The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish. Isaiah (ch. XIX, v. 8)
Can the fish love the fisherman? Martial, Epigrams (bk. VI, ep. 63, l. 5)
The sight of hundreds of poets charging up a beach would have rated highly among the strangest things I have seen, except this did not happen. Rodney Hall gave the order to move out, and they simply walked off, their torches and head-lanterns wavering, up the beach, over the wall, and then up the hill towards the citadel. They might have been going to hear opera in The Domain. As usual, Bukowski and Dorn were not with them. After downing a six-pack of Boag's, they'd gone off in the Whaler Outrage with the mound of a huge sea-mullet net on the deck. Cutting south around The Island, they dropped anchor and came ashore in a dinghy. Bill Burroughs had gone with them - they were the only poets he could trust to help him find Shelby's stash of Beluga caviar. He was at breaking point and needed a hit. As they splashed through the shallows, he dived on a mullet, ripped it open, and sucked out the orange roe. It only made him mad. He stared up at the back of the citadel and started raving.
When the poets reached the main doors of the citadel, Rodney Hall raised both hands. He looked like a conductor fronting his orchestra. On seeing this, the poets split into groups and went off quickly and quietly. Some of the Deep Imagists went off with Stagers. Ezra Pound and Anne Sexton had teamed up with Jill Jones, Peter Minter and Michael Farrell, who had just published a poem about red fish in The Age. Robert Lowell and Bronwyn Lea stepped off into the shadows. Dante grabbed Sam Wagan Watson and Jennifer Maiden, wrapped them in a huge indigo cloak, and started whispering instructions. In the first grey wash of light, the poets were able to see the citadel up close and in detail. It had been fortified beyond their wildest imaginings. The windows were deeply recessed and had tinted, shatter-proof glass. The main doors were over three meters high, with wide stainless steel hinges and a large red fish for a door knocker. Jas H. Duke grabbed the knocker and lifted it back. He looked at Emily Dickinson who was pale and shaking her head slowly. Jas lowered the knocker and smiled. “I guess you don't have to knock during a war,” he said. Jayne Fenton Keane, Amanda Joy and James Dickey were standing outside the entrance to the Red Bunker. A steady, muted hum was coming from deep underground. Jayne looked up at the roof of the citadel, where the needle-shaped tower was glazed with daybreak. “This place is completely fucked up,” she said. Amanda sought vague comfort by touching the fiber snares in her shoulder bag. Dickey was standing back, his hunting bow strung over his shoulder, the flights of his arrows bristling. “Even flying over the wreckage of some Korean town at dawn, one engine gone, a head wound double-glazing your vision, all hope abandoned... that was preferable to being here,” he said.
Bukowski, Dorn and Burroughs were at the foot of the citadel wall and had taken out their grappling hooks. “You ready?” Chuck was smiling. “Ready,” said Dorn. Bill was rocking back and forth on his heels. “Beluga,” he said, over and over.
The groups of poets had positioned themselves at various points around the citadel when a loudspeaker crackled into life: “Your every move and word has been recorded. It is clear that you are lost.” Bill Wisely tightened his grip on a plank. “You're fucked,” he shouted into the sky. “Now that you have come,” the voice continued, “we have no option but to accommodate you in the manner to which you have been accustomed: with ridicule, abuse and unrelenting pain.” Raymond Carver took out a note pad and pencil. “I'm using that,” he said. Charles Simic, wearing an albatross mask, turned to his platoon. “That sentence was too loaded. Remember, less is more.” The voice went on: “From the outset we have been understanding. We have allowed you to remain, hoping you would tire of this futile mission and return to your lives and deaths. Now you are going to pay for your bleak determination.” As the loudspeaker popped and fell silent, the poets looked around uneasily, planks and zest-spray cans at the ready. James Dickey picked an arrow from its quiver and lovingly placed it onto the bowstring. “We are waiting,” he said.
Bukowski, Dorn and Burroughs had made it to the first level of the citadel roof. It was tough going as the massive mullet net kept snagging on the sandstone wall. As they pulled up their grappling hooks, Dorn motioned for them to be quiet. They'd heard the loudspoken voice, and now there was something else in the air. A whirring, wild sound. Bill Burroughs looked up at the needle-tower. “Fuck me,” he said. “Flying Beluga!”
A dark red cloud descended on the poets from the high window in the tower. Bukowski took aim and fired. The arrow came tumbling to earth, a red fruit bat skewered half-way up its shaft. The bat was twitching and spitting, its lips curled back revealing razor-sharp teeth. As he stepped on the bat and removed the arrow, the red winged cloud went over and through the groups of poets, snapping and hissing. “Hold your ground!” Rodney shouted, and found three bats in his face, tearing at his eyes and skin. He ripped them away. “Cover your faces and lie down,” he screamed. The poets hit the deck as the bats whipped over, screeching.
