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PROBA ROBIENIA DLUGIEGO TEXTU

Preface

 

The idea was a simple idea with little behind it except a recognition, a self-knowing, that on a long set of aeroplane flights I was bound to write. It’s unpromising, of course, forthere can be nothing more tedious than long flights overseas. And not just overseas. Being in a plane – especially a large plane – is a form of imprisonment, an actual incarceration. It’s not good behaviour they demand; it’s no behaviour at all, that's what they want. What a kindness it would be if we were all anaesthetised. For these flights are without doubt misery.

 

Unbearable.

 

There are exceptions, of course, a flight once out of Athens to Sydney via Baghdad and Singapore. The Greeks, especially the young, were not to be bound by seating arrangements. We were ordered off the plane, everyone having been warned they must retain the seat allocated. ‘For security reasons’. Of course! We were ordered back on the plane, each of us having to claim our luggage, for a further check. The seating arrangements didn’t last two seconds. The whole flight was a social event.

 

Baghdad, I might tell you, presented a vast empty airstrip, entirely flat. The zone we’d had to deviate around to get there was the Israel-Lebanon sector. That was then. Singapore had a Concorde (that strange beast) parked on the tarmac, nose-down, like an insect of prey, a preying mantis, that would suck the lifeblood, the marrow, out of you in two split seconds. Not that there is any lack of personal mythology surrounding this mythic aircraft. A Franco-Vietnamese friend of mine worked on the navigation system back in the 1960s; and on the occasion of my one and only visit to Cologne Cathedral it was being set up with temporary seating for a memorial service devoted to victims of the Concorde crash at Charles de Gaulle. The German doctor who died was the personal physician of another of my friends.

 

Yes, I know myself well enough to know that I use writing to counteract the obliteration of travel, the prospect of it even, the active annihilation it enacts on one’s consciousness and sense of being. The flight is in a profound sense the flightless zone. Train travel can unleash the same desire to write. But with air travel it is less desire than need.

 

If this string of texts is boring then the phenomenon they are written against is tedium itself. My strategies in countering this are no doubt several. I am an inveterate observer, even with my bad eyesight. Maybe it even intensifies the desire to record. But what is one to say of those hours of impatience when the only thought is to arrive, or to get going? At such times the psyche will seize on anything. It is a desperate creature …

 

All these texts were handwritten. It has taken me two months to type them up. A little more, in fact, more like two and a half months. It is now the beginning of March and I have just managed to have them printed out. I have no true belief in their value – except that I have been assiduous. I’ve remained more or less true to the originals. Such as they are they are in general better than any tampering can improve. They are enough out of control that they may reveal something. They are essays in dealing with a crisis, the crisis of travel, the burden of being elsewhere, the crisis of being caught in a paroxysm of non-meaning in which there is nothing at stake except survival itself. From a technical point of view they are written, more or less (how much of all this is more or less!), in the style of my performance pieces. This involves much repetition, slight shifts to lines already written, and a deliberative attempt to create space – a sense of spaciousness. It’s not necessarily largesse. A descent to the underworld? Well, maybe. There is no true dark river, just something feebly transparent.

 

I have taken the liberty of writing notes where I have thought to write them. I’m not sure they clarify anything, but they may produce a sort of subtext. I regret that there is not more German and Polish and Slovakian and Korean in the text. This is just ignorance on my part. I once could read and write Korean but now it escapes me. How odd that we should surrender things; how odd that the things we know or thought we know should languish and fade and our competences desert us. Desirably we should be able to shift from language to language at will. I learnt something on this trip: there are 11 time zones in Russia. This alone must make it well-nigh ungovernable. There is a lot to be said in favour of the ungovernable.

