Mostly it’s the sight of my own blood,” he said, “but sometimes all it takes is to remember a time when I was bleeding.” Alison looked back at the ambulance. “Off you go then,” she said. “Get out into the middle of the road and remember away.” The man began stuttering and protesting. “But I might fall down on the road,” he said. Alison Croggan took him aside. “Shut the fuck up and get your blood-fearing arse out onto that road now. When you’ve got their attention, get as close to the side of the road as you can, then do your thing with blood and memory.” He looked around at the others. The others looked away. His lips trembled. “But,” he said, then he saw how Alison’s eyes were clouding over. “Okay,” he said, and walked out gingerly onto the road. He walked a few paces towards the main gate, then stopped and stood with his head bowed. The Waggaists watched and waited. He started swaying. He lifted a hand to his face. The hand fell away and hung by his side. Then he started staggering. The ambulance engine roared into life. He made it to the side of the road and went over. He dropped like a bag of rags and hit the road. The ambulance pulled away from the gate and came roaring up the road. “I want you all to hide. When I get their attention and bring them over, jump them and make sure they don’t get up again.” When the ambulance reached the fallen Waggaist, the paramedics leapt out and knelt down beside him.  Then Alison stepped forward. “Aggghhhhh,” she screamed. The paramedics looked over. They saw a woman standing with her face in her hands. Then the woman fell down. One of the paramedics ran over and knelt beside her. Alison was holding her breath. “Better grab the defibrillator,” Jack, I think we’ve got a cardiac arrest.” Jack left the fallen Waggaist, who had come around and was sitting up in the gravel. When he reached his partner he unzipped the red defibrillator bag and knelt down. The Waggaists came out of hiding and fell upon the paramedics. They knocked them out and dragged them away into the trees. They stripped their clothes, then Alison and a young man put the uniforms on. Using vines and the belts, they tied the unconscious men to the base of a tree and gagged them. Alison climbed into the driver’s seat. The other Waggaist joined her up front. The others climbed into the back and closed the door. They only just managed to fit. In a tangle of arms and legs and stolen clothes, they started arguing and shoving as the ambulance pulled away. “Silence!” Alison shouted. “We’re going in.”
Dransfield and Burke were amazed at how quiet Geraldton was. Everywhere they looked the streets were empty. The rain had stopped and a clear sky had given the buildings and houses a startling glow. When they reached the harbour, they got out and stood on the sand. The breakwall’s broken spine went out into deep water. On the far side of the bay, a stand of pines looked like a watercolour bleed. As they looked around, they saw someone at the far end of the beach. They took off their shoes and started walking towards this lone figure. As they got closer they could see it was a man. He was holding a large black book in his hands. When the man saw the poets he raised the book in welcome. “Hello friends,” the man said in an American accent. He was dressed in black jeans, a black shirt, black boots and was wearing Ray-bans. Michael Dransfield stopped walking and stared at the man. “It’s Dennis Hopper,” he said. “Bullshit,” Andrew Burke said, then looked closer at the man. “Bloody hell, it is Dennis Hopper.” Dennis walked up to the poets and extended his hand. “It’s good to see you,” he said, smiling broadly. 
Dennis told the poets he’d been on his way to an island north of Sydney with Marlon Brando more than a month ago. Their friend the poet Philip Levine had told them about the Poetry War, and they were keen to come and lend a hand. Brando had insisted they fly to Perth first as he’d heard there was a restaurant in Fremantle that served the world’s best seafood gumbo. Dennis said he’d soon tired of Brando’s endless demands and moods, and had gone off to a club where he’d scored some speed. Then he’d returned to the restaurant, completely wired and full of talk. Brando was in to his third dish of gumbo, and all but ignored him. “To get his attention, I went into my James Cagney routine, but that just pissed him off,” Dennis said. Then I started reciting his own lines from Apocalypse Now. ‘The horror, the horror,’” Dennis said, and doubled over, laughing. “You should have seen his face. He went pale then red, then he stood up and turned the table over. Shrimp and fish and sauce went flying. Oh Lord, what a carnival!” Andrew Burke was feeling ill. He knew that it was indeed Dennis Hopper there on the sand before him, but nothing he’d ever read, seen or heard approached the madness he felt descending upon him in. “I think we’d better go,” he said to Dransfield, but Michael had gone head-and-heart-first into Hopper’s story. “So what happened then?” he asked. Dennis opened the big black book - a dictionary - and started reading. “Convolvulus,” he said. “A trailing or twining plant with funnel-shaped flowers.” He looked over the black edge of the dictionary. “Isn’t that a beautiful thing?” He opened the book again. “Denouement,” he savoured the word. “The unraveling or clarification of a plot.” He shivered. “Mellifluous words. They steal your breath,” he said. Michael agreed, then said “But why are you in Geraldton?” Dennis Hopper closed the dictionary and looked out over the harbour. “I left Brando to sort things out in the restaurant and went back to the club. I fell in with a very bad crowd. Speed, heroin, the best hash I’ve ever smoked. Whisky. I went under that swift current and stayed there. When I woke up I was in the back of a camper van, just up there near the marina. I’d been driven to Geraldton.” He smiled and removed his Ray-bans. “Isn’t life grand,” he said quietly. Andrew Burke had wandered off and was sitting up on the grass above the beach. He was talking loudly to himself: “Edward Hopper. Grasshoppers. Dennis Hopper,” he said. “Is your friend alright?” Dennis asked. Michael looked up at Andrew. “He’ll be fine,” he said. “He’s just doing it hard with the living and the dead.” “Aren’t we all,” Dennis said. “And who would have it any other way?”

