Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 32

Charlie Daniels at the Mooney Mooney Worker’s Club.

Patty Loveless looking for Mary Oliver.

Ronnie van Zandt singing to Amanda Joy in Greenville, South Carolina.

Feargal Sharkey trying on a black, full-body lycra suit.

Dorothy Hewett had been waiting for Dransfield and the others long enough. She’d just read the local Bermagui paper again, and was looking out to sea from the verandah of the only cafe in town with decent coffee when she saw the Red Oblong. At first she thought it was a mirage, then the red bloom of a spinnaker heading for land. When she recognised the Oblong, she opened the paper, found an ad for water-taxis, and dialed the number.

Out on the Princess Highway, Michael Dransfield, Kerry Leves and J.S. Harry were in the back of an old Bedford truck, bouncing along towards Bermagui. They’d been hitch-hiking for hours, weathering the abuse of drivers and trying to keep warm. The truck driver had only pulled over because he’d recognised Dransfield from his photo on the front of Drug Poems. He was a bush-verse man, but he prided himself in being widely-read. The truck’s cabin was filled with fruit and vegetables, so the poets had to ride in the back. Kerry Leves was hypnotising himself by watching the telegraph wires  loop and switch and cross over each other, playing cat’s cradle and making wind-music. J.S. Harry was scanning the underside roadgrowth for rabbits. Dransfield was twitching and speaking too slowly. He needed a hit of LIMP2.

The country musicians had arrived. The makeshift accommodation off to the side of the oyster shed was full, so many had to find their own places to sleep. The oval above the marina as bright with tents.

John Berryman, Amanda Joy, Geoffrey Hill, Bronwyn Lea, Myron Wearne, Mary Oliver and Ed Dorn had formed an unlikely yet solid alliance. They were walking around town like the Magnificent Seven, wearing straw five-gallon hats and talking in Country Code - a language Geoffrey Hill had invented and passed on to the others. It was a language that involved the exclusive use of lines from country songs, and because they were all big fans, it was second-nature. Amanda Joy had attended the final Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Greenville, South Carolina, the day before the band’s Convair 240 ran out of fuel and fell out of the sky into a Mississippi swamp. She was beside herself, having heard that Ronnie van Zandt was going to make a special appearance at the festival. John Berryman was good friends with Charlie Daniels, and had been with the road crew back when Charlie had played fiddle with Leonard Cohen’s band The Army. Bronwyn Lea was a walking, talking fan-base for Townes van Zandt. Townes had been staying with her in Brisbane, where they’d been writing songs and singing them at night on Bronwyn’s balcony overlooking the Brisbane River. Mary Oliver was in love with Patty Loveless, who was now fifty miles away on a Mississippi whiskey barge. Myron Wearne was pissed of because no Australian country musicians had been invited to the festival. Whenever he mentioned their names, the others laughed and made jokes about sentimental, obvious songs filled with tractors, snakes, billabongs, wheat and love-gone-wrong. He had to pretend that he liked The Wrinkle Neck Mules and Chris Knight, and when he spoke their lyrics he felt the bile rising into his throat. Ed Dorn loved it all. He didn’t give a fuck as long as there was a good driving country beat. He quoted indiscriminately from a wide range of country and country-rock artists, and he did it with such theatrical aplomb that it sounded amazing. The others knew he was a scattergun and didn’t seem to mind at all.

The Red Oblong was a distant red smear when Dorothy Hewett stepped aboard the water taxi. “Follow that Red Oblong,” she told the driver. He nodded and pulled away as if chasing ocean-going geometry were a common occurrence.

As they approached the Oblong it slowed, then stopped, displacing troughs and mounds of dark red water. “Can you get any closer?” Dorothy asked the driver as she climbed out onto the side of the taxi. The driver eased the boat alongside the Oblong. Dorothy knocked hard, and her hand disappeared. She looked through the windscreen and the driver was lighting a smoke and smiling at her. She pulled back her right foot and kicked out. “Good work,” the driver yelled as her foot disappeared. Dorothy prodded and kicked and punched and fought her way into the Oblong. When she’d vanished, the driver looked up at a gannet that had stalled above the Oblong as though it were preparing to dive. “Ya gotta love an adventure!” he shouted at the bird, then pulled away and rooster-tailed it back to Bermagui.