Bill Burroughs watched in horror from where they'd sought refuge under the overhang of a huge Waggafish gargoyle. The bats had reformed and were now ascending in a bloody column to the tower window. As they streamed through the high opening, the poets got to their feet. Wiping blood from his brow and lips, Rodney went among them, assessing the damage. Alica Sometimes had lost an earring, Ron Silliman part of his nose. John Berryman had gone into Henry mode: “A closer call he'd not tasted. Life, friends, was red. Say it with me, Mr Ozone.” Adam Aitken pulled a batwing from his mouth. “Tastes a bit like Mekong catfish,” he said. Rodney walked among them with a fierce resolve. “I might have given up poetry to write fiction, but I will not give up on you,” he shouted. “So what's next?” Peter Skrzynecki asked from behind the shield he'd made from copies of The Immigrant Chronicles. “Yeah, what's the plan?” someone else called out. When Rodney spoke, it seemed as though the ghost of Field Commander Cohen had just stepped into his head: “We circle the citadel/we circumnavigate/fire with fire and hate with hate.” “I think we should just storm the place, take a few prisoners, execute them to show we mean business, then feed Shelby and Seidel to the Waggas,” Dickey said, which was met by a rousing chorus of approval.
Deep inside the citadel, Shelby and Seidel were pushing miniature caricatures of the poets around a large map of The Island. “We have them where we want them,” Seidel said, looking even weirder than on the cover of Ooga-Booga. He was dressed in full Waggaist military kit, and had pinned a badge to his lapel, which read Misogyny is a State of Mine.
In the citadel's clinic, Dr Greene was giving a last minute lecture to a hand-picked group of Waggaist medical students. “In the case of acute zest poisoning, you must quickly make an incision here,” he said, pointing to the throat of a red silicone dummy. “Go in through the trachea and insert the vial of Wagga blood. Recovery takes less than a minute.”
In the Main Hall, a huge crowd of Waggaists were watching the poets on a CCT screen. They were laughing at Robert Lowell, who had gone into an S.S. routine and was frog-marching Sylvia Plath up and down the wall. They were shouting and asking J.S. Harry to pull another rabbit out of her book. “Ten-bob tourist,” they yelled, whenever Skrzynecki's face appeared above his shield. They were restless and ready for action. The magazines of their wheatgrass and chili guns were primed, their slingshots gleaming.
Bukowski's grappling hook had found purchase inside the tower window. Using the sliding-knot technique he'd been shown by W.S. Merwin when they'd crashed a Black Mountain poetry festival, he started up the steel and glass tower. Dorn was threading a rope through the clamps on William S. Burroughs' belt. Bill was in a bad way. If he didn't get some Beluga caviar soon, he was going to fall apart. He'd already started waving his Colt .45 around and talking nonsense.
“It is time,” Seidel said, and then he and Shelby marched into the Main Hall. Once inside, they were met by Dr Greene. The Waggaists stood to attention. Seidel motioned for them to be seated. “Your dedication to our cause, your self-discipline and endless hours of hard work have lead to this moment. The Red K will go down in history as The Master of Form and The Father of Craft. It is because of you that his poetry, his leadership, his unwavering belief in The Red Sentence will flourish and benefit generations to come!” “Well, he could have made an effort to be here,” someone called out from the back of the crowd. “Yeah, at the very least he could have travelled!” yelled another. The dissenting Waggaists were tackled to the ground and removed. Seidel pointed to the giant CCT screen, where the traitors were being dragged down a tunnel towards the Waggafish breeding tanks. “This is what awaits all doubters and fools,” he shouted. “Does anyone else have anything to say?” Screams could be heard from the breeding area. No-one in the crowd moved or spoke. “Good, then all is in readiness.” Seidel beckoned Blodgett to take the floor. The big man stepped onto the stage. He looked around at the sea of red before him. He saw the faces of the redneck live-baiters disguised as Wagga Feeders. When he looked up into the hollow needle-point of the glass tower, he saw Bukowski and Dorn on a narrow ledge. Behind them was Bill Burroughs, gagged with electrical tape, his eyes rolling. Blodgett coughed. “Well done, all of you,” he said. “I, er, I would like...” Bukowski and Dorn were gathering up the mullet net. “I have been impressed with all of you,” Blodgett said. “The time has come to complete our work.” His heart was hammering. He fingered the moat detonator switch in his pocket. “Today we fight, tomorrow we celebrate,” he said, then leapt away as Bukowski and Dorn threw the net far and wide. It came down fast at the edges, its lead weights flying. Trapped under the vast, silken canopy, the Waggaists thrashed and flailed, making their situation worse. Blodgett strode to the main entrance, where he shot the locks and threw open the great red doors.
K. Slessor, the Front