G. Lehmann.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 39

A Superb Lyre-Bird mimicking the call of the Waggafish.

The red wheel barrow out back of Ian the Squid Man’s shop.

The free-styling Waggaists were in a tight, thrashing group. As they reached the centre of the river, a loud moaning filled the air. The sound seemed to be coming from the depths of both the water and the pit of despair of itself. Then the sound became like a raw, broken symphony - a chorus-line, where anger, sadness, futility and pain were dividing and reforming. NARAAAGH, the sound was getting louder. And then it became flesh, that of rising, hungry fish, and that of the stricken Waggaists. Two of the weakest swimmers at the back suddenly fell further behind and went under, as if they’d been pulled away by a swift current. The water around them turned red, and then their arms and legs came flying out of the turbulence and floated away. “Keep swimming!” Alison Croggan urged them on. Then the man beside her was torn asunder. A huge school of Waggafish had surrounded the swimmers. Like killer whales working to isolate whale calves, they came at the Waggaists in quick, violent raids, crashing into their bodies then ripping them away and down, where they were torn apart. A wide, red stain was covering the river. By the time they’d reached the far shore, there were only twenty Waggaists left. The limbs and torsos of the others were being ferried away out to sea. Alison Croggan spoke through her tears. “Away,” she said, and walked off into the scrub. The others followed, numb with cold and grief. 
They climbed into the escarpment. It was tough going. Branches scratched at their faces and hands. The hard afternoon light gave their bodies an amber, ethereal glow. They climbed and did not speak. Past the blackened trunks of gums, through scribbles of vine and trembling, dusty ferns. They stumbled and fell. When they reached a high sandstone cave, lit as if from within, they sat together and stared back down over the river. The walls of the cave were honeycombed and crumbling. They huddled together, shivering and holding their arms. Alison spoke through her hair: “Whatever happens, we need to be strong. We should reach Brooklyn in a few hours. Keep together. Try not to think about what just happened.” She was about to say something else, when a loud, piercing sound came through the scrub above them. NARAAAGH, NARAAAGH. The Waggaists started shouting and leapt to their feet. They looked around wildly. Waggas in the bush? This was now completely fucked up. Alison stepped from the cave and peered up through the trees. The sound came again. Her first thought was that the poets had come looking for them, and were taunting them from high in the scrub. “Let’s go,” she said. “If they want a fight, then I’m up for it.” 
They climbed higher, moving slowly and keeping low in the undergrowth. As they reached the top of the ridge, Alison Croggan parted a screen of sawgrass and raised her hand. “Don’t move,” she whispered. Carefully, she eased her face and shoulders through the sharp serrations of waving green grass. In a clearing, its tail fan spread wide, a lyre-bird was parading and strutting. NARAAAGH, it called. The perfect mimic, it had picked up the cry of the Waggafish and was giving it back to the late afternoon sky. Alison cursed. “Fuck this,” she said. She waited until the lyre-bird had turned away to face the other side of the clearing, then she got to her feet and sprinted after it. She was fast. The lyre bird never had a chance. She grabbed it by the tail-fan and swung it around over her head. The Waggaists watched in amazement as she turned and danced. The lyre bird was calling out in panic. It was repeating a rapid-fire arrangement of sounds from the bush: whip-birds, kookaburras, even chain-saws and the motor-driven shutter from a camera. As it went around and around over Alison’s head, a car alarm went off in the lyre-bird’s mouth. Soon it fell silent, and it closed its eyes. Alison put the bird down onto the earth it had scraped clear. She stood over it, breathing hard. Then she knelt down and began removing its tail feathers. When she had plucked them all, she took a length of vine and began attaching the feathers. When she stood up, she wrapped the tan and white tasseled skirt around her waist and looked at the other Waggaists who had emerged from the saw grass. “What are we going to wear?” asked one. Alison adjusted her skirt. “Go find your own lyre bird,” she said.
