Monday, March 15, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 18

Geoffrey Lehmann, poet and War Correspondent.

Interior of the Austin Sheerline ambulance.

Since accepting the brief role as war correspondent, Geoffrey Lehmann had been up each day at dawn. Despite being told by all and sundry that he was no longer needed, he continued to walk around taking photos and scribbling furiously into his own little notebook. You could hear him as he passed by: “Very interesting. Yes, indeed. That’s good. I wonder. Perhaps there are...” When he cornered Bukowski on the wharf and started asking him questions about the various movie depictions of his life, Charles picked Geoff up and threw him into the river. “Ben Gazzara or Mickey Rourke?” Geoff had demanded, streaming water and ribbons of weed. “And who are you? Are you Charles? Chuck? Hank? Henry? Tell me! The world needs details! You can’t just write about battered lampshades, horses, bourbon, cigars, women, fighting, poetry, fucking, vomiting, L.A., bars, Mozart and bed bugs without giving us at least a splinter of the truth!” Bukowski had gone into the river to silence Lehmann, but Geoff outswam him. His freestyle was excellent. Charles came back to the wharf, pulled up a deck chair, opened a beer, and sat there patiently, waiting for Lehmann to come ashore.

Fifty kilometers away, the ambulance was punching through a stiff norther-easterly chop. It was heavy going. Shelby had to strap T.S. Eliot into the stretcher as he kept flying out of his seat and rolling around on the floor. Up front, visibility was patchy. The wipers were slapping across the glass and small waves were breaking over the roof. Seidel and Hughes sat in silence. For awhile they’d listened to old country and western songs on the cassette player Ted had brought along, but now Seidel was in no mood for music. They were travelling about a kilometer offshore. Occasionally they caught glimpses of a headland or beach through the spray. The sight made Hughes think of Cornwall, of the times he and Sylvia had stayed at the stone cottage by the beach and spent evenings wandering around Tintagel Castle, the birthplace of King Arthur. He was remembering how Sylvia would turn her face into the wind, her hair flying around her face, when Seidel shouted “Look out!” Hughes came back and through the chop he saw a yacht bearing down on them, some fifty yards away. At the last minute the yacht tacked away, its crew hanging over the sides. Seidel wound down his window: “You fucking morons we’re in an ambulance are you blind or just plain stupid!” The badger had leapt under the dash when Seidel started shouting, and was now looking up at Ted through loops of trailing wires. T.S. Eliot was demanding to know what was going on. Shelby was close to tears. He got seasick drinking water.
Geoffrey Lehmann had avoided a nasty incident with Bukowski by promising he’d speak to his good friend in Melbourne - the Australian importer for Lagavulin single malt Scotch. Feeling cocky, he was now standing outside the Waggaist cage, asking questions and taking photos. The Waggaists couldn’t speak because they were wearing wire-mesh mouth guards, but that didn’t stop Geoffrey. He wanted to know everything: what Waggaists ate, if polygamy was their thing, had they ever met the Red K, their tastes in music, if they were allowed to read lyrical poetry, what they thought of poets who called themselves post-modernists... The huge red crowd were making muffled, angry noises and kicking at the sandy soil. Geoffrey’s questions continued unabated. He didn’t miss a beat, scrawling answers to his own questions and nodding wildly. In the end, Rodney Hall had to take him by the arm and lead him away. Even in his cabin, he could be heard asking questions, answering them, and practising his best correspondent’s voice.
K. Slessor, the Front

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