The Sons of Zebedee discus W.B. Yeats’ new fishing rod before heading out on a Waggafish expedition. Christ is demonstrating the correct way to use the rod’s launching mechanism. The citadel, moat, and road leading down to the wharf can be seen in the background.
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes that they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth, thou shalt catch men. Luke (ch. V, v. 9-10)
It's no sure rule to fish with a cross-bow. George Herbert.
Bill Beard had been up the watch-tower for nine days, and apart from when Wallace-Crabbe had been taken hostage, there'd been nothing to report. On that occasion, he’d tried calling Rodney on the two-way but there was no response.
The view was spectacular: headlands stacked in blue relief down the coast, The Island lake printed with clouds, the river-mouth feeding the ocean its current lines... Even the citadel could be beautiful, especially first thing in the morning and at dusk: the tower needle gleaming, the Waggafish gargoyles compounding light and eating shadows.
He’d made the watch tower from local timber and old sheet iron. Once he’d had the main floor in place (old wharf planks hammered into a three-way fork in the top of a massive turpentine), the rest of the materials had been lowered by David W. Foster in his helicopter. It was a basic structure, but it was home for now. In the pre-dawn dark, Vivian Smith would bring food and water, which Bill hauled up in a basket.
He’d started writing poetry again. After breakfast, he’d open his notebook and get to work. He’d even written a poem about the optical wonders of his Celestron binoculars. With their Dark Sky Nebula Filters, they were not perfect for diurnal use, but they gave whatever he saw an unusual, detailed glow. At night, the sky came close and he went into it for hours, returning with star-plans and new names for spirals of purple dust.
Bill was scanning the southern end of the beach when he saw a huge crowd of Waggaists running and stumbling along the sand. He could see they were in a bad way. Some were helping others to walk. Some fell and lay with their faces pressed into the sand.
“Bill Beard to Rodney, over.” Bill looked again and saw that the Waggaists were making their way back over the hill that led down to the lake. “Bill, Rodney here. Over.” “There’s a huge red crowd heading for the lake, over.” “Yes, Bill, we know, over.” “Then what the hell am I doing up here if you guys already know what’s happening on the ground?” A long silence ensued. “Bill, you’re supposed to say ‘over’ at the end. If you can't you use the designated protocol for this kind of communication, I'll have to get someone else to live in the watchtower.” “Oh fuck off Rodney. What’s happening? Over and over and over!” “Just sit tight Bill. Over and under and out.”
Phil Spector and James Dickey had been hard at work during the night, rigging Phil’s Mustang for the hunt. Dickey had fashioned a giant crossbow which he’d set up on a tripod welded to the bumper. The trigger mechanism was attached to the accelerator cable: once a Waggaist was in sight, Phil could release the bolt with its explosive zest-head by putting his foot to the floor.
They’d amassed a fearsome arsenal. Phil had re-fashioned his snub-nosed Colt revolver into a zest-gun. He’d packed 500 hollow-point bullets with Valencia Zest, the world’s most potent form, and was wearing a bandolier across his chest. Dickey had cut the hunting blades from his arrows and replaced them with stun-heads: large globes of compressed zest. There were medieval-style lances sticking out of the rear window, each capped with huge wads of red material they’d salvaged from beside the moat. They were going to joust their way through the fleeing ranks. The most impressive weapon was the gatling gun that Charles Bronson had made for him in L.A. It was a hand-cranked unit, each turn of the handle setting the circular, barrel-lined chamber spinning and spitting zest in a wide, deadly arc. It wasn’t accurate and it didn’t have to be. Anyone within fifty yards would be taken down.
Robert Gray approached the Mustang and walked around it slowly. He inspected each weapon. After running his fingers over the metal eye-holes of the gatling gun, he turned to look at Spector and Dickey. “Incredible, isn’t it!” Dickey grinned. “You guys are animals,” Robert Gray said, and walked off.
Shelby and Seidel were hungry and thirsty. Seidel picked up Immigrant Chronicles. He’d taken it from the Red Cell, back when they were shredding copies to feed Wilding. Tearing out a page, he screwed it into a ball, tossed it into his mouth and started chewing. “What’s it like?” Shelby asked. Seidel swallowed. “Like eating a boarding pass. Like a wafer on the tongue of a non-believer.” Shelby studied the book. He picked it up and flicked through it’s battered pages. Then he tore out a handful of chronicles and feasted.