Shelby woke with a start and looked around. He was at the back of a bus in the dark, the aisle strip-lighting like an aircraft runway at night. Seidel was beside him, breathing loudly, his head on the window glass. They were heading back to Sydney, where they were going to meet with Merle Haggard then catch a water-taxi to Brooklyn. Merle and Seidel were old friends. Seidel had helped resurrect Merle’s flagging career by injecting large amounts of cash and time into promoting his work. As a gesture of thanks and goodwill, Merle had written a new song for Frederick: The Sod-Buster’s Dream, which he’d sung to Seidel over the phone. Frederick told Merle he thought the song was a masterpiece, where in all honesty he thought it was a piece of shit. A few weeks later, when Haggard found out that Emmylou Harris had not invited him to the festival in Brooklyn, he flew into a violent rage. He called Seidel and said he was going to come anyway, and he was bringing trouble. Seidel didn’t doubt it. When Merle was angry, storm clouds gathered, animals and birds went for cover. When Seidel told Merle how he’d been treated by the poets, Merle completely flipped. Seidel heard stomping, breaking glass, a door slam and then slam again. A bird shrieked and fell silent. A dog yelped. A cat started yowling then made a sound like an electronic blip. When Merle picked up the phone again, he said “You tell those freaks in Brooklyn that Merle Haggard has poets and poetry in his sights, and that his magazine is loaded.”
The Sons of Zebedee dragged the giant Waggafish from the bow of the boat and loaded it into a wheelbarrow, then they went off to Ian the Squid Man’s live-bait shop. Ian had the best filleting knives in town, but he also had a secret sideline in Waggafish blood. He sold small bottles of it out back of the shop. It was so intense in texture and scent, that only a few drops were needed when fishing. The blood infiltrated the water column, attracting fish from miles around. The old locals used it in their burley, and some were said to have developed an addiction to it. You could see them walking around with a red smear on their lips, their eyes glazed over.
Ezra Pound hopped and skipped along behind the wheelbarrow, stroking his beard nervously and whistling like a wattlebird. “Where are you taking that Wagga? I am very fond of the meat in the pouch below the gill-rakers, though I’m also quite partial to the liver. Can you spare an old man a small fillet of delirium?” The Sons just laughed and wheeled the Wagga away into the crowd.
When they got to Ian’s Live-Bait shop, Ian wasn’t there. The Sons went around the side and climbed in through a back window. Ezra remained out front of the shop, cupping his hands at the glass and moving from foot to foot. “Please!” he cried out. “Just a taste!”. Bill Wisely was crossing the street, heading down to the festival stage with an arm-load of planks when he saw Pound outside the shop. “What are you doing you old codger?” Bill shouted. Ezra tried to run away, but Bill went after him and hauled him up by the collar of his coat. “What are you up to, Pound?” Ezra pointed back to the live-bait shop. “They have a Wagga, and they won’t give me any meat.” Bill’s eyes narrowed. “Who has a Wagga?” “The Sons of Zebedee,” Ezra said. “They have a red wheelbarrow glazed with Wagga blood beside the white fridges.” “Stay here,” Bill said, and strode off towards the bait shop. He went to the window and looked in. When he saw what was happening, he took his plank and smashed the lock on the door, then went in swinging. The Sons had removed the Wagga from the wheelbarrow and were just about to start cutting it up when they were floored with a plank. As they tried to get up they were planked again. “This,” Bill panted, “is,” he swung the plank again, “what,” he shouted, “you,” he took aim at a retreating arse, “get,” he gave the arse a whack, “for,” he planked the shield of a hand, “bringing,” the plank came back over his shoulder, “Waggas,” the plank fell, “into,” a Son screamed for mercy, “town!” The Sons of Zebedee had ben laid-out cold on the floor of the bait-shop. Bill Wisely looked down at his handiwork, then put flakes and broken bits of plank into the wheelbarrow. He went to the Wagga, took a filleting knife and cut a sliver of meat from its side. He wrapped it in a square of carpet, then took it out to Ezra Pound.
Led Zeppelin were now passing over the many islands surrounding Fiji. They were flying low, speared along by a potent tail-wind, and were making good time. They were going to be in Brooklyn by mid afternoon on the first day of the festival. 
Jimmy Page was looking down, watching the ocean’s surface glitter pour through and over the long rollers of a velvet swell when he noticed a disturbance. Many sea birds had gathered and were diving into and around what appeared to be a dark blue shadow. It was a cloudless day. Then he saw how large fish were patrolling the edge of the shadow. He called to John Bonham. “Are you seeing this?” “Yes,” Bonham replied. “It’s a huge bait-ball.” They watched as the birds and fish swept into and over the dark mass. They had to move down the airship, looking through each window as the airship passed over this foam-flecked, travelling feast. From the last window, they saw a new disturbance - a red cloud was circling the dark blue one like an ocean-borne corona. “Waggas!” Bonham cried. He ran up and down the aisle of the airship, rubbing his hands together and laughing. “Waggas!” he said again. “Fuck the festival, I’m going fishing.”

