Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Basil Bunting and H.D. look on in horror as W.B. Yeats is dragged through the ceiling after he’d summoned the spectre of the great Irish warrior Cuchulain.
Poets were stealing each other’s identities. They’d always done this, in verse, but to discover that many were brilliant impersonators came as a shock. It was disturbing. Petra White turned out to be Emma Lew, undercover and writing furiously. It was a relief to know that despite the rumours, Emma hadn’t abandoned poetry. Gwen Harwood’s cover was blown when James K. Baxter was seen getting changed on the beach behind the citadel. All the cross-dressing, the subterfuge, the brazen identity-theft was killing me, so it came as a huge relief when I got a text from Angus Young, telling me to come to the Cottage Point Inn.
Angus Young and Bon Scott were waiting on the jetty when I arrived. They’d been jamming with Radio Birdman in the studio of AC/DC's Church Point mansion. They told me that when their lunch arrived by water-taxi from they Cottage Point Inn, it was clear that their meal was not what they’d ordered. Rob Younger, Birdman’s singer, took one look at the large red fillets and went into a rage. Rob was a keen fisherman, and he knew a Waggafish fillet when he saw one. “This is fucked, man. Waggafish? The Red Death!” He picked up the large cardboard box full of fillets and lemon wedges and threw it over the verandah. He then demanded they all go to the Inn and throttle the owner. Angus and Rob had calmed him down and said they’d go and sort it out. They knew of what had been happening on The Island, and wanted me to report on this new development.
When we went into the restaurant, the owner/chef took one look at us and bolted. He ripped off his chef’s hat and apron and ran out through the back of the kitchen. Bon took off after him, and we followed. The chef was in his runabout, pulling furiously on the outboard rope when Bon leapt into the boat, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled him out onto the wharf. The chef was then frog-marched back into the restaurant. He wanted us to talk to him in private, but Angus and Bon made him sit at a table in front of all the diners. Bon stood over him. “What fish did you send us?” The chef looked around. “Snapper,” he said. Angus went over to a large aquarium where bream and squire were swimming around. “I don’t see any snapper in here,” he said. He then went over to a table where an elderly couple were eating lunch. On their plates were large red fillets. “Excuse me folks, but what did you order?” “Red snapper,” the woman said. “It does taste a little odd. It’s more like a freshwater species, but with a strange aftertaste.” “My mouth is going numb,” said the man. Bon made the chef stand up. “I’m going to ask you one more time. What fish are you serving?” The chef broke down. He sobbed uncontrollably, his face in his hands. “Stop your red blubbering you fuckwit, and answer the question.” The diners had stopped eating and were staring at the chef. “Answer him,” a man shouted. The chef stopped crying and said that he’d been taking large deliveries of Waggafish from a man by the name of Frank O’Hara. Frank had a live-bait business at Long Jetty, and his brother was running a long-liner out to the Continental Shelf, catching huge Waggafish. There were so many of them, he had decided to supply many seafood restaurants. The owners didn’t ask questions as the fillets were cheap and their profit margins exceptional.
Angus and Bon then told the chef that if he continued selling Wagga fillets, they would return to trash the restaurant and burn it top the ground. The diners stood and applauded. I decided to go right to the source of all this deception and madness, and call in on Bob Adamson.
Arriving at Adamson’s, I saw Anthony Lawrence’s Moto Guzzi California Vintage motorbike in the driveway. Its saddlebags had sewn-on badges of red fish with black lines through them.
The poets were down on the jetty. They’d spread a large oceanographic map on the boards, weighting it with downrigger leads at the edges. They were in animated discussion. Lawrence was talking loudly. I heard “Lion Island,” and “Greene’s genetically-modified fairy penguins.” Adamson responded with “Oboe’s brutal loyalty,” and “a flood-tide of anguish awaits them.” They stood up when I came down the sandstone steps and moved to stand in front of the map. I told them about what had happened at the Cottage Point Inn. They were incensed. I suggested we take a drive to Long Jetty, to speak with Frank O’Hara. As we made ready to leave, an oyster farmer approached in his punt. He slowed as he went past the jetty. Then he stood up and shouted: One day in a gallery I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES. Adamson and Lawrence laughed softly, and smiled, and something about those words put a chill through the back of my head.