Ed Dorn was on his hands and knees. He’d disarmed four mines and was about half way to the cage. Billy Gibbons was reclining in a chair beside his heart-shaped pool, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and drinking Red Needles - a cocktail Leonard Cohen had made for him, back when he’d stayed with Lennie on Hydra, in ’78. He pointed to the mines and said “Could you leave those lilly pads there. I went to great expense importing them from under Monet’s bridge.” Rimbaud looked up from his model of the Drunken Boat. “Red Excess!” he cried out, then lowered the frames of his glasses. Wallace-Crabbe had abandoned the sonnet and was now working on a sestina. “Is cataclysmic a good end-word," he asked Wilding, who growled at him through a hexagon. Baudelaire was hanging by a vision from a girder high on Hart Crane’s Bridge. Frank Beard and Dusty Hill were in the studio with Mary Gauthier, recording a rhythm-and-blues version of I Drink.
Bill Beard climbed down from the tower. He stood at the base of the giant turpentine and looked over at the hill. The last of the Waggaists were limping over its crest. “Time for some action,” he said, and started running.
The wall of CCT screens in the citadel stronghold flickered and went black. Shelby and Seidel had been watching Dorn disarm another mine, and Shelby was raving. “Dorn is rooted! I’m going to shove his head up the arse of a gargoyle.” “Yeah?” Seidel asked, looking forlorn. “You and whose army?”
Philip Levine, Elizabeth Campbell and Ted Kooser had been on patrol with their sling-shots. Using the ball-bearings Levine had stolen from a Chevrolet plant in Detroit, they were knocking out the cameras mounted on walls and in trees around the citadel.
Shelby stood up, a shred of paper hanging from his lip. “What do you suggest?” he asked. “We have no Red Brigade, no televised coverage of what’s happening, no food or water, and some have taken up with the poets!” Seidel swiveled back and forth in his chair. “Suicide by chronicle?” he asked. He leaned over the desk and gave Shelby his best Ooga-Booga look. “We surrender,” he said. “Otherwise we will die in here.” Shelby started screaming and frothing at the mouth: “I will not surrender to Hall and his bunch of free-verse-loving, stage-hogging poets!” Seidel spoke quietly. “Look, surrender doesn’t have to mean complete compliance. We just bide our time, wait for an opportunity. It will come soon enough.”
Dorn had one more mine to disarm. Bukowski, tired of watching the meticulous operation, had slumped into a corner near the door and was onto his second bottle of Southern Comfort. Inside the cage, Billy Gibbons was floating on his back in the pool. He’d taken up smoking again, and his huge Cuban cigar was leaking a pale blue line that swirled into the shape of a Gibson guitar above his head. Wilding was coming down from the acid. He stood with his fingers entwined in the mesh, staring at Bukowski and Dorn. “Whenever I get involved with poets it always ends in tears,” he said. Baudelaire had taken another trip. While swinging on the metal girder high above the East River, he’d been rewriting his poem The Albatross. He cleared his throat, looked down past the bridge-workers to the boats, and began:
Often, for fun, Waggaists will train
an albatross, that greater-glider of the low
pressure system and driving rain.
They paint it red. They defile it and bestow
Language upon its hard, captive stare.
It flounders in sickness, pecking
chronicles from a cage. Pinioned, the law
of Arctic water dies, and it sings
of distant islands, Great Southern breaks
of swell and long-line killers. The Waggaists
put a pipe-stem into its clapping beak
and laugh. They ruin everything. The list
is long and red. The wandering albatross
watches storm clouds mass above
the citadel. It smokes and weeps for lost
horizons, for freedom and for love.
Having stopped his breathless work to listen, Dorn placed his tools carefully on the floor and got to his feet. “Did you write that?” he asked. Rimbaud laughed. “Does Raggedy Anne have cotton tits?” Wilding put his mouth to a hexagon. “No more poetry, please.” Bukowski drank and wiped his mouth. “Sentimental crap,” he said. Dorn ignored them. “I’ve never paid your work much attention,” he said. “But that’s changed. Thankyou, Charles.” “Is parenthetical a good end-word?” Wallace-Crabbe called out from the lonely, far-flung parish of his sestina.