G. Lehmann.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 38

A swarm of red grasshoppers north of Perth.
Robert Duncan with his own edition of the Zohar.

Eurydice in the form of a stone curlew.

Driving north out of Perth into an overcast afternoon, Michael saw how the sides of the highway were blowing with sand, how the bottlebrushes were lighting the air. Despite having company, he inhaled a draught of solitude and turned back to look at the road.
Michael was telling Andrew Burke about the Edward Hopper exhibition when Andrew pointed. “Looks like a storm ahead.” Over the highway, a large red cloud was swirling and pulsing. “Wind up your window, quick!” Andrew yelled. As the Monaro entered the cloud, huge grasshoppers began smashing into the car and exploding on the windscreen. It was a relentless onslaught of wings and armour-plated bodies, all reduced to a red paste on the windscreen glass. The wipers only made it worse. They pulled over as the swarm raged against the car. When the grasshopper cloud had moved on, they got out and watched it go, breaking and reforming on its way south. The mustard-yellow Monaro had a new paint-job, and some of it was still moving.
When they reached Guilderton, they pulled over beside the Moore River and stretched their legs. Michael took his telescopic rod and a small net from his backpack. He screwed on a small Spinfisher reel spooled with 2 kilo braid and attached a 20 gram lure. He stood on the bank, casting the silver lure out into the river, and winding it back fast. On his third cast, the line went tight and he lifted the rod tip, which then slammed down as the fish took off. Andrew Burke watched as Michael Dransfield went to work on a nice tailor. The fish leapt and shook his head, trying to throw the hooks. Burke was impressed. He didn’t know Dransfield was into fishing, and he marveled at Michael’s rod-work as he brought the fish towards the bank. Michael netted the tailor, lifted it from the net and held it up. Its pale green sides flashed in the late afternoon sunlight. He removed the hooks and lowered the fish into the river, where it disappeared with a flick of its tail. “Why did you let it go?” Andrew asked. “We could have had that for dinner.” Dransfield stood up, removed the reel and collapsed his rod. “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you have to,” he said. Andrew Burke was disappointed. He’d been hoping for a more eloquent, lyrical explanation. He was looking at the spot where Michael had palmed the tailor back into the river. When he turned around to say something, Michael was sitting in the car, his legs up on the dash, the lowered sun visor concealing his face. 
Dr Greene and Bob Russo pulled off the road at Gerringong and drove down a narrow dirt road that led to the beach. The Cocteau Twins’ Sugar Hiccup was on the stereo. Bob Russo tapped the dash. “What’s this fucken shit?” Dr Greene spoke to the windscreen: “It’s called sublime music, Bob. I have no Bay City Rollers, Kim Carnes or Barry Manilow with which to soothe and inspire the beast that resides within that Godly frame you call a body.” Bob Russo picked up the CD cover and stared at it. “Oh,” he said. Sarcasm had not eluded Bob all his life, the ability to recognise it had been erased from his brain at birth.
The Waggaists were holding an emergency meeting. I loved that they had convened to meet when every day and every aspect of their lives had been one long, drawn-out emergency. 
I’d gone out to Lion Island in Bill Wisely’s tinny to check on their situation. I was anchored out front of the island in a gentle swell when I heard a woman’s voice. I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the scrub. The Waggaists had gathered at the only place on Lion Island where the red fairy penguins couldn’t reach them: in a tree. On top of the Lion’s head was a huge Moreton Bay fig, its branches sprawling and twisting. The Waggaists had covered every part of the main branches - they were like huge red flying foxes standing upright in their torn and stained coats. The woman’s voice cut through the sound of the swell breaking open on the rocks below. Her clear, urgent syllables came through the wind. When I  first heard her speak, the voice was vaguely familiar. The more she spoke, a shock of recognition went through me. I glassed the tree slowly, checking every face. Then I saw her. She’d let her hair out. The red hood of her cloak was flapping out in the wind. She was leaning against the skin of a huge branch, one hand gripping it high for balance, the other waving in time with her words. It was Alison Croggan. Was she really a Waggaist, or had she been, like Dorothy Hewett, working under cover the whole time - and if so, what was her agenda? Surely she’d already had the chance to come out and renounce Red Language. “This