Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 38

A swarm of red grasshoppers north of Perth.
Robert Duncan with his own edition of the Zohar.

Eurydice in the form of a stone curlew.

Driving north out of Perth into an overcast afternoon, Michael saw how the sides of the highway were blowing with sand, how the bottlebrushes were lighting the air. Despite having company, he inhaled a draught of solitude and turned back to look at the road.
Michael was telling Andrew Burke about the Edward Hopper exhibition when Andrew pointed. “Looks like a storm ahead.” Over the highway, a large red cloud was swirling and pulsing. “Wind up your window, quick!” Andrew yelled. As the Monaro entered the cloud, huge grasshoppers began smashing into the car and exploding on the windscreen. It was a relentless onslaught of wings and armour-plated bodies, all reduced to a red paste on the windscreen glass. The wipers only made it worse. They pulled over as the swarm raged against the car. When the grasshopper cloud had moved on, they got out and watched it go, breaking and reforming on its way south. The mustard-yellow Monaro had a new paint-job, and some of it was still moving.
When they reached Guilderton, they pulled over beside the Moore River and stretched their legs. Michael took his telescopic rod and a small net from his backpack. He screwed on a small Spinfisher reel spooled with 2 kilo braid and attached a 20 gram lure. He stood on the bank, casting the silver lure out into the river, and winding it back fast. On his third cast, the line went tight and he lifted the rod tip, which then slammed down as the fish took off. Andrew Burke watched as Michael Dransfield went to work on a nice tailor. The fish leapt and shook his head, trying to throw the hooks. Burke was impressed. He didn’t know Dransfield was into fishing, and he marveled at Michael’s rod-work as he brought the fish towards the bank. Michael netted the tailor, lifted it from the net and held it up. Its pale green sides flashed in the late afternoon sunlight. He removed the hooks and lowered the fish into the river, where it disappeared with a flick of its tail. “Why did you let it go?” Andrew asked. “We could have had that for dinner.” Dransfield stood up, removed the reel and collapsed his rod. “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you have to,” he said. Andrew Burke was disappointed. He’d been hoping for a more eloquent, lyrical explanation. He was looking at the spot where Michael had palmed the tailor back into the river. When he turned around to say something, Michael was sitting in the car, his legs up on the dash, the lowered sun visor concealing his face. 
Dr Greene and Bob Russo pulled off the road at Gerringong and drove down a narrow dirt road that led to the beach. The Cocteau Twins’ Sugar Hiccup was on the stereo. Bob Russo tapped the dash. “What’s this fucken shit?” Dr Greene spoke to the windscreen: “It’s called sublime music, Bob. I have no Bay City Rollers, Kim Carnes or Barry Manilow with which to soothe and inspire the beast that resides within that Godly frame you call a body.” Bob Russo picked up the CD cover and stared at it. “Oh,” he said. Sarcasm had not eluded Bob all his life, the ability to recognise it had been erased from his brain at birth.
The Waggaists were holding an emergency meeting. I loved that they had convened to meet when every day and every aspect of their lives had been one long, drawn-out emergency. 