We jumped into Adamson’s Customline and headed up the old Pacific Highway. We passed the lilly pilli ferns, great red lilies at least two metres tall, growing along the high ridge at Mount White - crimson rosellas looped through the native willows in the valley at Moonie where Henry Kendall used to listen to the bell birds. Bob was saying to Anthony that they’d have to ring Creeley to make sure the poets from Bunting’s picnic knew we were going up that way. Anthony agreed we could all meet up, and then see what Yeats was up to and if he had any new plans. The picnic party had left early that morning from Central Station and were headed up to the Central Coast. Bunting wanted the visitors to see the lagoons up that way.
Bunting, Elizabeth Bishop, H.D. ,Wallace Stevens and W.B. Yeats had decided to get out of town before Hemingway turned up at the fish shop trying to sell his catch. If he happened to see Stevens, who was staying for a couple of days, there’d be trouble. Stevens and Hemingway were always getting involved in fist fights - the one at Florida Keys over the Bone Fish Tournament was no joke. Wally had broken several small bones in his fist, and Papa had to have a six stitches in his arm when he fell through a tackle shop window. They were still at each other’s throats every time they got together. Bunting wanted to show the poets the lagoons that had been locked off to the sea for five or more years. Sand-bars had formed at the mouths of the lakes and the all the marine life inside had grown to enormous sizes. The prawns were larger than king prawns and the flathead had heads like big sand-shovels.
Finally Anthony reached Yeats on his mobile. W.B. told him they should all meet at the Woy Woy Trades Hall because he was going to make contact with the Other Side. There’d be a séance and they’d be getting some advice from Cuchulain about the Waggafish problem. This was Yeats’ first séance in Australia, and he was going to make contact - it would bring great power to them all if it all worked out as well as he hoped.
As Adamson swung his Customline into the main street of Ettalong, he asked Anthony: “Should we show Geoff the shop Frank O’Hara’s set up?” “Yes, he can write about it - it’s time people knew the truth.”Anthony was getting more excited as we approached Long Jetty. “First we have to go to Woy Woy and talk to W.B.Yeats and his séance picnic.” Bob said with a wicked tone in his voice.
The sea-side suburbs were passing by as we drove through the little towns and their Churches of many a stripe - Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists and the Quakers and Shakers. A lot of these Churches were red brick barns with no windows at all, while others were elaborate weatherboard Cathedrals with stained glass windows depicting Christ riding in on a surfboard, or John The Baptist blessing the Squid Boats in Gosford Harbour.
The beach-side streets were bristling with muscle cars doing demos, and the local hoons beeped their horns or waved as they caught an eyeful of the black Customline. Finally we pulled up at the Trades Hall. “Hey Geoff, you know what Spike Milligan said about Woy Woy?” “No, what?” Bob was almost laughing already. “He said it’s an Aboriginal word for ‘deep water’: the trouble was that Spike didn’t know which ‘Woy’ was ‘deep’ and which ‘Woy’ was ‘water.’ We all laughed and then fell into an uneasy silence before climbing out of the car.
We walked up the pavement to the Trades Hall. W. B. Yeats came to the door and said “You’re just in time.” We were ushered into the hall and on the stage there was a plain cedar table and the poets were sitting there, sweating in the heat and holding strange objects in their hands. Wallace Stevens was reciting The Idea of Order at Key West; Elizabeth Bishop was looking depressed and highly suspicious; H.D. looked like she was already having a vision, and Basil Bunting kept repeating aloud “The spuggies are fledged” over and over. W. B. Yeats looked around, we were sitting in the audience, a crowd of Evangelicals, who were speaking in tongues. Yeats saw Anthony and Bob and started to recite The Lake Isle. “I shall arise and go now....” Then sunlight flared in the windows and great bolts of lightening came crashing through the ceiling, forming long electrical arms that were reaching for Yeats. Adamson turned to Lawrence and quoted Bob Dylan: The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of your face... W. B. screamed out that it was a manifestation of Cuchulain’s mighty power. Then the jagged electrical arms seized Yeats and pulled him up, quite literally, through the roof.
G. Lehmann, off to the Side.