W.B. Yeats sat under a native willow tree by the Budgewoi River with a plastic bucket at his feet that contained three fresh bullock hearts. Feargal Sharkey had bought WB the bucket at K-Mart and Devin Johnston had managed to con the hearts from the local butcher at Woy Woy. Devin had joined Yeats as his Australian advisor because of his vast experience fishing the Hawkesbury with Bob Adamson and Anthony Lawrence. It was just after midnight and W.B. had already caught a pike eel without much trouble, except it broke him off when he pulled it up onto the bank. So he decided to change the breaking strain of his line from 100lb to 300lb. He wasn’t going to take chances.

Now Yeats was onto another fish, this one hit him like a train, it swallowed the heart and then took off at great speed, bucking and shaking its head violently. It was heading for a nasty snag on the other side of the river.  It wasn’t a pike eel because no eel that could make such lively swerving moves It just kept going and showed no sign of slowing down. Yeats was yelping with joy and shouting to Devin “Get the net, for the sake of god, get the gaff."

There was by now a some silver codgers gathering to watch the fight. Yeats wasn’t using a rod, his was fishing for pike in the traditional Irish manner with a hand-line, His hands were being cut into as the nylon slid through his fingers but he wasn’t worried because he was so excited. Finally he managed to bring the fish over to the bank where Devin was shining a spotlight. There was a huge boil of water and finally they saw colour. The trouble was, they saw the colour red - a massive waggafish thrashed around on the surface at Yeats’ feet, opening and closing its hideous mouth, making a gurgling sound each time it broke water, then it rolled and made a final dive for freedom, every fishy tricky in the book. Then something else happened - the line went slack and there was an even larger boil of water, and now something massive was on the end of Yeats’ line. A great fin cut across the tide. A bull shark had come up behind the Wagga and had swallowed it whole. The hooks set again, this time in the shark’s jaw, the wire trace held and Yeats found himself hooked up to a huge bull shark. Devin took up the line behind W.B. and helped with the hauling, the line slipping through their fingers on blood from deep cuts. Then for some reason only known to the shark, it changed direction and started coming straight at them. This gave Devin and WB a chance to get most of the line in and when the shark was almost against the bank, one of the old silver codgers managed to get a gaff shot in.  The shark exploded when it felt the cold steel in its shoulder and the men pulling it in were drenched with water and blood. Then Devin, Yeats and the silver codgers managed to drag the old bull shark up the bank of the river until finally it lay there in the wild grasses, defeated with the tail of the waggafish still protruding from between its jagged teeth. 

Back at the Masonic Hall there was great excitement as a truck from Sydney had arrived and was unloading many boxes. Duncan thought it was the delivery he’d been waiting for from California, the equipment he’d be needing for his spiritual experiments. There was confusion as well because Kate Jennings had arrived in the truck along with the cargo. She was supervising the unloading. Jack Spicer who was to help Duncan with the transmigration of the soul, was too impatient to wait, he grabbed a box and tore it open - he was hoping there might be a drink involved some how. When he saw what the box contained his face went totally blank. There was nothing but copies of Frederick Seidel’s book, Ooga Booga - there were endless boxes full of them, all containing the same edition. Jennings started ordering the old silver codgers to help unload the books and carry them into the Masonic Hall. Robert Duncan was furious, it was only a matter of time before he blew a fuse.

Then Devin and Yeats came walking down the main street carrying plates of shark fillets they were going to cook for dinner that night. Devin looked at Kate Jennings and said: “So the unloading has begun,” then he walked on through into the kitchen. 

Jack Spicer and Duncan were baffled when they saw a group of men in the main street who had formed a tight circle. They were dressed in black lycra full-body suits and seemed to be doing some kind of folk dance. Then they started to pull the hoods back from their heads. This was a confusing moment to Duncan and Spicer because the dancing men all seemed to have the same head. They were in fact, all of them, Feargal Sharkeys. He’d been reproducing himself, as if he’d worked out a way to photocopy three dimensional copies of himself. There were at least twenty of them now, smiling. “Fuck this” said Spicer “If they start to dance now I’m going back to San Francisco.” Robert Duncan glared at the gathering of Feargals. “This has got something to do with Ron Silliman” he said in a cold fury.
G. Lehmann.

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