 

Sydney, 1 March 2010

 

 

1

 

 

Departure approaches

 

I know you are a wily one

 

You always land on your all four paws

 

 

 

Good for you

 

 

 

Today’s headline says

 

FAMILY TRAGEDY

 

 

He calls from the escalator

 

Between us we are the two blind men

 

He reminds me of a maiden aunt I might have had

 

He improves by the day

 

 

I’m not quite sure how to proceed with this business, I say to him

 

He may have to do a Lady Macbeth and raise a blade but he does not

 

Neil, he says, took the catalogue with your article in it and it was never seen again

 

It ended up, he said, with a dealer in Melbourne

 

And disappeared without trace, never ever to be returned

 

 

This might all seem rather inconsequential and it is

 

The production of texts

 

The ecology of art: yes, a swoon of verbiage

 

I discovered at breakfast that I’d more or less lost the power of speech

 

What I was thinking about, how I express myself, and Jo the Gallerist

 

 

 

These are three different things

 

 

Gallerist is a new word and an ugly word

 

 

 

Warren, she tells me, has come out against the Intervention

 

It is not what I’d heard

 

The fraternal and the family have a different view of the matter

 

 

 

Helen of Troy has not been seen in these parts lately

 

Though there has been a plethora of Greeks

 

They never bear gifts

 

(I’ll be forced to retract this statement any minute from now)

 

But they may bedeck themselves in white robes

 

And play the Good Shepherd

 

And await the next national calamity

 

 

 

Mere words, mainly incomprehensible

 

The grotesque concerns that press themselves down upon us

 

The irksome minutiae of everyday affairs

 

Grains of sand that tear the lining of our inner workings

 

 

 

No, do not complain

 

Join the revel of celebration

 

The brazen fireworks that rise up to greet any occasion

 

 

 

You are not, says a voice, you are not

 

Letters fall and litter the kitchen floor

 

You are not, you are not

 

 

 

Look, I say to them, I gave up on having a refrigerator years ago

 

It is not exactly something you miss

 

 

They look at me as if their permanent wave will fall in a heap

 

Any second

 

 

It’s not as if I’m announcing the end of the world, I announce

 

Yet their bewilderment continues to echo

 

Off lavatory walls

 

 

 

As if, you must know, the brush must be twirled in private

 

And the private spell never to be broken

 

 

 

Give us each day our private incantation

 

Salvation must come as it does

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

Luscious, juicy, juicy fruit

 

They look, they are

 

Born to edibility

 

 

 

Their juices run down the wall, explode over each other

 

Fill platters with tasty morsels

 

 

 

Oh yes, I know, I hear him crying on the ‘phone

 

No, don’t hang up yet, he pleads, I wish to keep on speaking

 

 

 

The Harbour Bridge invites a thousand images

 

Unfortunately it has not yet learnt to speak

 

 

 

I might return to our earlier couple, the handsome pair

 

But I don’t

 

 

 

The move, I feel, has already been made

 

 

 

3

 

 

 

10 to 3, the train on platform 2 goes to Campbelltown via East Hills

 

The train on platform 1 goes to Campbelltown via Liverpool

 

 

 

We need say nothing about Rome or anywhere else

 

 

 

Today’s mix is not impressive

 

It hovers on the edge of finality

 

 

 

Today’s number is A154

 

Which puts me 50 behind the rest in the queue;

 

We all wait for our Medicare rebate

 

 

 

The baby beside me yawns

 

It’s a practiced yawn

 

 

 

Today’s lunch is Teriyaki chicken, skin free

 

And a single piece of hoki fish

 

 

 

Healthy, hygienic

 

Hygienic, healthy

 

The numbers flash by: it’s A114

 

 

Jumps back to 109

 

 

 

I might say something about the ethnic mix

 

Asian girl next to Anglo boy from Castle Hill

 

(Christ they can talk!)

