Lion Island, seen from the top of the Citadel.
Dr Greene’s genetically-engineered fairy penguins.
W.H. Auden and the poets were there to meet Drag the River as their barge pulled into the wharf. “Welcome to The Island,” Auden said. “Thankth for coming.” He then led the band away to see the Waggaist enclosure.
Everyone had packed. Their bags were piled on the wharf. The poets were fed up and pissed off. The adventure had long since lost its edge, and they wanted to go home. Where once they would have had something to say about any new arrival, they were now quiet and numb with resignation. It was a terrible sight. Impersonation had become endemic. Partly it was about passing the time, though for some it had become habitual. The poets were viewing each other with suspicion each time they interacted, unsure of who it was they were really talking to.
Tim Winton stared down from the crow’s nest. He only came down to relieve himself and collect more copies of The Immigrant Chronicles, which he’d taken to eating. Rodney Hall had become a total recluse and had moved into the citadel. Each morning at sunrise he emerged onto a small balcony under the needle tower and shouted lines from Blake and Whitman. He was like a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.
T.S. Eliot was taking his morning stroll along the harbour. Seidel had given him a signed copy of Ooga-Booga, and he had been reading it constantly. Even now, as he walked, he held the book before him, reading the lines out loud, his walking cane swinging from where he’d hooked it over his wrist. He was dismayed by Seidel’s frequent references to female genitalia and motorbikes, which often occurred simultaneously. Yet there there was something in the work that touched him deeply, and he’d memorised complete poems. As he turned onto the boardwalk that led down to the main wharf, he saw that the Red Oblong was pulsing violently. Its curious interior light was deep red, and he thought he heard it humming.
Lucinda Williams jumped when she heard the door-knock. She held her breath as she went to the spy-hole. It was Ted Hughes. She ripped open the door and threw her arms around him. “We have to go, right now,” he said. She threw her things into her bag and they left the hotel.
As the Waggaists filed from their cage, Drag the River were filled with pity and sorrow. The prisoners were beaten and weathered and they stank in their torn robes. The bass player went to help a woman who had stumbled, but Eric Beach held him back. “Come on salamander, give her the Red side of the verandah,” he said. The poets pressed in, forming a wall of bodies as one by one the Waggaists stepped aboard the barge. The poets then began attending to the vast amounts of luggage on the wharf, taking their belongings to the various craft scattered about on the river.
When Rodney Hall came down the hill from the citadel, no-one acknowledged him. He went up to Nigel Roberts and asked if he could give him a hand. Nigel looked at him and just shook his head. Rodney approached Emily Dickinson and offered to carry her suitcase onto the tall-ship. She glared at him and turned away. Then Ivor Indyk walked up to him, clapped him hard on the back, and said “I really enjoyed your reading the other night, though I must say your style has taken a very interesting path.” Rodney walked to the end of the wharf. He was upset and confused. He looked down over the edge at his refection, mirrored perfectly on the top of the tide. He fought back tears. He choked and swallowed. The face floating on the water was Myron Wearne’s.
Ted Hughes and Lucinda Williams ran out onto the wharf. They’d been looking for T.S. Eliot, Michael Dransfield, J.S. Harry, Kerry Leves and Vicki Viidikas. Dransfield’s room was open and empty. On the wall above the wash-stand they saw a note scrawled in red ink: We have gone with Dorothy Hewett to Bermagui. Greene details. Later, M. When they saw T.S. leaning on a rail, reading, they went to him and took his arm and led him down to the end of the wharf. Hughes untied a row-boat from the back of a cruiser. When they were all aboard, he started rowing. The badger put its front legs onto the bow and stared out at the harbour. The Red Oblong was pulsing faster and faster, and it was indeed humming.
The poets watched as the huge barge left the wharf with it’s ragged human cargo. Auden, Bill Wisely, Terry Hack and Drag the River were standing up front. When the barge had become a dark stain in the distance, they farewelled each other and made ready to set sail. This was not the end to The War they’d been anticipating. They’d heard talk of a music festival, of dancing, of overseas publishing contracts with Alfred Knopf - hardcover 1st editions, signed and numbered, with initial print-runs of 100,000 copies. Now they were sunburned, dehydrated, broke, and their identities were up for grabs.
Tim Winton stripped off and did a swan-dive from the crow’s nest. When he surfaced, spouting a fine line of water, he free-styled it out into the river, and was last seen heading for Pearl beach. He knew that Robert Drew had a weekender there, and thought he’d break in and have a well-deserved rest.
Jayne Fenton Keane looked to all points of the compass. She looked inward and questioned what she most wanted. She looked around and saw everyone being downcast and not wanting to be the first to make a move. She climbed onto the roof of the paddle-steamer. “Fuck this,” she shouted. “Over there at Brooklyn they are drinking, listening to live music, playing pool, relaxing for God’s sake. Mostly we’ve been sitting around waiting for something to happen. I want some fun. I want to dance. I want to listen to music and forget about this fucking island. Does anyone want to join me?” The poets looked around. Randolph Stow removed his Charles Simic mask and said “I’m in.” Felicity Plunkett looked down the vanishing point to where the river met the sea. “Dancing,” she said. “Oh, yes!” Michael Farrell looked up from the book he was reading: Look Who’s Morphing, and simply nodded his head. Soon most of the poets were animated and talking loudly. They aimed their boats in the direction of Brooklyn and took off. But not Myron Wearne. He was composing a verse novel - half haiku, half vernacular narrative, and he needed solitude. He’d go to Brooklyn, but he didn’t want to socialise. He knew of a cave high in the bush between Parsley and Dead Horse Bay. He’d live there until the book was finished.