doesn’t have to end here,” Alison said. “We might have lost The War, but we haven’t lost our fire. The poets think it’s over. They’re down there at Brooklyn getting drunk and sleeping in warm beds while we get cold and wet and starve.” The Waggaists were listening with their heads bowed. Croggan continued. “I have a plan. Their will be pain, physical and emotional. Remember: what doesn’t kill you makes you a darker shade of red.” With those words, she  sounded more than convincing. She sounded like a natural-born Red leader. The Waggaists were now muttering and looking around. “But what if we’re wrong?” a man said. “What if the poets are right, and the Red K is indeed nothing more than a manipulative, self-styled, self-promoting mouthpiece for empty rhetoric, badly-edited poems and confused ideologies?” Croggan stared at him. “Then you, my friend, are penguin food. I say we make a swim for the other side. If we form a tight group and swim fast, it won’t take us long.” “What about the Waggafish?” someone said. “Yeah, and the bull sharks!” shouted another. “Baitfish form tight, rolling balls,” Croggan replied. “It confuses predators. There’s safety in numbers.” There was a long, awkward silence. “So, are you with me? If so, we need to leave now, not tomorrow or the day after.” Alison Croggan began climbing down through the branches. Others followed her. Soon many Waggaists were climbing down. As they neared the base of the tree, the red fairy penguins were jumping up and down, snapping and growing. “We need to hit the ground running,” Croggan shouted. “Once we reach the beach, we need to strip off and start swimming. Our cloaks and coats will drag us down. Are you ready?” There was a half-hearted response from the others. “Alright then. One, two, three!” Croggan said, and jumped from the tree. The red fairy penguins went for her but she kicked them away and ran down through the scrub. Most of the other Waggaists followed her, kicking penguins out of the way and removing their clothes. By the time they reached the shore, Alison Croggan was already ten metres out, treading water and urging them on. They dived in a swam out to join her. Up in the scrub, those that had descended the tree but had stalled at its base were being torn to shreds. The screaming was terrible. Those still in the tree were howling and slapping the branches. I pulled the anchor and motored away quickly. Looking back, I could see the water being thrashed to white foam as a desperate group of Waggaists swam for the far shore. 
                                                     THE FINAL TRANSMIGRATION
Lenka was no longer the passive recipient of his dance. She was burning in blue fire as Shiva smiled at her with his alarming pointed teeth. She was the gold centre, the essence of truth at last, all her savagery gone, reaching further and further into the flashing blades and limbs, blue and red, white and black, she was dissolving, melting, through the gate of fire.
                                                                      Vicki Viidikas, Kali and the Dung Beetle
Robert Duncan had been performing complex ceremonies. He concentrated on getting each ritual right, pulling together all his knowledge about the transmigration, weaving this into his effort of calling up Eurydice from Hades. She’d already died twice because Orpheus had doubted her love, the second time as they were about to pass through the gates of hell. Duncan wasn’t going to be responsible for a third failure. Eurydice had died twice for love, this was enough even for a myth. Duncan had started his ritual at 3am and now it was almost dawn, he decided to freshen up before his final session. A shower and a cup of herbal tea, a short period of meditation, refer to some books.
After his shower Duncan carefully shaved, dried his hair and toweled himself. He used a towel with the blue crest of the Masonic Temple embossed on the bottom. He made a pot of lemon-grass tea and decided on a change of clothes. His favorite black velvet suit with its waistcoat, cream silk shirt and a black raw-silk tie. He then consulted the Zohar (on loan to him from Christopher Brennan) an edition he wasn’t familiar with, taking up more time than he had to spare. Duncan used the Zohar as a guide in attaining knowledge about the origin of his soul. Just  to know how far he was along the path to this, always gave him strength.
Duncan considered the meaning of Eurydice’s time in hell. How long could she remain physically separated from Orpheus before her love would begin to fade? Complex considerations, all factors in the truth and life of myth,  things that were unfathomable. Eurydice was another mortal who had been caught up in the whims of Gods, but why had she remained silent - she was like a reflection caught between the silver on the back of a mirror and the surface of its glass, a space of silence. While Orpheus babbled over, water falling, or a skylark embroidering an endless song.
