Bunting disguised as Rodney Hall.
W.B. Yeats’ was about to go aboard Le Pilar when his Mobile phone rang. It was Robert Creeley. He wanted to know if Yeats had heard that Basil Bunting had opened up a fish shop at Central Station in Sydney. “Is that a fact,” said Yeats. Creeley went on to tell him that Basil Bunting was a Waggafish addict and had set up the fish shop after visiting Ian the squid man’s Hawkesbury Secrets bait shop in Brooklyn. I told Judith Beveridge, who was taking photos of Le Pilar, that Yeats was talking to Creeley on the phone. “Have you actually met Bunting?” asked Judith. “He’s an old friend of Burroughs from his days in the Far East, where they were involved in some kind of espionage in Morocco - they even went on to Hippo and helped Augustine in his efforts to become a Saint.” Judith knew about these kind of things - she had studied comparative religion and history for years. She was also an expert on zest, saffron and poppies. “What do you mean, espionage?” Said Elisabeth Webby, who was with Judith. “It’s a form of disambiguation,” replied Judith, but the conversation at this point was drowned out. Webb was on board the Le Pilar and making a hell of a racket. He was hammering nails into the heads of Hemingway’s catch of Waggafish, pinning them stolidly in a line along the front of the bow.
Randolph Stow turned up wearing Ivor Indyk’s clothes. “Basil Bunting has been around some places you just wouldn’t want to know about. He is the man who turned Creeley onto Wagga-meat. They are total addicts, they write poetry in several styles and send it to HEAT and other journals under the names of many Australian poets. They need the cash. They make Harold Stewart’s and James McAuley’s Ern Malley look like a ragged joke. Creeley and Bunting are brilliant but it’s all in the service of Wagga-meat.” Stow was sounding more like Ivor Indyk than the great Western Australian novelist. Yeats’ phone rang again. It was Creeley. He wanted Judith Beveridge to bring a set of Griffo’s filleting knives to the fish shop at Central Station. She had to catch the next train, and Creeley would meet her at the coffee shop in the railway station. He’d be wearing a red-eye patch.
Judith stepped off the train at Central Station an hour later. She walked over to the coffee shop. Creeley was pacing up and down outside, she couldn’t miss him: his red-eye patch, his overcoat buttoned up to the neck, his stylish hat and his black goatee. When Judith got up close she noticed his hands were shaking. His eye was bloodshot, the pupil dilated, all of which amounted to a testimony to the ravishes of Wagga-meat. Creeley took the box of knives eagerly but he wanted Judith to follow him, he wanted to show her what went on behind his shop. They went through the front door and it appeared to be a ordinary fish-shop at first glance except for the red lighting in the display fridges, and there was a pungent odour in the air. Aside from these details the place was very clean and neat.
Creeley showed Beveridge through the back door which opened onto an alleyway. Out the back of the shop was a morbid scene, there were great clouds of cigarette smoke, men and women were hunched in the shadows, some leaning against the walls, others sitting cross-legged on the dirt. There was chicken wire everywhere, it hung from the windows and was wrapped around the telephone pole. The whole alley was a huge but loosely wired cage for Wagga-meat addicts, however up the back there were some gapping holes the size of a man: addicts had torn the wire and barged through like huge mulloway hitting one of Terry Hack’s mesh-nets. There were Wagga-junkies holding out plates and others holding out their filthy hands. As soon as a man dressed in red rubber overalls came to the back door and threw Wagga off-cuts into the yard there was a wild scrabble for them, anyone who happened to grab some fish didn’t hang around, they clasped it to their body or stuffed it into an airline bag and ran, straight through the great holes in the chicken wire. The garbage bins were completely empty and the outside toilet was malfunctioning.
Judith went back inside with Creeley. “Where’s Bunting?” Creeley told her Basil was up-stairs but he’d be down soon. He told her that Bunting was repulsed by any food except raw Wagga-meat and that he had to have a fix every hour, if he didn’t he would start to hallucinate, and then start withdrawing. “How did this happen?” Judith was disturbed and worried, she loved Buntings poetry and was looking forward to meeting him, but after this bleak experience she wasn’t so sure. Then Bunting came down the stairs. He looked at Beveridge and then Creeley “It’s okay Basil, she is a friend, an Australian poet who writes brilliantly about religious matters and fishing.” “Excellent,” said Bunting, putting up a magnificent front. “Excellent”.
