Ted Hughes hated his room at The Wheelhouse. It was worse than any of the places he used to stay in when travelling around England, and some of those had been septic - spectred but never inspected. They stank of monarchy and fortified wine. They came apart while you looked at them. The Wheelhouse itself was quite pleasant. Whitewashed walls and a simple garden, a fine restaurant, polite and helpful staff. But on the inside, things were very different. His room was claustrophobic. The ceiling was too low, the walls too thin, the paintings were wrong, the carpet threadbare, the window too small, the wash-stand leaning, the plaster flaking, the lampshade dented. Hughes sat on his bed, which was much too hard, and took out a notepad and pencil.
Lucinda Williams dreamed of the knock on her door before she heard it. In her dream she got up and looked through the spy-hole. The hallway was empty. In her dream she was not afraid. When the knocking came again, she woke and turned the bedside lamp on. She put on her dressing gown and went to the door. She looked through the spy-hole. A man wearing a fox-skin cap was standing back, grinning in a faint blue light. “What do you want?” she asked. She went to the phone and called reception. There was no answer. The bedside lamp went off, the full moon emerged from behind a cloud and threw a molotov cocktail into the room. When it started again, the knocking was constant and loud. Lucinda Williams was afraid.
Ted Hughes looked out the window and saw how sunset was lighting the Red Oblong. Over the last few days he’d watched as the water police and then the navy had come to try and tow it away. Each attempt had been met with frustration and much on-and-offshore deliberation. He’d heard them cursing. “Fucking weird geometry,” someone shouted when their tow-rope had snapped like a rifle-shot. There had been talk of scuttling it where it was. An artificial reef. A snapper breeding ground. A Wagga Coney Island, thought Hughes, then returned his attention to the notepad. He’d been working on an escape plan. He felt the time was fast approaching when he’d be able to leave. Seidel’s power and influence were diminishing. Shelby was a joke.
Drag the River pulled into the marina at Brooklyn. Bill Wisely was there to meet them. Bill was a huge fan. He saw that the pedal steel player was missing, and started asking questions. When the singer told Bill that a massive red fish had eaten him in Newcastle harbour, Bill went into a complete rage. He started smashing things with his plank. He belted a Pacific gull out into the river. He was swinging the plank and yelling when Emmylou Harris walked onto the jetty. “Bill,” she said. Bill stopped swinging and shouting. “Would you help these gentlemen with their luggage?” Bill calmed down immediately and stepped onto the barge and started gathering bags. She turned to the band: “We are so happy you have come. We have heard about your friend and we’re so very sorry for your loss. However, I need to ask you a huge favour. The new leader of the Poets, W.H. Auden, has phoned asking if we have any barges here in Brooklyn. We do, but they’re nowhere near big enough. I know it’s a huge imposition, but would you mind going with Bill Wisely and Terry Hack to The Island? There are some prisoners needing transport.”
When Adamson’s Customline pulled up at the Masonic Hall in Budgewoi, W.B. Yeats was excited and twitching with nerves. His hair was ruffled by his right hand that had been constantly running through it, his fingers like five avocets raking the kelp for glass eels with their curved beaks. Anthony Lawrence was re-telling the story of the day he saw me in my Kombi van in a traffic-jam on Roseville bridge. As he drove by in another lane, he recognised me and recited a whole stanza from one of my Nero poems— at the time I didn’t know him, and I was puzzled for days about who would do such a thing. Little did I know that it was an intimation of things to come, maybe an omen? Speaking of omens, W.B. Yeats was now speaking to Robert Duncan on his mobile phone. When we got out of the Customline he was still talking. We watched Robert Duncan and W.B. Yeats walk towards each other still speaking into their phones until they met and threw their arms around each other. I looked around, the Budgewoi Masonic Hall was quite an imposing building compared to the rest of the town: mostly fibro cottages, weatherboard fishermen’s shacks and the redbrick monsters built by the Sate Housing Commission in the 1950s.
The Budgewoi River ran straight through the town, through backyards and caravan parks—at a boat-launching ramp, there were several men fishing on its banks for blackfish. I noticed their brightly coloured floats moving swiftly on the surface of the river, pulled along by a strong ebb tide. These were the old golden codgers of the town, the same kind of men Yeats had written about in his poem New for The Delphic Oracle: ‘There all the golden codgers lay, / There the silver dew, /And the great water sighed for love,/ And the wind sighed too.’ Except today there was no silver dew. It was 11 am and the sun was high and hot in the sky, there was a hint of a Southerly in the humid breeze but it was not strong enough to blow away the sticky humidity. Yeats told us to be prepared for weirdness - evidently Herbert Huncke was also staying in the Masonic Hall with Robert Duncan: W.B. said he was an unsavory type and to be wary of him.
As soon as we met Huncke he surprised us with the news that Allen Ginsberg was also staying with Hammer Whitefeather. Yeats loved this information, and went looking for Ginsberg straight away, Huncke told W.B. he would be in the pool hall with the local boys who’d be playing Ginsberg for drinking money.
Anthony Lawrence and Bob Adamson started unloading the things that Duncan needed to perform his transmigration of the soul ceremony. They were in a black mood, having watched Frank O’Hara escape in his dune buggy. Each time they positioned something, a candelabra for instance, Huncke made some disturbing noise and shook his head in a way to indicate the idiocy of their participation. Lawrence was ready to plank him, but Adamson held him back, saying that there would be dire consequences if Huncke was harmed. He was a slippery looking character. He wore a creased silk shirt soaked in sweat and black tie even in the heat, he had greasy hair and his face was a sign depicting his vocation: the crumpled but dangerous Apostle of Junk, the man who introduced William S Burroughs to his first hit of morphine. Huncke was friends with Aleister Crowley and evidently Crowley was also in town, he was down at the riverbank fishing for blackfish with the old golden codgers. Things were getting complicated and Bob and Anthony were nervous. They had told me at different times that there was a sense of menace and dread in the atmosphere. They said the whole Masonic thing was a cover for the real sect that controlled this temple: the society who worshipped the ancient Egyptian God, Seth. This sect had, over the millennia, altered human genetics in order to create a race of people with blond hair, blue eyes and red intelligence: these followers would do the bidding of the ancient order, merciless bigots, who would stop at nothing to protect their belief in the purity of Redness.
Two weeks ago Crowley had sent Robert Duncan a parcel that contained a red brick, a scale from a very large waggafish, a full set of teeth extracted from the jawbone of a hairtail caught at Jerusalem Bay and a jar of red liquid labeled ‘Blood of The Lamb’. Under these objects there was a page from a manuscript of incomprehensible poetry. Duncan submitted the manuscript to an analytic chemist and a handwriting expert. The results had come back to Budgewoi and the secret was out: the combined report specified that the manuscript had been written with the quill of a night parrot from Western Australia dipped in waggafish blood, the earliest sample of the fish’s blood on record. The graphologist reported that the handwriting was without a doubt, the handiwork of the Red K.
G. Lehmann, at the Front.