Duncan resumed his secret incantations, his rituals of reclamation. Breathing rebellious fire into the restless soul of Eurydice in Hades. Duncan’s mind and soul were dancing on the border of time and eternity - he felt an affinity with Vicki Viidikas and her lines about being in the ‘gold centre, the essence of truth at last, all her savagery gone, reaching further and further into the flashing blades and limbs, blue and red, white and black, she was dissolving, melting, through the gate of fire’. Duncan could see how the different cultures and myths blended into one vast universe of truth. Figures with glowing heads flew across the heavens, he felt the beginning of Eurydice’s soul’s transmigration. It fluttered and danced and Duncan worked himself into a visionary state. He could tell Eurydice was circling Budgewoi - a migrating bird from the other side of the world looking for a safe waterway to come to rest. Duncan thought of Tennessee William’s Orpheus Descending where he has that image of a tiny legless bird that lives its whole life on the wing ‘they sleep on the wind and never light on this earth but one time when they die!’ Eurydice was free and her soul would return to the paradise of Budgewoi and she would become mortal and never have to live again as a ghost in the underworld.
W.B. Yeats and Devin Johnston came into the library,  they were smiling and Duncan knew by this that he had succeeded. These two weren’t false poets like the imitations of Raworth and Baudelaire that came earlier trying to disrupt the proceedings - Red phantoms from the sick imagination of Dr Greene. These two were Duncan’s friends and even their likenesses could not be corrupted. Yeats was an Immortal and Devin Johnston had been studying the alchemical mysteries of the transmigration for years.
“Eurydice’s soul has been released,” Duncan said to Devin. “She will be here any time now.” Yeats padded across the old Persian carpet on the library floor to where Duncan stood and embraced him. “You’ve done it Robert—her soul has risen from the rocks and bird-less trees of Hades. 
Devin Johnston was smiling broadly but his intelligent eyes were full of questions.
Duncan was exhausted, he sat down on a lounge chair and sighed, he looked out through the window and watched the cold fire of morning. Bower birds swooped through the ancient grape vines growing over the back fence of the Masonic Hall. The wooden grapes were finished and the leaves were yellow. Zebra finches bounced like tiny balls of red-flecked fluff across the grass. In the primrose silver-eyes darted about like green dashes of electricity, the circles of their eyes streaks of white flake.
Feargal Sharkey was huddled in his hide on the edge of the Budgewoi Sports Ground, he’d been there all night waiting for the first sign of the return of Eurydice. Earlier, at dawn he thought he saw a shape in the rolling mist, the figure of a woman appeared and then turned in the parting mist and dissolved in the morning air. Feargal thought why the hell he was doing this, his clothes were damp, his legs were aching and his neck was stiff. He was about to give up when he noticed a bird walking across the oval. An extraordinary creature with long spindly legs, sepia and fawn cryptic plumage, its head large for its body with huge brown eyes. It was a stone curlew and it came walking across the oval towards Feargal in his hide. The stone curlew was only a few feet away and Feargal felt an overwhelming wave of emotion. A feeling so intense he didn’t know how to respond to the situation. He was balancing on one leg which suddenly filled with a hundred cramps, Feargal toppled over and knocked the structure of the hide over. The curlew panicked and jumped three feet into the air before flying off. Feargal finally eased the pain in his leg and managed to get up. He timidly started walking towards the scrub where the stone curlew had vanished, his feet touching on the heavenly grass as he passed by the goal posts.
WB Yeats and Devin were having a coffee in a beach side café. They were talking about Duncan and wondering when they would find out the fate of Eurydice. “How does it work?” Devin said to Yeats. “How can her soul settle into the body of another living soul?” Yeats thought about this for a while before replying “It’s a great mystery.” When the stone curlew walked under the outside tables of the café, the two poets looked at each other knowingly. The soul of Eurydice had taken up in the body of the stone curlew. Feargal Sharkey came in next, his eyes wild and his silky hair falling over his shoulders. “He saw the poets and said “I’m in love!”
G. Lehmann.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 37