Then an elegant gentleman looked out from the Chinese-screen behind the counter. The screen had a painting of several huge goldfish swimming upstream a beautiful river somewhere in ancient China. The man who stepped out from behind the screen was Vincent Buckley, he had his black velvet jacket on with a red scarf tucked in a cream silk shirt. He nodded to the gold fish and said “They were ancestors.” Judith Beveridge was immediately relieved. Buckley motioned her to one side and whispered: “This is not what it appears to be at all - Creeley is not addicted to Wagga-meat, nor is Basil Bunting, they are undercover. This whole deal is a front. This is the centre for their espionage operation. They are going to bring down the whole illegal Wagga-meat industry.” Judith Beveridge let go a huge sigh of relief, then she was puzzled again. What did Vincent Buckley have to do with this operation, that’s if it really was a front. Buckley answered this by handing her an invitation - it was to a reading of Wallace-Crabbe’s poem A Wintery Manifesto to be read by the poet himself on the stage at W.B.Yeats’ oyster shed. “Ah, right” Judith said, “the Irish connection.”
W.H. Auden went into his cabin and unzipped his calfskin suitcase. He chose a lilac-coloured cravat. He removed a pair of gold cufflinks from their case. Then he took down his suit and shirt from their hangers. He was a long time getting dressed. He patted his face with Guerlinade, took a deep breath, and stepped out onto the wharf.
The poets were keen to hear Auden’s speech. They’d been on the verge of leaving The Island. They were restless and bored, and no-one had been writing poetry. Someone had suggested a poetry-reading, but they’d been shouted down. But now they had something to focus on. Auden had been an influence on most of them, at some stage. Even the vaguest spark of interest in the great man’s work had planted the seeds of difference in their own poetry.
Auden stepped onto the stack of Immigrant Chronicles, which had been much-depleted over the course of The War. He adjusted his cravat. He patted the pockets of his coat, which he always did when feeling ill-at ease. He felt the pack of cigarettes, which comforted him. Then he started speaking.
“I want to thank Rodney Hall for endorthing my role ath new leader. It ith a great honour. It theemth I have been waiting all my life for thutch a thing to befall me. I will do whatever it taketh to thupport you all in any and every way you dethire.” Jamie Grant started shouting behind the new mouth-guard Amanda Joy had made from oystercatcher feathers and palm fibre. Auden nodded at Bukowski, who picked up his plank and strode off to Grant’s cage. Auden continued. “The crucial thing we need to conthider ith what to do with the Waggaithth. They are in poor health and need medical attention. Billy Gibbon’s, who was off to one side picking softly on a Gibson Hummingbird, called out “Let ‘em suffer.” The poets echoed Billy’s thoughts, and started shouting at Auden. He raised his arms. “We need to leave The Island, but we need to make sure we leave it rethponthibly. I have phoned W.B. Yeatth in Brooklyn. He ith currently putting together a plan for the dethtruction of Waggafish, and we are working with Hemmingway to make it happen. He needth a large crew.” “What about us?” Jayne Fenton Keane said. “We need work too. Most of us have lost our jobs and put our relationships on the line to be here. Personally, there’s no way I’m going to spend the next few years chasing those red fucks around the ocean. I hate fishing. Most of us do. We wanted to end the Red Line, we wanted to see Red Language put to the sword. We...” “Excuthe me, Jayne,” Auden said, hands on his hips. “Would you like to come up here and take my plathe? Right. Now, are we all agreed? The Red foolth have already withdrawn from LIMP. They won’t be needing a retreat at Mangrove Mountain. We will take them henthforth to Brooklyn to join the crew.”
There was much muted discussion, then the poets fell silent. Rodney Hall stepped forward. “Thankyou, W.H. Auden. I think we should start packing and getting ready for our passage to Brooklyn.” He looked over at the Waggaists’ cage. Then he saw Bukowski still swinging a plank. When he looked back, the poets had scattered and Auden was still standing on the stack of Chronicles. “Well done,” Rodney said. Auden stepped down. He patted his coat pocket, then lifted out a pack of cigarettes. He struck a match, drew on the smoke and inhaled. “I loathe thpeaking in public,” he said. “I want thith nonthence to end, and then I want go home.”
G. Lehmann, at the Front.