“Where are you taking us?” a Waggaist called rom the back of the barge. W.H. Auden ignored her. He stared straight ahead. Lion Island was looming out of the morning haze, its sandstone base throwing light. Drag the River were just following Auden’s orders. The Waggaists had been tied together with the rest of Amanda Joy’s palm fibre snares. The manacles were biting into their wrists. When someone pulled too hard, others suffered. As they drew nearer, they could see a small beach between two large outcrops of boulders. The barge eased into the shallows and the Waggaists were ordered to disembark. Many refused. Bill Wisely and Terry Hack went to work with their planks until the dissension had ended. Drag the River watched the spectacle with horror. When the last Waggaist had stepped off into the water, Auden said “We will return with fresh water. You will find variouth fruitth on the island. Native bush ratth are quite tathety, I’ve heard. Good luck.” As the barge backed out into deep water, a loud scream came from the beach: a large flock of red fairy penguins were attacking the Waggaists. Despite being flightless, they had launched themselves into the air and were tearing at clothing, ripping out clumps of hair and lacerating faces and hands. It was a shocking scene.
Over the years, Dr Greene had been experimenting with all kinds of creatures. Live-bait was his latest passion. Every island within one hundred miles of Sydney had been used as testing grounds for Greene’s genetic-modification. The fairy penguins had been given injections of LIMP2 as chicks. This had led to a savage disposition and a territorial obsession. The penguins had wiped out every other living thing on Lion Island.
The screams increased, rising to fever pitch as the barge headed away upriver.
Robert Duncan was up early. He sipped his Irish tea and spread blood-orange marmalade onto his spelt-grain toast. Then he opened today’s copy of the Sydney Morning Herald. He read Andrew Riemer’s review of Les Murray’s new book. How did Les’ collection stack up against his others?
‘Too soon to tell, poetry needs to mature in the reader’s mind and imagination.’ This was published in a major newspaper - how wise and unlikely a comment in such a context. Duncan was assured that Budgewoi was the right place to perform the ritual that might bring about a transmigration of a soul. If Sydney could support a critic and newspaper of this quality, then at least some culture may be available to readers in the outer suburbs. He always tested the waters of the culture of a place by reading the poetry reviews (if any) in the city’s main newspaper. And even if the review was a cruder affair than this one, it would tell a certain story about the place, a sample of taste or of critical awareness. Duncan’s eyes were sandy this morning, his head still fuzzy from a sleepless night. He’d been up all night staring at the page of manuscript written in the hand of the Red K. This was an authenticated sample of the K’s work and therefore it demanded an assessment - being the work of the man who had caused so much grief and quiet terror.
This writing resembled, if anything, a version of the famous hoax poems by Ern Malley. However this verse was so clotted and the rhetoric so stunted it barely passed muster even as a piece of verbiage,
and there was a certain tone that troubled the reader’s sensibility because it was utterly without a soul of its own. There was no spirit here either, only some kind of a demented energy, like the madness of a confused wagtail charging its own image in a rearview mirror, and charging again and again until the creature wounded its tiny head.
Robert Duncan had been studying the animists and was thinking again of the understanding that all things had souls, all animals, birds and fish, even inanimate things like rocks. Staring at this dismal artifact, this so called poetry by the Red K, Duncan’s understanding darkened and
his enlightened mind was repulsed. This piece of gibberish had no soul. He scrunched the page in his hand, rolled it into a tiny grey ball and then dropped it into his pot of Irish tea. May it drown in the bitter tannin stained warm brew and hopefully eventually disintegrate there.
While Duncan showered and tried to clean the seven chambers of his heart and soul of corruption, there was more trouble brewing down in the basement of the Budgewoi Masonic Hall. Herbert Huncke had managed to smuggle a case of the Black Drops into town and was down there handing out little bottles of Sam Coleridge’s favorite tipple. Bob Adamson was already off his brain and had gone back down to the river and brought back two of the old codgers along with their bait, the green weed they used for the blackfish. Somehow Adamson believed in his stoned mind that the green weed would be good for Anthony Lawrence, that Anthony needed iron in his blood for the coming day when he would come across the Red K in the field. Ginsberg was drinking bottles of Black Drops and was trying to recite Howl from memory, it was coming out wrong and sounded like Dorothy Auchterlonie Green’s love letters to James McAuley. I was going to find Huncke and tell him that Duncan would fly into a rage if he found out, and that we should stop handing out Black Drops until after the transmigration of the soul ceremony.
However as I turned into a back room in the cellar, Huncke was in there hunched in a corner. It was a bleak scene, he was actually injecting the Black Drops into a vein in his arm. His face was blue and his eyes were white, he was repeating a single letter over in a quite and calm voice. “K. K. K. K. K’. Then, as he crossed over the darkest of all rivers, he stood up and danced around inside that dank room. He was doing an infinity elegant kind of Irish Jig.
G. Lehmann, at the Front.