 

The casual way she poses her questions

 

The elaborate silver chain on her right ankle

 

 

 

She knows everything there is to be known about world-weary

 

I took my ticket at 2:02 pm

 

It’s now 2:17

 

 

 

4

 

 

 

So, they said, green balloons

 

 

 

I hear the magic word mentioned: threshold

 

 

 

Which reminds me, my little grandson has learnt something

 

The pause, the hesitation, the sudden leap forward

 

The pathways and the hip skip hop of liminality

 

 

 

(Ants in your pants, as it were)

 

 

 

We can all learn something

 

The matter of crossing borders, I suppose

 

 

 

Beauty in this age means something

 

The prettiness of a long-feathered bantam with stunted legs

 

A yacht with trimmed sails sailing over there;

 

No wonder you assail me with images of amputations, mutilations of all descriptions

 

 

 

Prettiness appears, yes it does

 

But like an advertisement of the self

 

It fades into triviality instantly

 

The prettiest moosh, the studious hair

 

The indelicate ears

 

 

 

How disabled they are, even in their own country

 

Citizenship comes, it seems, at a terrible cost

 

And the seats at the Cenotaph serried and empty

 

And not a Digger (oh Ancient of Days) to show the way

 

 

 

5

 

 

 

Your take on reality, mate, is as reliable as a map of Atlantis provided by the local Chamber of Commerce

 

 

Everyone knows information is not enough

 

 

Yesterday’s riots are today’s playpens

 

 

 

You will find if you enter that shop over there – yes, the one on the left – that you can get a very good deal on the kumara

 

You know it is best eaten wrapped in a floral design, something in hibiscus

 

 

 

We were not going to mention art on this day, the day Nic met such a bizarre death

 

(Yes, people die)

 

 

 

John treads the treadmill, is halted for his hair

 

Makes play with the chin-ups

 

For – yes, he says – there’s a counterweight;

 

Now that’s novel, it’s obviously his party trick

 

His pièce de résistance

 

 

 

He’s full of love, you can hear it in his voice

 

I tell him he should be back at work

 

 

 

Get back to work, you cunt

 

That’s what I tell him

 

 

 

6

 

 

 

You will not ward off the banality of the world with propaganda

 

Lyricism, exalted states, all part of the propaganda machine

 

 

 

You can hear the creaking even with the oil

 

 

 

Every time I put down a piece of paper I lose it

 

That is why I’m back writing in a book

 

 

 

I would like to surprise my hosts

 

A pet kangaroo

 

A pet kangaroo on a string would surprise my hosts

 

 

 

A pet perentie also, maybe

 

 

 

Sometimes we don’t know what to say

 

We have to wait

 

Conversation is eclipsed by the larger desperados

 

And the gummy sharks observable

 

Mostly in the shallowest of waters

 

 

Daniel has completed Stage 1 of his temple

 

It’s comfortable, he says, it’s all you need;

 

Last night they had a barbecue in honour of the new structure

 

 

Tonight I’m expecting a storm with sudden flashes of lightning

 

Meanwhile at the airport they simulate a terrorist attack

 

What I want to know is how you would differentiate it from the real thing

 

 

 

7

 

 

 

What shall we say of the wayward, why it enters

 

 

Rise up Jerusalem!

 

 

 

The cannon fires, it is an improper sound

 

And has no place here

 

 

 

Kissing under the mistletoe, the ordinary doorbell

 

The steeple

 

 

 

Foreign all foreign

 

 

 

Might we proffer you a special spinifex garden

 

Sturt Desert peas

 

The brilliance of scarlet and black

 

Waterfowl who in their person make raucous shriek

 

 

 

Tonight’s concert comes to us from Gdansk

 

Courtesy (they tell us) of the Mariankirche;

 

The composer an argumentative chap, according to all accounts

 

A whiff of raw sewage comes from the street

 

 

 

Tonight the silence is surprising

 

 

 

8

 

 

 

The traveler must have a suitcase

 

A suitcase (you know this very well) says travel

 

 

For maximum effect the suitcase should be empty

 

 

 

Today at breakfast we can speak sense

 

We look at photos of ‘the next generation’

 

We re-engage with the oldest categories of sociological thought

 

We agree that the ritualistic, the magical are assigned insufficient value in general thinking

 

I fret about my passport application

 

I worry that I don’t have the proper paperwork

 

 

 

Please proceed

 

Please proceed to counter 1

 

Please proceed

 

Please proceed to counter 4

 

 

 

9

 

 

Lest we forget

 

 

 

I exit exactly at 11

 

Exactly at 11 I exit

 

 

 