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

Charles Baudelaire.

Val Kilmer in his role as Baudelaire in The Flowers of Evil.

Val Kilmer in his Shelby Mustang driving through Budgewoi.

Dr Greene emerged from his laboratory carrying a large red container. Attached to its side was an aquarium aerator. He put the container down carefully and stretched. He was wearing a leather coat, moleskin trousers and a blue shirt. He adjusted his Akubra to a gunslinging angle and squinted into the hard Ulladulla sun. He was waiting for Bob Russo to close the tackle shop. He looked down the hill and out to the harbour. “It’s time you had a holiday,” he said to himself. When Bob Russo walked out of the tackle shop, the tail of his fox-skin cap swinging like a furred plait over his shoulder, he tossed a set of keys to Dr Greene. “I see you’ve got the new items,” he said. They walked over to the car park. “That fuckwit Berryman has no idea what the words live-bait mean,” Greene said, patting the side of the red, humming container. “It’s time he understood. Let’s go fishing, Bob.” He opened a door and climbed into Lucinda William’s Chevy Silverado.
Seidel and Shelby had been gone for days on a LIMP2 binge. Dr Greene had offered them as much as they wanted, and they had feasted. They’d been in Seidel’s room at The Wheelhouse, talking like a pair of cockatiels and laughing uncontrollably. Seidel had seen the Red Oblong sail away to the north, and had doubled over, clutching his sides and crying with delight. “Look Shelby,” he howled, “they’re escaping in the Red Rectangle.” Shelby was on the floor, counting carpet fibres, quoting lines from The Immigrant Chronicles, and doing T.S. Eliot impersonations.
Now that they were focussed again, they spread a map of New South Wales on the kitchenette table and began making plans. 
Michael Dransfield was waiting outside the Perth art gallery. He’d just been to see the Edward Hopper retrospective. Hopper’s painting Nighthawks had always been a favourite. He loved Hopper’s portrayal of the lonely, after-hours lives of the Red Language poets: the Red K in drag and beside him, Ron Silliman impersonating William S. Burroughs. On the other side of the bar, his back turned, Charles Bernstein writing a poem on a napkin. The diner’s proprietor is reaching for a canister of Zest, as things are getting tense. To his right, the water containers are silo-shaped.
Michael was deep in thought, going over the details of Hopper’s painting when he heard a deep, loud rumbling. He looked up and saw a mustard-yellow Monaro with twin black GT stripes over the roof and bonnet. Behind the wheel, wearing mirror shades, was Andrew Burke. “Come on then!” Andrew called through the passenger window. “It’s a great day for a drive.”
Emmylou Harris looked down the river. She was worried about Lucinda Williams. With one day to go before the festival, she was concerned about Lucinda’s wellbeing, but also she couldn’t stand the thought of her missing out on what was sure to be a memorable time. The atmosphere was unbelievable. There were buskers everywhere, and poets reading on the street. This was not like Tamworth: predictable songs sung by Australians busting their guts to sound like they’d just coughed up a handful of Nashville dust. The Nashville scene was no better, which is why Emmylou and Lucinda had invited an eclectic, mostly alt-country line-up. They left the ragged edges on their music and brought a world of styles to their playing. 
Bill Wisely had been on the look-out for Australian country music stars trying to get into the festival. He’d put posters of John Williamson, Lee Kernaghan, Slim Dusty, Anne Kirkpatrick, Casey Chambers. Keith Urban and Troy Cassar-Daley on the train station walls, at the Angler’s Rest, and at the main entrance gate just down from Ian the Squid-Man’s live-bait shop. He knew that some of them would try to get past security, and he was determined to keep them out. 
“So what was your point?” Dorothy Hewett asked Admiral Escher as the Red Oblong made its way north. Escher didn’t respond. He was staring straight ahead as though he were looking through a high window of a bridge on some ocean liner. “I mean, great, we got to see a red asterisk at a place called the Red Abyss, and then the head of Dante comes out of the water like some fucking humanoid atoll spewing red water, and starts raving. And it didn’t even sound like Dante. This is fucked. Look, you’re a great graphic artist. One of the best. I love Night and Day and Hand With Reflecting Sphere. And Three Worlds got me through some tough times. You put things into perspective, and you do our heads in with your dreamscapes and tricked realities, but to be honest, I don’t care anymore. You can take your clever visions and put someone else inside them. I didn’t ask to be included in all this horror. I didn’t just wake up one morning and say ‘Bloody hell, I hope M.C. Escher takes me in a Red Oblong out to sea for a front-row seat at the Dante-and-Asterisk Show.” T.S. Eliot spoke from the top of a staircase. “But you did enter the Oblong, Dorothy.” “Oh fuck off, T.S.,” she said. “I only scrambled into this jumped-up bit of geometry because I was worried about you and Ted and Lucinda. If that’s how you feel, you can all get stuffed.” M.C. Escher was nodding. Then it became apparent that he was crying. His shoulders were rising and falling slowly. Great globes of tears were sliding down his cheeks, each with highly-stylised images of birds and insects inside them. Lucinda went to him and put her hand on his arm. “It’s alright, Cornelis, we’re all a bit stressed here.” Ted Hughes joined Lucinda. “Come on old man, chin up.” The badger farted. Dorothy sat down at the base of a staircase. “All this redness,” she said. “Can we please have a change of colour?” Lucinda Williams took a deep breath. “How long will it take us to get to Brooklyn?” she asked. “About twenty hours,” Admiral Escher said between sobs. “Perfect,” Lucinda said. “We just might make the opening of the festival after all.”
   The Transmigration
‘I had known from the beginning and told those about me that we were in the Last Days, in the Glory then. The Doctor came into the picture then. I told him about the fall of the giant orders of the world. “How can the unreal have as much effect as the real?’ I asked the Doctor. The falling of the astral worlds may be, then, the falling of the sky, where giant stars and dwarves, monstrous constellations and regents of the planets stream down in the collapse of time. Here the Doctor and I must restore the Milky Way, the spring of stars that is our universe. The Doctor had the key to the old science of the spring. I had to find the lock, but now it seems that I draw the water forth by the physical magnetism of a shaman, witching, pulling invisible reins of the stream with my hands. ‘You who are nearest to me’, I said to the Doctor, ‘are unreal’. I could see through his form.’
                                                                 Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book