I’d gone out to Lion Island in Bill Wisely’s tinny to check on their situation. I was anchored out front of the island in a gentle swell when I heard a woman’s voice. I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the scrub. The Waggaists had gathered at the only place on Lion Island where the red fairy penguins couldn’t reach them: in a tree. On top of the Lion’s head was a huge Moreton Bay fig, its branches sprawling and twisting. The Waggaists had covered every part of the main branches - they were like huge red flying foxes standing upright in their torn and stained coats. The woman’s voice cut through the sound of the swell breaking open on the rocks below. Her clear, urgent syllables came through the wind. When I  first heard her speak, the voice was vaguely familiar. The more she spoke, a shock of recognition went through me. I glassed the tree slowly, checking every face. Then I saw her. She’d let her hair out. The red hood of her cloak was flapping out in the wind. She was leaning against the skin of a huge branch, one hand gripping it high for balance, the other waving in time with her words. It was Alison Croggan. Was she really a Waggaist, or had she been, like Dorothy Hewett, working under cover the whole time - and if so, what was her agenda? Surely she’d already had the chance to come out and renounce Red Language. “This doesn’t have to end here,” Alison said. “We might have lost The War, but we haven’t lost our fire. The poets think it’s over. They’re down there at Brooklyn getting drunk and sleeping in warm beds while we get cold and wet and starve.” The Waggaists were listening with their heads bowed. Croggan continued. “I have a plan. Their will be pain, physical and emotional. Remember: what doesn’t kill you makes you a darker shade of red.” With those words, she  sounded more than convincing. She sounded like a natural-born Red leader. The Waggaists were now muttering and looking around. “But what if we’re wrong?” a man said. “What if the poets are right, and the Red K is indeed nothing more than a manipulative, self-styled, self-promoting mouthpiece for empty rhetoric, badly-edited poems and confused ideologies?” Croggan stared at him. “Then you, my friend, are penguin food. I say we make a swim for the other side. If we form a tight group and swim fast, it won’t take us long.” “What about the Waggafish?” someone said. “Yeah, and the bull sharks!” shouted another. “Baitfish form tight, rolling balls,” Croggan replied. “It confuses predators. There’s safety in numbers.” There was a long, awkward silence. “So, are you with me? If so, we need to leave now, not tomorrow or the day after.” Alison Croggan began climbing down through the branches. Others followed her. Soon many Waggaists were climbing down. As they neared the base of the tree, the red fairy penguins were jumping up and down, snapping and growing. “We need to hit the ground running,” Croggan shouted. “Once we reach the beach, we need to strip off and start swimming. Our cloaks and coats will drag us down. Are you ready?” There was a half-hearted response from the others. “Alright then. One, two, three!” Croggan said, and jumped from the tree. The red fairy penguins went for her but she kicked them away and ran down through the scrub. Most of the other Waggaists followed her, kicking penguins out of the way and removing their clothes. By the time they reached the shore, Alison Croggan was already ten metres out, treading water and urging them on. They dived in a swam out to join her. Up in the scrub, those that had descended the tree but had stalled at its base were being torn to shreds. The screaming was terrible. Those still in the tree were howling and slapping the branches. I pulled the anchor and motored away quickly. Looking back, I could see the water being thrashed to white foam as a desperate group of Waggaists swam for the far shore. 
                                                     THE FINAL TRANSMIGRATION
Lenka was no longer the passive recipient of his dance. She was burning in blue fire as Shiva smiled at her with his alarming pointed teeth. She was the gold centre, the essence of truth at last, all her savagery gone, reaching further and further into the flashing blades and limbs, blue and red, white and black, she was dissolving, melting, through the gate of fire.
                                                                      Vicki Viidikas, Kali and the Dung Beetle
Robert Duncan had been performing complex ceremonies. He concentrated on getting each ritual right, pulling together all his knowledge about the transmigration, weaving this into his effort of calling up Eurydice from Hades. She’d already died twice because Orpheus had doubted her love, the second time as they were about to pass through the gates of hell. Duncan wasn’t going to be responsible for a third failure. Eurydice had died twice for love, this was enough even for a myth. Duncan had started his ritual at 3am and now it was almost dawn, he decided to freshen up before his final session. A shower and a cup of herbal tea, a short period of meditation, refer to some books.
After his shower Duncan carefully shaved, dried his hair and toweled himself. He used a towel with the blue crest of the Masonic Temple embossed on the bottom. He made a pot of lemon-grass tea and decided on a change of clothes. His favorite black velvet suit with its waistcoat, cream silk shirt and a black raw-silk tie. He then consulted the Zohar (on loan to him from Christopher Brennan) an edition he wasn’t familiar with, taking up more time than he had to spare. Duncan used the Zohar as a guide in attaining knowledge about the origin of his soul. Just  to know how far he was along the path to this, always gave him strength.
Duncan considered the meaning of Eurydice’s time in hell. How long could she remain physically separated from Orpheus before her love would begin to fade? Complex considerations, all factors in the truth and life of myth,  things that were unfathomable. Eurydice was another mortal who had been caught up in the whims of Gods, but why had she remained silent - she was like a reflection caught between the silver on the back of a mirror and the surface of its glass, a space of silence. While Orpheus babbled over, water falling, or a skylark embroidering an endless song.
