Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 23

Hemmingway’s boat, Le Pilar.

Earnest with his plank.

With a shipment of Red Rods for W.B. Yeats.

Hemmingway and Oboe.

The beauty of heavy industry is not lost on the alternative-country music band Drag the River, who have pulled into Newcastle harbour to fish in raining sodium light under the yellow booms of coal-loading cranes. Either they don’t care or know that hand-lining for sharks with dead bonito under party balloons is not recommended. The singer got the idea after reading a poem by Daniel Halpern about fishing at night from the Santa Monica pier.

They’d made good time on the passage south from Port Macquarie, after visiting the singer’s brother. The huge dredging barge cut through the low swell as they sat with their legs hanging over the edge, drinking beer and talking about the adventure that lay before them.

The singer is a punk who found Blaze Foley like a joker in a stacked deck of Townes van Zandt LP’s. If it didn’t change his life, it changed his voice, and he went country. The pedal steel player sits at the prow, hunched over as if he were playing at a narrow, wired table under blue serifs of smoke like an old-time compositor. The bass player’s hands are constantly moving. When he talks, his fingers seem to be spider-walking up and down the neck of a guitar. He squints and nods under a straw five gallon, growling harmonies. The guitarist is a thrashing machine with his fists and words, and is in a leaden mood.

Out from the barge there’s a huge water-swirl. A balloon breaks free, and the singer is on. A plastic hand-line reel spins at his feet. Two hundred pound monofilament line spits through his fingers. The others shout encouragement. On the pier, a nightwatchman’s flashlight finds them standing and intense as extras in a David Lynch dream sequence. It gets worse. The pedal steel player strips and goes overboard. He is treading water about ten feet out from the barge when a red light comes on in the depths. The singer’s hand-line goes slack and he winds it in. The nightwatchman is telling the man to get out of the water. The cranes lean over the barge like the necks and heads of massive mechanical birds in silouhette. The red light goes out and the water boils. The man is turning in circles. He doesn’t go under. He is removed entirely from the scene by a massive fish with a head like something even Bruegel couldn’t imagine. The guitarist lets fly with a seamless volley of homegrown swear-words and snapper sinkers until the harbour’s surface is calm.

Rodney Hall had given up on finding a new leader. He couldn’t leave until someone had been appointed, and this was making him edgy and cranky. And he was spending more and more time alone. He could be heard muttering to himself as he walked up and down the beach. He hadn’t written a poem for weeks.

Wallace-Crabbe approached Rodney and apologised for not volunteering. “It’s that acid I took in the citadel,” he said. “It really took the wail out of my sins.” Others had voiced their inability to take on such a responsibility, but not Bukowski. Every time he saw Rodney he’d shake his head and say “Fuck that,” or “Leaders are pain-magnets.” Amanda Joy had used the rest of her snares to catch oystercatchers on the tidal flat. When Felicity Plunkett asked if she liked eating them, she said “No, I don’t eat waders. I’m taking photos of their eyes.” Felicity made a note to herself to avoid Amanda in future, at all costs. Ivor Indyk, who’d been on The Island the whole time disguised as Randolph Stow, said that while he desperately wanted to see the Red K and his entire crew keel-hauled and publicly humiliated while having zest rubbed into their wounds, he couldn’t possibly accept the role as leader as it involved far too many inconsistencies, gratuitous in-jokes, had no health-and-safety guidelines, no pay whatsoever, and The Island wasn’t even on the map. Also, he said, just being on The Island had made him use long, awkward, rambling sentences.

Rodney climbed the rigging of the tall-ship and jumped into the crow’s nest. “Move over,” he said to Tim Winton, who barely looked up as he turned another page of The Immigrant Chronicles.

In Ulladulla, Ted Hughes was biding his time. He was convinced he’d bluffed Seidel and Shelby into thinking he’d turned Red. He’d been going along with their every suggestion and whim. He knew that Seidel loved attention, so when they were out and about, he’d stop people in the street and introduce them to Frederick, handing them copies of Ooga-Booga, and calling him “The great American-Australian poet.” Seidel lapped it up. He’d been invited to the Shoalhaven Mayor’s house for dinner. He’s been asked to read poetry at a Lion’s Club meeting. He was constantly being propositioned. Women fancied him as well. He’d been taken game fishing by the local charter boys. Ted Hughes was waiting. He knew his time would come soon.

Drag the River had taken the barge into the coal-loading dock. The nightwatchman had called the police, but the they didn’t want to wait around. They ran out through the coal-blackened buildings until they hit a road, then started walking. Out on the harbour, where the pedal-steel player had been taken, huge flocks of gulls and terns were competing for what was left.

W.B. Yeats was pacing up and down the wharf at Brooklyn. He was talking on his mobile phone. Richard Tipping set up an account for him and had shown him how to use it. Yeats loved the mobile, now he was ringing everyone. At the moment he was talking to Hemingway, who was steaming past Lion Island as they spoke, heading up the river in his boat, Le Pilar. “It’ a grand day,” W.B. told Bill Wisely, Hemingway will sort out the Americans in RAW, he’ll know how to deal with them.”