After the local Goths had upset the first transmigration ceremony, Robert Duncan decided to hold the final phase in private. He waited until after midnight and was about to set up his candles for the ritual. There was a knock on the door. It was Tom Raworth and Charles Baudelaire. They looked tired and were soaking wet and their legs were covered in mud. “We came up the river in a Bass-Boat we borrowed from Dr Greene. We didn’t see a sunken tree as we came into Budgewoi and it hit the boat with a great force,” said Raworth. “With the force of Darkness,” said Baudelaire.  “What a lot of shit,” said Raworth. You could tell they had been arguing for days. It seemed they were on some kind of mission. Duncan became very suspicious. Why were they using Dr Greene’s boat? Had Greene lent the boat or had they stolen it? Duncan knew Greene never lent his bass-boat - it was the boat he used in Bass-Fishing Competitions; he’d been trying to beat Steve Starling with the best bass for years and he had to have the boat ready. Duncan had been briefed by Rodney Hall about Dr Greene and his obsessions. “So you have been with the Doctor?” Duncan eyed them with his straight eye. “You have been dicing with death.” This seemed to cheer Baudelaire up. He looked about the Masonic Hall and took off his wet coat. “Is there a bathroom here? I would like to refresh myself, and to wash this mud from my legs and feet.” Duncan directed him to the bathroom.
Tom Raworth wanted a drink, he wanted “vodka with limes, and a double to start with.” Duncan told him that Feargal Sharkey had drunk everything in the Masonic Hall except for a bottle of pink gin the Lodge got in when they thought that Kenneth Slessor was coming up to report on the transmigration. Duncan opened the gin and offered a bottle of tonic water.  Raworth wanted to know when the transmigration would occur. He said  wanted to write a report for ‘Pepper’ an electronic literary journal. Duncan knew this was edited by the Red K, or at least started by the K before he lost the Poetry War. Duncan also knew the funds were drawn from the poetry mafia’s bank in America, run by the poetry academic, (this was her cover) Helen Vendler. “Where’s the money?” says the investigator from Internal Revenue. “The money? What a joke, there’s no money in poetry.” Vendler had relentlessly omitted Robert Duncan from every anthology she edited and generally made it clear she did not even consider his work.   Just  thinking of Vendler made Duncan furious.
“She rings up Dr Greene to check out the flathead fishing in Queensland,” said Tom Raworth with a smile. Duncan felt betrayed. He knew Raworth was double dealing somehow, and when Raworth had finished half a bottle of gin he slipped up. He took out his thin silver camera from his coat pocket an envelope fell onto the floor, it was addressed, in Raworth’s handwriting to Val Kilmer! “What the hell is going on here?” Duncan said.   Baudelaire had finished his bath and came back into the library drying his hair with a towel. “Yes, Val Kilmer!” said Tom Raworth. “He is going to play the main role in Flowers of Evil - a big Hollywood movie based on the life and times of Charles Baudelaire.” “He will play me in my heyday!” said Baudelaire. “Yes, it’s all happening,” said Tom. “Charlie loves the idea of Val Kilmer, in fact he suggested it.”
“Tom, did you just say that Helen Vendler phoned the Doctor in Queensland to ask about flathead fishing?” Duncan, shaking his head. “Yes, Vendler is fascinated by flathead. She wants to come to Australia and give a lecture on Gwen Harwood at the University of Queensland so she can go flathead fishing with Doctor Greene.” Duncan let go with a stream of references and quotations from the 17th Century to the present day but right at the end he slipped in a sly question to Raworth. “Tell me Tom, what do you make of the poetry of the Red K?” Raworth was well known for his quickness, though now he stumbled and waited two seconds too long. Duncan knew these two desperados were either poetry gangsters or agents working for either Greene, Shelby or the Red K himself.
Feargal Sharkey came in with the crew of golden codgers, armed with their gaff-hooks and blackfish knives. They had been fishing all day and were going to cook up a feed for Duncan to bring him strength for his transmigration ceremony. Duncan said to Feargal “Throw them out, these two are frauds, they aren’t who they claim to be, throw them back into the river where they came in from.” At this Feargal tore off his clothes and mounted the old oak table in the library, he started flapping his arms and imitating the call of a male kookaburra. He danced around on the table and became a kookaburra shaman, his voice transforming from a human imitating a kookaburra into pure bird song. As he did this the golden codgers with their gaffs held in threatening positions ushered the two false poets out of the Budgewoi Masonic Hall.
It was 3am when Robert Duncan began to call on the soul of Eurydice. Outside the Milky Way looked like a great horn of fog flecked with stars and flares of starlight and cold fire. The constellations were spinning their light and drawing themselves onto the imagination of whoever looked up that night. The heavens were bright with darkness. Feargal Sharkey had recovered from his kookaburra shape-changing dance and was now settled into his special Eurydice hide on the edge of the Budgewoi Sports Ground. The golden codgers were in their beds and Duncan was chanting and calling up the dead from the library of the Masonic Hall.
How would Eurydice’s soul manifest itself? Would she return as a Goth and finally get to speak in the local version of English? She had never spoken in all the myths, not one word, in Greek or any other language. She was a silent figure for the wife of the first singer, the inventor of the lyre and the poet who charmed the King of Hell. What was behind this silence? Maybe Feargal Sharkey would be the first moral to hear Eurydice’s side of the myth, the first person to hear Eurydice’s own story.
Feargal peered through the slot in his special hide and saw the mist rolling in over the cricket pitch, over the turf and around the goal posts.

G. Lehmann.