Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 31

The interior of the the Red Oblong.

Admiral M.C. Escher.

Jennifer Maiden with some gifts for Robert Duncan in Budgewoi.

When Ted Hughes, Lucinda Williams and T.S. Eliot reached the Red Oblong, the humming was so loud the water at its base was vibrating and its interior was glowing furiously. It was much bigger than they’d imagined - at least three storeys high. Ted rowed around it, looking for a way to get aboard or inside. Its exterior was smooth. There were no footholds, no chains or ropes, no windows, deck or wheelhouse. “It’s just an oblong,” Lucinda said, with Nashville in her mouth. As Ted rowed around it a second time, the current pushed the dinghy against the side of the Oblong, and he put out his hands to steady the small craft. He withdrew his hands quickly. “The surface is hot,” he said. Lucinda reached out and touched the wall. “Yes, but it doesn’t feel oppressive,” she said. Together they placed their hands, palms down, on the side of the Oblong. They felt the wall give slightly. “More pressure,” Ted said, and they leaned hard into it. Ted saw Lucinda’s and Eliot’s hands enter the red surface, then his own hands were gone to the wrists. The badger was making low, grunting sounds that Ted took to be distress, and he went to remove his hands. They wouldn’t budge. “Come on,” Lucinda shouted. “This is how we get in!” They all stood and leaned hard into the wall. Their arms went into the glowing red wall. When they were up to their shoulders, they put their feet to the wall and eased them in. Then they did the same with the other foot. Then they eased their faces inside. They were entering and parting the Oblong’s molecular structure. Like figures in a Magritte painting, they were becoming the details where reality married nightmare. Lucinda was first to enter fully into the Oblong’s interior. T.S. Eliot followed her, losing his glasses as he went. Ted Hughes pushed forward and slipped on through. The badger was turning in circles in the dinghy, which was starting to drift away from the Oblong. It stared at the place where Ted Hughes had gone through, and then it leapt. Its head went into the wall and it clawed and wriggled, gaining purchase until it too had gone through to the other side.
Brooklyn was buzzing. As when the poets first arrived on The Island, this small river community was alive with hundreds of different kinds of craft. The marina was full. The boardwalks and narrow roads around the harbour were crowded with musicians wearing hats and carrying guitar cases. Some were busking outside the various cafes. Others were fishing from the end of the wharf. They had been arriving by boat, water-taxi, sea-plane and train. Emmylou Harris, Bill Wisely, Terry Hack and a large crew of locals had been busy erecting temporary accommodation off to the side of Yeats’ oyster shed. The Angler’s Rest was full.
John Prine and Kris Kristofferson stepped of the train at Brooklyn station and looked around. “My head’s shouting out to my heart Better watch out below,” Prine said. Kristofferson laughed and rubbed his chin. “Oh Lord,” he said. “It’s a loser’s paradise.”
In the Angler’s Rest, Johnny Cash was playing pool with Waylon Jennings. Everyone wanted to play The Man in Black, and coins were stacked the length of the table’s edge. Over in a corner, Dolly Parton and Robert Frost were deep in conversation, heads together. “You know, Robert,” Dolly said, just under her breath, “I used to read The Road Not Taken to my cousin Jim, whom I secretly coveted, in golden winter light in the feed shed at home.” Frost smiled and put the doomed flower of his mouth to Dolly’s ear: “And I used to listen to the long preparations for your arrival and place in the world through the needled headwind of gramophone static as the Watson family gospelled their way into my heart.”
Inside the Red Oblong, Ted, Lucinda and T.S. looked around and could not speak. The entire interior was a three-dimensional model of M.C. Escher’s Relativity, with staircases leading into impossible, yet correct dimensions and endings. The complexity and weirdness of the scene gave them intense vertigo, and they fell over. Lying on the soft red floor, as they tried to regain their balance, they saw that the source of the Oblong’s intense red light was a huge beacon. At its centre was a contained, raging fire. Standing over the beacon was Maritus Cornelis Escher himself. He was dressed in a navy Admiral’s uniform, with red flying fish on the lapels of his immaculate jacket and the word PALINDROME on the front of his cap. Slowly he turned around and said “Welcome. Please allow me to put things into perspective.”
W.B. Yeats was sitting by the Budgewoi, the full moon flooding across the in coming tide, the surface of the river black glass. He could hear green tree frogs croaking their high triple notes, then the weird chuckling calls from owlet nightjars waiting for a frog to put one foot wrong. The mullet were flopping and popping across the surface as they jumped and skipped against the tide. W.B. Yeats had given up fishing for blackfish, he’d met an old silver codger in the pub earlier in the night who had told him about the pike eels - huge olive-backed, silver-bodied fish that grew over a meter long and weighed up to 40lbs. Their teeth ran down the roof of their mouths, except for six fang-like cutting teeth in their bottom jaw. They were powerful eels and you had to fish with a wire trace or they would bite you off. Yeats remembered the pike in Ireland and how he had once fished for them with one of Lady Gregory’s relatives, Blackie O’Carrol - it had been an unforgettable experience and Yeats wanted to try again in the Budgewoi for a similar fish. The man in the pub told Yeats to use a bullock’s heart for bait and a length of 100 lb breaking strain line with a wire trace. Yeats was lost in the world of black water and moonlight, pike eels and the eerie calls of the night birds.  
W.B. Yeats didn’t hear Feargal Sharkey yodeling for help. He’d been to the hospital to visit Huncke and when he walked into Herbert’s ward he could see there was already a visitor. This man was taking down Huncke’s drip and filling it with a brown substance. He was about to say something when the figure at the bed turned around to face him. Feargal was in the bed, and yet the man changing the drip looked exactly like Huncke, it took a minute for Feargal to realize he was confronting Huncke’s doppelganger as it emptied the saline from the drip and refilled the plastic bag with a full bottle of Black Drops. The two Hunckes rose up and tore the ward apart, there was chaos and strife, orderlies running around and nurses calling out for help. Eventually the police arrived but it was too late, the Huncke twins were running amok in Woy Woy. The real Huncke was being pursued through the lake-side streets by his insane doppelganger. Feargal wondered which Huncke he should fear the most. Were they independent of each other or did they work together in their quest for totally anarchy and mayhem?   
Back at the Masonic Hall in Budgewoi, Robert Duncan was setting out the teacups for refreshments. He had a guest coming on the next train and was looking forward to talking to Jennifer Maiden about The Problem of Evil. Duncan was looking elegant in his black velvet jacket and silk shirt with his tailored charcoal grey superfine wool trousers. He had baked some teacakes in the Masonic oven and was warming the tea-pot. Jennifer turned up with her daughter Katharine, who looked like a young version of Jennifer and was as keen to meet Duncan as her Mother. When they started talking, Jennifer asked Duncan if he was sure he should be experimenting with the ritual for the transmigration of souls, and shouldn’t he be careful of chaos breaking out when he summoned the god Set? Duncan turned the question back on Jenny and asked her if she believed in direct action in the same way as Denise Levertov? Jennifer replied “I’ve always found poetry a useful tool for tactical and ethical problem-solving. I see it as a three-dimensional philosophy, like you have a human being in the form of the physical nature of language, incarnate as an idea that you set forth and explore, it lives out the problem as the poem tests it.” Duncan loved this and agreed with her. They were about to explore the idea and the myth of the transmigration of a soul when there was a knocking on the door.  When Jennifer answered the door, Feargal was standing there as white as the side of a pike eel, “What do you know about doppelgangers?” he asked in a shaky voice.

G. Lehmann.

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