Bob Creeley didn’t slow down in the no-wake-zone, and as the Boston Whaler roared into Brooklyn, a group of men came out from the Fisherman’s Co-Op and started abusing him. When they recognised Terry Hack, there was an air of bafflement as the Whaler pulled up at the end of the wharf. Who were these weird blokes with Terry? Devin jumped out with the mooring rope and tied up to the pontoon. W. B. Yeats, dressed in a velvet suit and a red cravat walked out onto the wharf, twirling a blank rod like a cane. Creeley turned off the motors and looked the part: he was dressed in jeans and a denim jacket and was wearing his black eye-patch. As Bill Wisely came down to meet them, he said to Terry Hack, “You’re being too fucking generous to these Americans!” “They’re not all Americans,” Terry said. “Willy comes from Ireland. He often fishes for sea-bass at Balbriggan Beach in Dublin.” “Dressed like a cocky?” Bill asked, looking over at Yeats. “How long since you caught a decent fish?” Yeats looked him up and down and adjusted his monocle, “Maybe twelvemonth since I wore the grey Connemara cloth, walked the beach and with a downturn of my wrist, dropped a flie upon the tide.” “Well fuck me dead” said Bill “There’ll be none of that shit here.”
Yeats’ eyes narrowed and he spun the blank in his hand, “I have come to teach you how to use a new rod, a red ugly-stick. It’s qualities are as cold and passionate as the dawn.” At this Terry Hack stepped between Bill and Yeats. “I think we should all move on and have our meeting at the Angler’s Rest.”
This motley crew walked through the bar and all eyes were on them. It was only 10 am and Dutch was already drinking whisky. Charles Olson was there handing out oysters and boasting about how many Waggaists he was going to use as crab-bait. He had Philip Levine in a corner and was plying him with projectivist theory and Tasmanian beer.
The usual gang of Brooklynites were gathered around the pool table completely oblivious that the poetry war had been raging for over a week. The prawners were playing darts and Griffo was looking for Ian. He was after live squid. Bob Creeley yelled “There’s Olson!” “Ulladulla, you old beast! Where’s the Jim Beam?” shouted Olson. Yeats gave a nod to Devin who walked over to Griffo, the publican, and asked if they could use the back room for a meeting. Griffo scanned the crew of poets and agreed. “Take them out of here before there’s a fight,” he said. “Why would there be a fight?” asked Devin. Griffo nodded towards what looked like a family of real river rats - prawners for generations - they looked mean and very unpoetic. “Who are they?” Devin was perplexed. “They are Jimmy and Jack Zee, the sons of old Zebedee. “They work with Simon the Hook,” Griffo said.
Yeats stood in front of a mixed crew, which now included Olson and Creeley. Devin was standing next to Hack at the door, both of them keeping a weather eye on the sons of old Zebedee. “Makes you want to laugh in a way” said Devin, “Well don’t,” said Terry Hack who was dressing some squid, cutting them into pale strips, then handing them on to Ian the Squid Man. Yeats was speaking: “This piece of magic was developed in the labs of Jack Erskine in Darwin,” he said, turning the rod over in his hands. “Erskine created the blank and Ian ‘Barra’ Miller did the bindings. See how the guides glow with a pink light in the dark. It’s an extract from the otoliths, the ‘jewels’ of Waggas. This rod has a core of titanium surrounded by a sleeve of iron bark wood, which in turn resides inside a blank made from carbon-fibre - the same glass they use on Ugly Sticks. This rod is bullet-proof, it wont bend and is equipped with a high-powered launching device invented by Blaise Pascall, an outcome of his experiments into the pure vacuum, basically the cylindrical abyss. I call it the Red Wagga-Wand, mark IIV. The rod is coupled with a special red reel manufactured by ABU in Sweden. This reel has no drag whatsoever. You must feel the Wagga, then whack into it with all your might - hook-up and skull-drag them in as if you were using a Ned-Kelly rig. Except you are using tough braid of 300 lb breaking strain so there’s no excuses. It’s either you or the fish.”
K. Slessor, at the Front