Friday, March 19, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 21

Emmylou Harris, David Rawlings and Gillian Welch arriving at W.B. Yeats' Oyster Shed at Brooklyn.

W.B. Yeats’ oyster shed.

After climbing in through my window, Lucinda told me a terrible story that not only mirrored what Michael Dransfield had seen in Greene’s lab, but added a few darker details. She was in a real state, sliding her bracelets up and down her arm and tapping the toe of a snakeskin boot on the floor. “I sought refuge in the arms of a man who throws dice with the devil,” she said. “I have known true disgrace.” She then told me her bleak tale of comfort and betrayal.

While Greene had slept, she’d gone to investigate the low, constant hum she’d heard the day she arrived at the apartment. Behind a red curtain in the laundry she’d found a door leading into the dark. She went down the stairs and found his laboratory. As well as the pink nippers and beakers of LIMP2, there were beach worms as thick as her wrist, their black holding-fangs like those on a funnelweb spider. On a stainless steel bench she found the head of a huge yellowtail, its mouth still opening and closing, its gills bright red with oxygenated blood. In a glass tank, the headless bodies of yellowtail and frigate mackerel were swimming around as if they could see where they were going. Their wounds had sealed over.

“It was hellish down there,” she said. “I’ve heard of the breeding tanks under the Red Bunker, of how Seidel and Shelby are loose cannons, but this is beyond the red and the pale.” Lucinda stood up and turned to face me. “We need to do something, Geoff. We need to take action now.”

As the sun came up over the harbour, Lucinda Williams fell asleep on the couch. I sat in the frame of the big bay window and watched light come in like a flood-tide. Out beyond the tuna boats and recreational craft, the Red Oblong glittered and swayed at its mooring. Like the re-usable and headless live-bait in Dr Greene’s lab, this huge shape needed no crew, sail or propellor to drive it forward. I heard Dorothy cursing on the wharf: “The Red Oblong,” and “we’re all fucked.” It was time to find out what I could about this disturbing, influential symbol.

In Brooklyn, things were getting out of hand. The Sons of Zebedee were tired of being kept out of the loop, and had taken matters into their own hands. They went to the Angler’s Rest where they knew John Berryman and Geoffrey Hill would be in the old back bar. Sure enough, the Sons found the two poets deep in discussion and drinking stanzas of Guinness. Berryman put his bottle down when they walked through the door and stood up. “Ah, the sons of the sons of the sons of Trouble,” he said through the grey wires of his beard. Jack grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him up. Jimmy did his best Gene Wilder impression, speaking into the side of Berryman’s head: “Where is Henry when you need him?” Jack chimed in: “What are you two planning? We need to know. We don’t like blow-ins, especially poets who think they can fish.”

Geoffrey Hill put his bottle of Guinness down on the table as if he were lowering a lure into an ice-hole. As the Sons pushed and shoved Berryman, he reached into the special pocket he’d sewn into the inside of his overcoat and pulled out a plank made from a length of crepe myrtle. Then he walked over and started swinging. The Sons went down and strayed there. John Berryman shook Geoffrey’s hand. “I knew when I first read King Log that you’d be a handy man to have in a fix.” Bill Wisely had witnessed Hill’s finesse with the plank from just outside the door. “I like you,” he said, and walked off. Geoffrey Hill picked up his bottle of Guinness and took a long hit. He swallowed and exhaled loudly. “Let’s go find Yeats,” he said.

W.B. Yeats had taken over one of Dutch’s oyster sheds, a barn of a place built from corrugated iron and iron bark - a huge cavern with an elevated floor at one end that Dutch had used for sorting and shucking oysters. Yeats thought this might make a good stage for poetry readings and for giving lectures on the fine points of live-baiting for Waggas. This was a shed that could accommodate at least five hundred people if necessary.

Bill came back from the Angler’s Rest and told W.B. that Geoffrey Hill and Berryman were looking for him. “Oh that’s a fine thing then because I’ll need them before long.” W.B. seemed a bit distracted but he was nevertheless pleased to hear Bill’s news. He was sitting at a makeshift desk writing with the quill of a pelican, setting down the basic rules for the eradication of all Waggafish. He figured there’d be ten Commandments, to make things sound Biblical, and therefore have more rhetorical sway.

Outside there was the sound of a car pulling up in the yard. W.B. looked out the open window and saw a sleek black limo slide into the space where Dutch’s tar-vats used to stand. Bill said “Well fuck me, who the fuck is this, some idiot looking for a dozen oysters?” The back door of the limo opened and out stepped Emmylou Harris, David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. They were dressed in stylish country clothes and Emmylou and Gillian wore their best cream coloured cowboy hats. W. B. Yeats walked out into the yard to introduce himself and welcome them to his shed. They weren’t looking for oysters at all, they were looking for a venue.

Emmylou had heard about the ‘needless slaughter of Waggafish’ and wanted to do a concert to raise funds for a new organization called RAW (Release All Waggas). The look on Yeats’ face was a study of deep symbolic confusion and anger. Bill told them to fuck off because this was Waggafish Central and its job was to bring about the total extinction of waggas throughout the world. “We have been delivered directly into the black heart of the Beast” said Emmylou to Gillian. “This is going to be a very interesting day. I think we should go back to Brooklyn and collect T Bone Burnett, he’s trying to book us into the Angler’s Rest. I think we’re going to need his sage advice.” Before anyone could reply, Bill had grabbed a couple of planks and was coming towards the little group of country singers. They managed to jump back into the limo and tell the driver to get out of there fast, but Bill landed a couple of blows on the bonnet as the limo spun its wheels and fishtailed out of Yeats’ property. As they reached Brooklyn Road they saw T Bone walking along with Geoffrey Hill. They pulled up and told them to get in. “What’s happening man?” asked T Bone. “We’ve been attacked by a madman and have just met W.B. Yeats, who turns out to be one of the main people involved in the slaughter of Waggafish.” Said Emmylou. “W.B. Yeats, the poet? Is he still alive?” “Yes to both questions!” replied David Rawlings. “Well, then far out” replied T Bone.

Geoffrey Hill glared at the country singers. “And what’s the true problem may I ask?”  Emmylou looked hard at Hill: “The real question is that we have come to stop the slaughter of Waggafish. We are giving a concert to raise money for RAW, as we find this brutal murder of fish an appalling insult to all living things.” Hill’s eyes narrowed and then opened wide. He glared fiercely at the singers for a few moments before he started laughing, a terrible black laughter, bitter, twisted and with a sound that sent the fear of God into the hearts of the Americans. “Stop this wretched vehicle. I cant abide people with brains the size of pickled walnuts, let me out of this vacuum chamber right now!” 

G. Lehmann, at the Front and Back.

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