Emmylou Harris had come back to book her band into the Angler’s Rest but every room was booked. She went down to Tom’s Lifeboat fish and chip shop to see if she could find some other place to stay. Geoffrey Hill was there sitting at one of Tom’s wooden tables with a sun umbrella in the middle, feasting on a huge fillet of Waggafish. Tom had fried it in beer batter especially for him, and Hill was completely engrossed in his meal. When he heard Emmylou’s Southern accent he winced, but looked up wearily. He didn’t need to talk, and by the time he’d focussed on Emmylou and caught her gaze, his eyes were growling.

There was a great cheer from the wharf as Le Pilar pulled up. Hemingway was up on the bow. He threw the rope around a pylon, tied up and jumped down onto the wharf. All he had on was an old pair of old shorts, his hair was wild and he was almost dark-skinned from the sun. Hemingway walked straight up to Yeats and threw his arms around him. “Where’s the fight?”  Yeats turned around to look at the reaction from the others with a big smile on his face. Emmylou had heard this commotion and was there, right in Papa’s face. “You’re a dreadful man, cruel and heartless, mean and selfish.” Hemingway looked at Emmylou and smiled.  “And why’s that, what have I done now?” Emmylou had a print-out from PETA. A list of animal rights, she waved  it at Papa. “Hold on woman, what particular poor beast have I abused lately?” Emmylou wasn’t taken in by this ironic machismo, and she wasn’t going to be patronised. She pulled out a Cuban newspaper about a month old. “Fighting Cocks!”  “It’s Inhuman behaviour. You set them against each other with cruel stainless steel claws strapped onto their feet, they slash each other to pieces and die from exhaustion or loss of blood.” Hemingway didn’t blink an eye. “Well what do you expect? In Finca Vigia, we bet on the fighting cock! Where else can you train cocks and fight them and bet those you believe in and be legal? Some people put the arm on fighting cocks as cruel. But what the hell else does a fighting cock like to do?”

“That logic is as straight as a gaff-hook.” The voice came from behind the others crowded on the wharf. Everyone looked around. It was Frank Webb, clapping two books together instead of his hands. He was highly agitated and fumbled one of the books,  which fell and went skidding across the wharf and landed at the feet of W.B. Yeats. W.B. picked up the book and read the title aloud “The Ghost of The Cock.” Hemingway walked across to Frank and shook his hand. “You’re a good man and a man with the spine of a marlin.” ‘Have a drink with me?” Papa whipped out a bottle of scotch and offered Frank a dram straight from the bottle. “We’re signing you up. You’re going to be my gaff-man.” Papa turned and introduced his first mate to Frank. “This is another Australian. I found him adrift in the Gulf Steam in a Haines Hunter with a Mercury motor that had thrown a piston, his name is Oboe.” Oboe just nodded, and smiled faintly for the sake of Papa, but he’d seen it all before. They’d picked up a dozen so called 'gaff-men’ since they rounded the the Horn. Hemingway had worn them out in a few days before they either lost their minds or jumped over board. Frank seemed pleased though, he said “Just let me bring my friend Randolph Stow, though he might be someone else today.” “Someone else, well, he’s a nut-case then, that’s fine with me! He might make a good live-bait man, can he sew a live-bait bridle on a yellowfin tuna?”

W.B. Yeats had Emmylou over in the corner reading her Leda and The Swan. She was listening intently, swaying back and forth with her eyes closed. When Yeats finished intoning the poem she said although it might be great poetry the subject was quite appalling. It went further than Leonard Cohen, like when he was working with Phil Spector on Death of a Ladies Man with the references to cruel and unusual practices -and while Leonard was ironic, Yeats’ metaphor was an excuse for attitudes condoning sadomasochism and then underlining it with authoritarian ideology. A gruff voice divided the air: “Well, I don’t know much about the the sex life of a black swan but I do know about Arctic Jaegers.” It was Geoffrey Hill. He was standing on the roof of the Hawkesbury River Fisherman’s Co Op with a huge Waggafish in one hand. Then he held his free hand to his mouth and cupped it there like a sad megaphone and started yelling “I am Offa, The King of The World.!”

On The Island, W.H. Auden looked over at the cage where the Waggaists were lying around, withdrawing from LIMP and eating insects and the scraps the poets had thrown them. He looked at the cage where he’d been spending a lot of time with a plank, silencing Grant. He looked up at the crow’s nest on the tall ship, where the heads of Rodney Hall and Tim Winton could be seen from time to time. He looked at the vast fleet at anchored off the wharf. Finally he looked at himself in the tin-foil mirror Ken Slessor had given to him. “You can do thith,” he said, then went off to find Rodney Hall.

G. Lehmann, at the Front. 

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