Dusk fell like a purse-seine net over The Island. Most of the fighting, as usual, had been among the poets themselves.
Richard Tipping had been lecturing Keats, insisting that many of John’s poems would have been better understood and more universally celebrated had they been carved into soapstone or Tasmanian blackwood and displayed in corporate board rooms. Keats listened patiently for awhile, taking nips from a bottle of laudanum and nodding. Yet when Tipping suggested that Fanny Brawne was more millstone than muse, Keats sprung into action. He didn’t even shape-up. He hit Tipping with a savage right cross that sent him sprawling into a stack of Immigrant Chronicles, dragged him to his feet, then delivered an uppercut of such ferocity, the percussive waves from the blow sent a flock of oystercatchers wheeling from a sand spit. Bill Wisely, collecting beer glasses from the bows and deck boards of boats, yelled “Good shot!” “That wasn’t a fight,” Olson said. “It was an assassination.”
Rodney Hall had spent much of the evening in the mangroves, having blood samples taken by mosquitoes the size of dragonflies. He’d gone, by his reckoning, the two miles south looking for Wallace-Crabbe, when he saw a huge platoon of Waggaists coming upriver, each one peddling furiously inside a bright red duck or swan. He ran into the mangroves and watched them through binoculars. The full moon had turned its security porch light on, and he could see them clearly. This was the first time he’d been this close, and he was amazed at their ages. Most were in their early to mid twenties. They all wore homespun cotton garments, dyed red, and some had tattoos of the Red K’s face on their forearms or necks. Others had what seemed to be lines of poetry inked into their shoulders. They looked like novitiate members of some religious sect on a social outing. As they paddled past, he could hear their conversation. It was odd, stilted and half-formed, like lines from a Pinter play being married to the pillow talk of an off-duty detective. Then, as the last Waggaist in the group came past he saw Wallace-Crabbe. He was bound and gagged in a small dinghy being towed behind a red swan. He thought of throwing a stick or shell to get his attention, but the man in the swan was looking around carefully. “Nothing here. Return. This way. Tomorrow there will. Oh yes, oh you.” Rodney waited. He assumed they’d be going further around the island, but they came ashore, stepped into the shallows and dragged their birds onto the sand. There they made a fire, and sat in a tight circle drinking wheatgrass juice, eating radishes and reciting the Red K’s poems. Wallace-Crabbe was given a bowl of rocket and a glass of water. Rodney took off his coat, made a pillow of sorts on a mangrove root, and lay down among the suckers and crab holes. Then the tide came in. He climbed carefully into a thick, low branch, which cracked and settled. The Waggaists stood up and stared at the mangroves. They angled their heads like listening kelpies and waited. “That heron.” “Old scarer.” “Yes, and all the night dreaming.” They sat down again. Rodney knelt in crabbing water, his clothes drinking the river, his syphoned blood flying off with a drone in all directions.
K. Slessor, at the Front