Duncan resumed his secret incantations, his rituals of reclamation. Breathing rebellious fire into the restless soul of Eurydice in Hades. Duncan’s mind and soul were dancing on the border of time and eternity - he felt an affinity with Vicki Viidikas and her lines about being in the ‘gold centre, the essence of truth at last, all her savagery gone, reaching further and further into the flashing blades and limbs, blue and red, white and black, she was dissolving, melting, through the gate of fire’. Duncan could see how the different cultures and myths blended into one vast universe of truth. Figures with glowing heads flew across the heavens, he felt the beginning of Eurydice’s soul’s transmigration. It fluttered and danced and Duncan worked himself into a visionary state. He could tell Eurydice was circling Budgewoi - a migrating bird from the other side of the world looking for a safe waterway to come to rest. Duncan thought of Tennessee William’s Orpheus Descending where he has that image of a tiny legless bird that lives its whole life on the wing ‘they sleep on the wind and never light on this earth but one time when they die!’ Eurydice was free and her soul would return to the paradise of Budgewoi and she would become mortal and never have to live again as a ghost in the underworld.
W.B. Yeats and Devin Johnston came into the library,  they were smiling and Duncan knew by this that he had succeeded. These two weren’t false poets like the imitations of Raworth and Baudelaire that came earlier trying to disrupt the proceedings - Red phantoms from the sick imagination of Dr Greene. These two were Duncan’s friends and even their likenesses could not be corrupted. Yeats was an Immortal and Devin Johnston had been studying the alchemical mysteries of the transmigration for years.
“Eurydice’s soul has been released,” Duncan said to Devin. “She will be here any time now.” Yeats padded across the old Persian carpet on the library floor to where Duncan stood and embraced him. “You’ve done it Robert—her soul has risen from the rocks and bird-less trees of Hades. 
Devin Johnston was smiling broadly but his intelligent eyes were full of questions.
Duncan was exhausted, he sat down on a lounge chair and sighed, he looked out through the window and watched the cold fire of morning. Bower birds swooped through the ancient grape vines growing over the back fence of the Masonic Hall. The wooden grapes were finished and the leaves were yellow. Zebra finches bounced like tiny balls of red-flecked fluff across the grass. In the primrose silver-eyes darted about like green dashes of electricity, the circles of their eyes streaks of white flake.
Feargal Sharkey was huddled in his hide on the edge of the Budgewoi Sports Ground, he’d been there all night waiting for the first sign of the return of Eurydice. Earlier, at dawn he thought he saw a shape in the rolling mist, the figure of a woman appeared and then turned in the parting mist and dissolved in the morning air. Feargal thought why the hell he was doing this, his clothes were damp, his legs were aching and his neck was stiff. He was about to give up when he noticed a bird walking across the oval. An extraordinary creature with long spindly legs, sepia and fawn cryptic plumage, its head large for its body with huge brown eyes. It was a stone curlew and it came walking across the oval towards Feargal in his hide. The stone curlew was only a few feet away and Feargal felt an overwhelming wave of emotion. A feeling so intense he didn’t know how to respond to the situation. He was balancing on one leg which suddenly filled with a hundred cramps, Feargal toppled over and knocked the structure of the hide over. The curlew panicked and jumped three feet into the air before flying off. Feargal finally eased the pain in his leg and managed to get up. He timidly started walking towards the scrub where the stone curlew had vanished, his feet touching on the heavenly grass as he passed by the goal posts.
WB Yeats and Devin were having a coffee in a beach side café. They were talking about Duncan and wondering when they would find out the fate of Eurydice. “How does it work?” Devin said to Yeats. “How can her soul settle into the body of another living soul?” Yeats thought about this for a while before replying “It’s a great mystery.” When the stone curlew walked under the outside tables of the café, the two poets looked at each other knowingly. The soul of Eurydice had taken up in the body of the stone curlew. Feargal Sharkey came in next, his eyes wild and his silky hair falling over his shoulders. “He saw the poets and said “I’m in love!”
G. Lehmann.

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