Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
Val Kilmer in his role as Baudelaire in The Flowers of Evil.
Val Kilmer in his Shelby Mustang driving through Budgewoi.
Dr Greene emerged from his laboratory carrying a large red container. Attached to its side was an aquarium aerator. He put the container down carefully and stretched. He was wearing a leather coat, moleskin trousers and a blue shirt. He adjusted his Akubra to a gunslinging angle and squinted into the hard Ulladulla sun. He was waiting for Bob Russo to close the tackle shop. He looked down the hill and out to the harbour. “It’s time you had a holiday,” he said to himself. When Bob Russo walked out of the tackle shop, the tail of his fox-skin cap swinging like a furred plait over his shoulder, he tossed a set of keys to Dr Greene. “I see you’ve got the new items,” he said. They walked over to the car park. “That fuckwit Berryman has no idea what the words live-bait mean,” Greene said, patting the side of the red, humming container. “It’s time he understood. Let’s go fishing, Bob.” He opened a door and climbed into Lucinda William’s Chevy Silverado.
Seidel and Shelby had been gone for days on a LIMP2 binge. Dr Greene had offered them as much as they wanted, and they had feasted. They’d been in Seidel’s room at The Wheelhouse, talking like a pair of cockatiels and laughing uncontrollably. Seidel had seen the Red Oblong sail away to the north, and had doubled over, clutching his sides and crying with delight. “Look Shelby,” he howled, “they’re escaping in the Red Rectangle.” Shelby was on the floor, counting carpet fibres, quoting lines from The Immigrant Chronicles, and doing T.S. Eliot impersonations.
Now that they were focussed again, they spread a map of New South Wales on the kitchenette table and began making plans.
Michael Dransfield was waiting outside the Perth art gallery. He’d just been to see the Edward Hopper retrospective. Hopper’s painting Nighthawks had always been a favourite. He loved Hopper’s portrayal of the lonely, after-hours lives of the Red Language poets: the Red K in drag and beside him, Ron Silliman impersonating William S. Burroughs. On the other side of the bar, his back turned, Charles Bernstein writing a poem on a napkin. The diner’s proprietor is reaching for a canister of Zest, as things are getting tense. To his right, the water containers are silo-shaped.
Michael was deep in thought, going over the details of Hopper’s painting when he heard a deep, loud rumbling. He looked up and saw a mustard-yellow Monaro with twin black GT stripes over the roof and bonnet. Behind the wheel, wearing mirror shades, was Andrew Burke. “Come on then!” Andrew called through the passenger window. “It’s a great day for a drive.”
Emmylou Harris looked down the river. She was worried about Lucinda Williams. With one day to go before the festival, she was concerned about Lucinda’s wellbeing, but also she couldn’t stand the thought of her missing out on what was sure to be a memorable time. The atmosphere was unbelievable. There were buskers everywhere, and poets reading on the street. This was not like Tamworth: predictable songs sung by Australians busting their guts to sound like they’d just coughed up a handful of Nashville dust. The Nashville scene was no better, which is why Emmylou and Lucinda had invited an eclectic, mostly alt-country line-up. They left the ragged edges on their music and brought a world of styles to their playing.
Bill Wisely had been on the look-out for Australian country music stars trying to get into the festival. He’d put posters of John Williamson, Lee Kernaghan, Slim Dusty, Anne Kirkpatrick, Casey Chambers. Keith Urban and Troy Cassar-Daley on the train station walls, at the Angler’s Rest, and at the main entrance gate just down from Ian the Squid-Man’s live-bait shop. He knew that some of them would try to get past security, and he was determined to keep them out.
