Monday, March 8, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 11

James Dickey in his cabin on the shores of Lake Marie.
He is writing a letter to Phil Spector, detailing directions to The Island.

The KonaHead Live-Bait lure, designed by W.B. Yeats.

Phil Spector’s badge.

Sign on the wall of the Angler’s Rest hotel.

Bill Beard reached the top of the hill and looked down into the valley. The lake was a compact mirror dusted with changing light. The surrounding trees and low shrubs were a watercolour bleed on textured, beige paper. Bill glassed the scene. The Waggaists had gathered at the lake’s far edge, and were standing in the water, reaching into bullrushes and retrieving what seemed to be small red packets, which they then placed into backpacks and shoulder bags. They looked like a mass baptismal congregation, their reflection a red algal bloom. Many had the new, heavy-duty, rapid-fire guns slung over their shoulders. On the bank was a wheat-grass mortar canon. He’d heard of this. It could fling a one kilo cartridge of wheatgrass juice and black chili oil almost a kilometer, and was extremely accurate.

Having taken what they needed from the rushes, they stood in a tight, animated and agitated group. The wind changed direction, and Bill heard a few words and phrases: “Shelby and Seidel” “Forsaken” “Ruthless” “Intentions” “Final stand” “the Red K wanted.” Bill spoke into the two-way. “Bill to Rodney, over.” Nothing. “Bill Beard to Rodney Hall, come in, over.” Bill stood up and considered his options. It was an hour’s walk to the wharf, and quite frankly he couldn’t be bothered. Rodney Hall rarely contacted him, and the other poets couldn’t give a flying fox. Up until now he hadn’t worried about his isolation. He’d had much to reflect upon, and was filling notebooks with poems. But now he’d had enough. He glassed the citadel. The needle-tower and Waggafish gargoyles; the high, fortified windows and ornate carved panels on the sandstone walls. What did it mean? Poetry had always been a simple affair. You read it, wrote it, talked about it and, if it was good enough it, you published it. There’d always been a bit of in-flighting. It went with the territory. But this was insane. Who was the Red K? He thought he knew, yet now it seemed this figure might well be mythical, a name invented by charismatic leaders who had conned a large group into following their Language-driven scheme. And what the fuck was the scheme? His head was reeling.
Looking down to the lake, he saw that the Waggaists were on the move. They were coming around the left side of the lake. The mortar canon was being wheeled on its carriage. He lay down on his stomach in the grass and watched them. He tried calling Rodney again. He was about to retreat down the hill and return to the watchtower, when he heard a great thundering roar. He lifted the binoculars and scanned the beach and plain leading up to the hill. In the far distance, a Shelby Mustang was fish-tailing and ripping up grass and throwing clods of mud in its wake. As it got nearer, The Stone’s Gimme Shelter was blasting from the car. He’d never heard anything like it. He might have been standing close to the stage at an open-air Stones concert, except this was even louder. Birds had taken flight. The black swans on the lake were rising and flapping their wings in terror. The combination of the growling V8 and stereo was overwhelming. At the wheel, Phil Spector was a study in manic concentration. He was hunched forward, his black hair combed perfectly into place, his mirror shades shining. Standing up, his upper body through the sun roof and dressed in jungle fatigues, James Dickey was holding a jousting lance. His hair was blown back and he was smiling broadly, a flare gun clamped in his teeth.
Back at Brooklyn, in the Angler’s Rest, the atmosphere was a mix of the fumes from roll-yr-owns and drafts of passionate intensity. On the wall was a series of photos, trophy fish: huge mulloway, great broad-backed flathead with heads like shovels, huge blue-nosed bream and even a massive hammerhead. There was a vintage photo of the wharf at Mooney - along the side of a boat-shed, the heads of flathead were nailed up, forty or so, then right at the end, like an intimation of things to come, a very strange and freaky head indeed.  The jaws of this creature were similar to a the jaws of a rabbit-trap, its teeth were still firmly implanted, the plated skull bones were like the ghost of static electricity, translucent and almost red in colour, even though it was a sepia photograph. This room had been the meeting place of the Mooney Mooney Fishing Club. Members met here to talk of their catches and also to organize the seasonal fishing competitions, and after the meetings, a floating poker-game moved in.
