Bob Russo at Hawkesbury River Station.
Blodgett emerging from his cave above Parsley Bay.
M.C. Escher adjusted a large screen and then stepped back as it came to life: a flickering, luminous scene involving hundreds of boats, seagulls and sparkling water. “We will not be able to negotiate a safe passage down this crowded river,” he said. Ted Hughes thought for a moment, then said “I suppose we could swim ashore. We’re not far from land.” Dorothy Hewett laughed bitterly: “Not far from land, but much too close to those fucking Waggafish. Forget it, Ted.” Lucinda Williams was pacing up and down. “I don’t care how we get to Brooklyn, but we’ve got to make it there soon. I’m expected on stage. I can’t let Emmylou down.” T.S. Eliot rubbed his chin: “To live is to fly,” he said. The others turned to look at him. Escher smiled: “Mr Eliot is right. I wasn’t going to suggest this because it might seem too odd.” “Too odd?” Dorothy said. “Are you kidding? This whole thing has been beyond odd. It’s beyond surreal. What’s on your mind, admiral?” Escher strode to a large red box against the far wall. He lifted the lid, reached in and withdrew what looked like a deflated rubber bladder with cords trailing from its riveted edges. He held it in front of him. “What’s that? An octopus head?” asked Ted Hughes. “A box jellyfish?” asked Lucinda. “It’s a balloon,” Escher said. “I have been experimenting for years with personal balloons - small, intimate versions of your standard hot air balloon, except my balloons don’t have a basket, obviously, and they are controlled by drawstrings.” Ted Hughes knew something about aerodynamics. He understood the basics behind maneuvering parachutes to earth accurately. “Ridiculous,” he said. “Can’t be done. Too dangerous. We’ll die. Fall to earth. No thanks.” M.C. Escher lowered the balloon. “May I at least give a demonstration?”
Alison Croggan was taking in the scene. She was standing back from the stage as preparations for Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Berryman were finalised. At the back of the stage was a huge photo of Ronnie van Zandt on a palomino horse, and beside him, on a John Deere tractor, John Berryman, staring out from under a large straw hat. “This is a bloody circus,” Alison said.
Bill Wisely had been watching Alison. There was something not quite right about her. It wasn’t just that she had been leading a group of badly-dressed people around Brooklyn; it wasn’t just that they didn’t seem to be that interested in the town, the people, the buskers, or the general atmosphere; it was a dark feeling that had been growing inside him, and now he wanted to find out what was going on. He watched as Alison stood before the stage, her arms folded. He tucked his plank into his trousers, buttoned his coat, and moved to stand beside her. “Lovely evening,” he said. Alison jumped. She looked at Bill through her hair, then returned her gaze to the stage. “Are you a Skynyrd fan?” he asked. Alison did not speak or move. Bill looked around at her followers. “Are your friends fans of country music?” he asked. Alison Croggan turned to him. “Please do not speak to me again,” she said. Bill smiled and touched the handle of his plank through the fabric of his coat. “Sorry,” he said. “Just trying to be friendly. It’s just that you look like a country-loving woman, and I thought you might like a chat.” Alison’s face was going red. “You see,” Bill continued, “I live here, and I’m also head of security for this festival, and I like to know that everything’s on the level, if you know what I mean.” He leaned in and put his mouth to Alison’s ear. “And you look a bit off centre,” he whispered. Alison’s face was now the colour of beetroot juice. “Fuck off,” she said, and turned away. The Waggaists followed her. Bill watched them walk off through the crowd. He spoke into his two-way radio. “You there, Terry? Over.” Terry Hack’s voice came through: “Hearing you loud and clear, Bill. Over.” “There’s a group of people heading your way led by a woman with a red face. Can you let me know where they go and what they’re doing? Over.” “Will do. Wilco. Roger. Over.” “Shut the fuck up and just get onto it Terry. Over.”
Dr Greene had finally arrived by train and was standing at the base of the railway station stairs. Bob Russo was beside him, the tail of his fox-skin cap whipping around in the wind. Dr Greene was looking at the festival program. “I don’t want to miss Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Charlie Daniels Band,” he said. “And The Jayhawks,” Bob Russo said. Dr Greene looked down at the red, humming container at his feet. “Are you ready for the country, Bob?” “Ready,” Bob said, and grinned like a hillbilly.
Blodgett woke from a fitful sleep and stretched. He was in a cave high in the bush overlooking Parsley Bay. He had a pounding headache and his feet ached. He’d been more reclusive these past few weeks than at any time in his life. He knew the other poets would be worried about him, but he’d had to do what he sensed was right. He’d been drinking heavily, but now it was time to get back to community. His isolation had given him the charge he needed. Things were in sharp relief. The situation was clear. He was missing Canada, but he had to tie up loose ends. He emerged slowly from the cave and looked down at the bay. From the other side of the hill he could hear a guitar coming and going on the wind. The evening was perfect. The time was right. He stepped down into the scrub and set off for the marina.
It took a lot of convincing before the poets and Lucinda Williams accepted the balloons Admiral Escher had offered them. Dorothy Hewett was first to take one into her hands. She looked down at the large collapsed balloon with its trailing cords. “If I end up in the fucking river, I’m going to put a curse on you that will turn your drawings to mush,” she said, then she smiled. “Imagine. Coming down outside The Rest. Old Bill Wisely will shit planks.” Admiral Escher opened the roof of the Red Oblong and began filling the balloons from a cylinder of helium gas. When all the balloons were bobbing and straining at the ends of their leads, everyone stepped into their harnesses and got ready to fly. T.S. Eliot stepped up the velvet-covered ladder and stood on a small panel below the lip of the roof of the Oblong. Admiral Escher waited for the breeze to swing around to the West, then called out for T.S. to jump. He jumped, and sailed away, slowly and steadily towards Brooklyn. As the others watched him go, an air of excitement filled the Oblong. Lucinda Williams stepped up, took a deep breath, and jumped away. Ted Hughes and Dorothy followed her. As Ted lifted away, he looked down and saw that Escher was standing inside the Oblong holding a balloon in his hands. “Admiral, come on!” Ted shouted. Escher waved and smiled. “My place is here,” he said, “Buon viaggio, Edward!”