“So what was your point?” Dorothy Hewett asked Admiral Escher as the Red Oblong made its way north. Escher didn’t respond. He was staring straight ahead as though he were looking through a high window of a bridge on some ocean liner. “I mean, great, we got to see a red asterisk at a place called the Red Abyss, and then the head of Dante comes out of the water like some fucking humanoid atoll spewing red water, and starts raving. And it didn’t even sound like Dante. This is fucked. Look, you’re a great graphic artist. One of the best. I love Night and Day and Hand With Reflecting Sphere. And Three Worlds got me through some tough times. You put things into perspective, and you do our heads in with your dreamscapes and tricked realities, but to be honest, I don’t care anymore. You can take your clever visions and put someone else inside them. I didn’t ask to be included in all this horror. I didn’t just wake up one morning and say ‘Bloody hell, I hope M.C. Escher takes me in a Red Oblong out to sea for a front-row seat at the Dante-and-Asterisk Show.” T.S. Eliot spoke from the top of a staircase. “But you did enter the Oblong, Dorothy.” “Oh fuck off, T.S.,” she said. “I only scrambled into this jumped-up bit of geometry because I was worried about you and Ted and Lucinda. If that’s how you feel, you can all get stuffed.” M.C. Escher was nodding. Then it became apparent that he was crying. His shoulders were rising and falling slowly. Great globes of tears were sliding down his cheeks, each with highly-stylised images of birds and insects inside them. Lucinda went to him and put her hand on his arm. “It’s alright, Cornelis, we’re all a bit stressed here.” Ted Hughes joined Lucinda. “Come on old man, chin up.” The badger farted. Dorothy sat down at the base of a staircase. “All this redness,” she said. “Can we please have a change of colour?” Lucinda Williams took a deep breath. “How long will it take us to get to Brooklyn?” she asked. “About twenty hours,” Admiral Escher said between sobs. “Perfect,” Lucinda said. “We just might make the opening of the festival after all.”
‘I had known from the beginning and told those about me that we were in the Last Days, in the Glory then. The Doctor came into the picture then. I told him about the fall of the giant orders of the world. “How can the unreal have as much effect as the real?’ I asked the Doctor. The falling of the astral worlds may be, then, the falling of the sky, where giant stars and dwarves, monstrous constellations and regents of the planets stream down in the collapse of time. Here the Doctor and I must restore the Milky Way, the spring of stars that is our universe. The Doctor had the key to the old science of the spring. I had to find the lock, but now it seems that I draw the water forth by the physical magnetism of a shaman, witching, pulling invisible reins of the stream with my hands. ‘You who are nearest to me’, I said to the Doctor, ‘are unreal’. I could see through his form.’
Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book
After the local Goths had upset the first transmigration ceremony, Robert Duncan decided to hold the final phase in private. He waited until after midnight and was about to set up his candles for the ritual. There was a knock on the door. It was Tom Raworth and Charles Baudelaire. They looked tired and were soaking wet and their legs were covered in mud. “We came up the river in a Bass-Boat we borrowed from Dr Greene. We didn’t see a sunken tree as we came into Budgewoi and it hit the boat with a great force,” said Raworth. “With the force of Darkness,” said Baudelaire. “What a lot of shit,” said Raworth. You could tell they had been arguing for days. It seemed they were on some kind of mission. Duncan became very suspicious. Why were they using Dr Greene’s boat? Had Greene lent the boat or had they stolen it? Duncan knew Greene never lent his bass-boat - it was the boat he used in Bass-Fishing Competitions; he’d been trying to beat Steve Starling with the best bass for years and he had to have the boat ready. Duncan had been briefed by Rodney Hall about Dr Greene and his obsessions. “So you have been with the Doctor?” Duncan eyed them with his straight eye. “You have been dicing with death.” This seemed to cheer Baudelaire up. He looked about the Masonic Hall and took off his wet coat. “Is there a bathroom here? I would like to refresh myself, and to wash this mud from my legs and feet.” Duncan directed him to the bathroom.