Willie Yeats was winding up his lecture. His voice was an incantation, and he moved his hands to conduct his pace, which was measured and slow. He explained the new Wagga-rod, embellishing the finer points. By the time he was finished, quiet a crowd gathered in the small room. Even the sons of old Zebedee were standing at the door, smoking, pretending not to listen. Jim and Jack were now standing with their old mate from way up the river, Simon the Hook. Yeats was about to make a point, when he was interrupted by a chain of coughing spasms. The pungent fumes of White Ox were heavy in the air, and even as Simon coughed his lungs up, Jack was lighting another smoke. From the jukebox in the main bar the strains of The Streets Of Baltimore could be heard;  there were more oystermen moving towards the back room, not certain if they should heckle or listen in to W. B. Yeats’ hypnotic voice mingling with the delicate country music of Gram Parsons.
Willie seized the opportunity the moment created. He stood there completely silent for a few minutes until the sounds in the room gradually fell away. He then opened a long velvet box. His timing was perfect. Inside was the new Konahead experimental Waggafish live-bait lure. “This magnificent artificial was designed for one thing,” he said, holding the sleek lure by its skirts above his head. “A projectile to carry live bait through the air in a long cast. The head of the livie is threaded through the skirt of the lure and two chemically sharpened hooks are threaded through the bait. This new Waggafish Konahead can be used for beach fishing as well as trolling.”
“All this comprises the Waggafish specific gear - the rod, the reel, the special Irish 200lb braid. There is only one hard and fast rule: live bait must be used at all times.” Simon the Hook cheered. Devin Johnston looked nervously at Creeley who was smiling broadly. “Just listen to Willie’s cadences: the line breaks, enjambments, breath... listen to his beautiful chanting accent. You’d think he was back at the Lake Isle of Innisfree about to cast for a silver trout.” Creeley poured another Jim Beam for himself and Devin. “This is useful gear,” he said, raising his glass. “We’ll take a couple of rods and when the show on the Island is over, we’ll go to town and fish for Waggas under the Harbour Bridge at midnight. We’ll fish the Opera House at dawn. The city Waggas wont be expecting anything like this. They might remember Dickey’s cross-bow, and there’s bound to be a few with his arrows dangling from their sides - that might turn out to be Dickey’s method of tagging!” 
Creeley stopped talking as Frank Webb walked into the back room and caught sight of the sons of Zebedee. Frank went into a rage and started clearing the room. “All out!” he shouted. “Move it now, you useless red bastards!” Frank though it was a meeting of communists. He couldn’t bear the thought of the Sons of Zebedee setting eyes upon this meeting of red agents against Christ the Lord. Devin rushed over to Frank and handed him a copy of Robert Duncan’s book Letters, and quoted a few lines. It calmed Webb down straight away. Devin said “Come on, Frank, let’s go out and look for Basil and Ezra, they'll  know what to do.” Then Vickie Viidikas burst into the Angler’s. “No dancing on the dance floor! What kind of shitty dump is this? I thought there’d be poetry workshops, dancing words and spirits dancing with ice and fire. I thought it would be all condition red: passion and eloquence. And what have we got? Retarded killjoys, Symbolists lecturing Symbolists. Where’s the reality? Get a grip.  Forget the hunt, killing, the live-bait. Where’s the perfect line, the zest for life, the passion?” “Zest for life,” repeated Creeley. “What an unfortunate choice of words.” 
Just then I became aware of a glowering presence somewhere in the room. One could feel the atmosphere being squeezed into a glad-bag - some silence vacuum cleaner sucking the essence out of the crowd. People starting stubbing out their butts, fishermen shuffled and looked about uneasily. Even Yeats looked unsettled - this new, harsh atmosphere reminded him of a seance, of the transmigration of a soul, something eerie.  