Tom Raworth wanted a drink, he wanted “vodka with limes, and a double to start with.” Duncan told him that Feargal Sharkey had drunk everything in the Masonic Hall except for a bottle of pink gin the Lodge got in when they thought that Kenneth Slessor was coming up to report on the transmigration. Duncan opened the gin and offered a bottle of tonic water. Raworth wanted to know when the transmigration would occur. He said wanted to write a report for ‘Pepper’ an electronic literary journal. Duncan knew this was edited by the Red K, or at least started by the K before he lost the Poetry War. Duncan also knew the funds were drawn from the poetry mafia’s bank in America, run by the poetry academic, (this was her cover) Helen Vendler. “Where’s the money?” says the investigator from Internal Revenue. “The money? What a joke, there’s no money in poetry.” Vendler had relentlessly omitted Robert Duncan from every anthology she edited and generally made it clear she did not even consider his work. Just thinking of Vendler made Duncan furious.
“She rings up Dr Greene to check out the flathead fishing in Queensland,” said Tom Raworth with a smile. Duncan felt betrayed. He knew Raworth was double dealing somehow, and when Raworth had finished half a bottle of gin he slipped up. He took out his thin silver camera from his coat pocket an envelope fell onto the floor, it was addressed, in Raworth’s handwriting to Val Kilmer! “What the hell is going on here?” Duncan said. Baudelaire had finished his bath and came back into the library drying his hair with a towel. “Yes, Val Kilmer!” said Tom Raworth. “He is going to play the main role in Flowers of Evil - a big Hollywood movie based on the life and times of Charles Baudelaire.” “He will play me in my heyday!” said Baudelaire. “Yes, it’s all happening,” said Tom. “Charlie loves the idea of Val Kilmer, in fact he suggested it.”
“Tom, did you just say that Helen Vendler phoned the Doctor in Queensland to ask about flathead fishing?” Duncan, shaking his head. “Yes, Vendler is fascinated by flathead. She wants to come to Australia and give a lecture on Gwen Harwood at the University of Queensland so she can go flathead fishing with Doctor Greene.” Duncan let go with a stream of references and quotations from the 17th Century to the present day but right at the end he slipped in a sly question to Raworth. “Tell me Tom, what do you make of the poetry of the Red K?” Raworth was well known for his quickness, though now he stumbled and waited two seconds too long. Duncan knew these two desperados were either poetry gangsters or agents working for either Greene, Shelby or the Red K himself.
Feargal Sharkey came in with the crew of golden codgers, armed with their gaff-hooks and blackfish knives. They had been fishing all day and were going to cook up a feed for Duncan to bring him strength for his transmigration ceremony. Duncan said to Feargal “Throw them out, these two are frauds, they aren’t who they claim to be, throw them back into the river where they came in from.” At this Feargal tore off his clothes and mounted the old oak table in the library, he started flapping his arms and imitating the call of a male kookaburra. He danced around on the table and became a kookaburra shaman, his voice transforming from a human imitating a kookaburra into pure bird song. As he did this the golden codgers with their gaffs held in threatening positions ushered the two false poets out of the Budgewoi Masonic Hall.
It was 3am when Robert Duncan began to call on the soul of Eurydice. Outside the Milky Way looked like a great horn of fog flecked with stars and flares of starlight and cold fire. The constellations were spinning their light and drawing themselves onto the imagination of whoever looked up that night. The heavens were bright with darkness. Feargal Sharkey had recovered from his kookaburra shape-changing dance and was now settled into his special Eurydice hide on the edge of the Budgewoi Sports Ground. The golden codgers were in their beds and Duncan was chanting and calling up the dead from the library of the Masonic Hall.
How would Eurydice’s soul manifest itself? Would she return as a Goth and finally get to speak in the local version of English? She had never spoken in all the myths, not one word, in Greek or any other language. She was a silent figure for the wife of the first singer, the inventor of the lyre and the poet who charmed the King of Hell. What was behind this silence? Maybe Feargal Sharkey would be the first moral to hear Eurydice’s side of the myth, the first person to hear Eurydice’s own story.
Feargal peered through the slot in his special hide and saw the mist rolling in over the cricket pitch, over the turf and around the goal posts.