Griffo, always the publican with a weather-eye for trouble, came into the room and turned on the big flood lights. Over in the far corner, crouched in a chair with his back to the wall, was a gnarled and conservatively dressed figure. Even in the full blaze of Griffo's floodlight, this figure was actually glowing, his face radiating an intense haze of inner light. The hunched figure muttered a few tightly rhymed words that were incomprehensible to the men and women of the Angler's Rest. “Who the fuck is that clown?” asked Bill Wisely. “I'm afraid to say,” Creeley replied, “that it's Geoffrey Hill!” “Barry fucking Hill? I've sold him squid,” said Ian, the squid man.  “The Red Hill,” said Peter Minter. “The curse of Castlemaine.” “No, not Barry Hill,” Creeley said, taking up the bottle of Jim Beam and having a decent slug. I said, “Geoffrey Hill. That man sitting there like the shadow of doubt, is Geoffrey Hill."    
At this stage, for some reason only known only to them, the sons of old Zebedee unleashed a box of big mud crabs that went scuttling across the floor, their great mottled claws snapping the air. “If I were a pair of ragged claws,” Webb started to quote, but before he could finish the line Bill Wisely had whipped the muddies into his airline bags and rushed off towards the Fisherman's Co Op. 
“This meeting was over before it began,” said Basil Bunting on his late arrival at the door. “What the heck does that mean?” asked Jack Zeb?” “It means,” said Basil, that “the spuggies are fledged.”
Out in the Angler’s Rest beer-garden, people had stopped talking and were staring off into the distance, their faces upturned. A series of red flares had gone up, followed by a ragged, loud music arriving on a warm tide of wind. Creeley walked outside. He saw the flares, heard the music. “The  Island is about to blow,” he said “Spector is hunting.”
Having heard the music, the Waggaists started running over the field next to the lake. They were trying to reach a small stand of swamp gums about five hundred yards away. When the Shelby Mustang reached the crest of the hill, Spector threw it into a sideways swerve and the gleaming, thundering machine came to a standstill. Bill Beard had to dig in to the earth and lean forward to keep from being blown off the hill. He had his hands clapped to his ears. Spector was shouting and waving his arms. Dickey was grinning. Bill staggered to keep his balance and pointed down to the lake. Phil got out, grabbed Bill’s binoculars and glassed the valley. Then he turned to Dickey and made a series of angular sweeps with his arms. Dickey nodded, threw down the lance, ran to the side of the car and unclipped a massive cross-bow bolt. It’s explosive zest-head was the size of a grapefruit. He put the bolt into the groove of the mounted cross-bow. Spector turned down the volume and yelled at Dickey. “Make this count,” he yelled and positioned the Mustang. Dickey looked through the cross-bow sights and raised the weapon slightly. “Okay!” he shouted. Spector put the car into neutral and slammed his foot on the accelerator. There was a loud crack and the bolt flew high and fast. In their panic, the Waggaists began running into each other. The bolt hit one of them in he chest and exploded. A great shower of zest went flying in all directions. They were screaming and falling to the ground, covering their faces. “Another!” Spector yelled. Dickey reloaded and positioned the cross-bow, the car engine roared, and another bolt went out into the field. Three Waggaists who’d had a rush of blood to the head and who were running towards the hill, were obliterated. The explosion ripped off their red coats and blinded them instantly. 
Bill was in shock. He was torn between running for cover himself, and sprinting back to the watchtower, where he could witness the slaughter in safety. “Where are the rest of the poets?” he shouted. Dickey was reloading the cross-bow. “They wanted to come, but I told them to forget it. They’d only get in the way and besides,” he said, positioning the weapon, “we want the glory, don’t we Phil!” Spector was laughing insanely. “We want the glory and the money, Jim. I told them I don’t play well with others, and I fucking mean it. Dickey’s the exception.” Phil cranked the stereo up again, and Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper shredded the air.

K. Slessor, the Front

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