An old man stands at attention right there before the rows of sandwiches wrapped in glad wrap

 

It could be Mecca he’s facing, somewhere in the Middle East

 

 

 

Age will not weary them nor the years condemn

 

 

 

The ceremonial words, the familiar staged sentiment

 

 

There’s no going down of the sun;

 

An imaginary cannon fires

 

 

 

Yes, Armistice Day

 

How it catches us unawares

 

The 11th hour of the 11th day

 

 

The bread rolls continue to blister in the fluorescent sun

 

He nods as I pass

 

Lifts his head and nods

 

The other lurches towards me gladly

 

And asks straight out, ‘Is it real, is it real?’

 

And makes his judgment call: ‘You’re from the bush, right? Tell me you’re from the bush’

 

 

 

The train brings the dark-haired Scheherazades right to my door

 

Pink tops

 

Gold lamé bags

 

White thongs

 

Leopard print fabric for the bra halters

 

A slither of sleek thighs

 

 

Now they’re friendly these guys

 

White lipstick

 

A way of lounging on the seats

 

Slim lissome bodies

 

Full of Hello and Hello

 

Greetings and how-d’-dos all round

 

 

 

I like this younger generation, these Wild Ones

 

Full of attitude and sass

 

 

 

10

 

 

He sits on the very edge of the kerb

 

Squats really, the full Asian squat

 

The weight full on the heels

 

 

The white lamps hang in the alcove

 

Carcinogenic display, some abomination in fibre glass

 

 

 

I ready myself to enter the silent land

 

I ready myself to enter the land where words don’t count

 

 

 

The pressure’s on

 

The train to Waterfall, 7 minutes

 

My anger a response to the pressure

 

 

WHAT ARE YOU

 

The sign says, WHAT ARE YOU, the same as it did yesterday

 

 

 

Support comes in fits and starts, from unexpected quarters

 

 

No, I don’t want to go to the Russian concert

 

No, I don’t want to go to the Koori fundraiser

 

No, I don’t want to trade insults with Roslyn O

 

No, I don’t expect anything good to come of Daniel B’s latest art show

 

 

 

Martin Place has flowers but not so many

 

FOXTEL combines with FITNESS PLUS for the spectacle of the year

 

A haughty boy with upturned face strolls by

 

The woman beside me in the bus elbows me in the shoulder

 

 

 

The day is a day of beauty so tell me, why are they dressed so drably

 

As if drabness is the ordinary ordained condition

 

 

 

Missionaries sit in careful chorus

 

She of their mark, her skin flawless

 

Her left ear marked with a single dark spot

 

 

 

I’m so proud of her, she said, stepping from the wheelchair at the gallery

 

An invisible hand falls, a ceramic gourd collapses

 

To say a thousand shards is no exaggeration

 

 

 

11

 

 

 

Once I was ignorant, now I am not so ignorant

 

Once I cared what I wrote

 

I still care but in a different way

 

 

It pleases me that the hydrangeas are spotty, spotty and unkempt

 

I like the fact that their natural condition takes them towards the ‘bedraggled’

 

 

It’s only when words appear in quotation marks that they begin to take on

 

No, not fullness of meaning but something like meaning;

 

The quotation marks warn us to be on our guard, to be attentive

 

 

Be attentive also when no warning signs are issued

 

 

This front doorway is a mediocre effort, despite the effort taken

 

The electronic sign says 24°

 

It seems hotter

 

 

She’s caught a thread on her silk jacket

 

It’s a pretty colour somewhere between teal and grey

 

 

She’ll curse when she gets home

 

Almost certainly she will curse

 

 

 

12

 

 

 

No truth today, hurray, no truth today

 

Lady at the Bay, lady at the Bay

 

No truth today

 

 

 

What a relief, such a relief! Phew!

 

 

 

The bus comes to a stop

 

He tells me he’ll come for lunch, 1 o’clock

 

 

 

Ha, bloody likely! She’ll come for tea, at 3

 

 

 

Bloody likely!

 

 

 

I’ll provide my special scones

 

We’ll make stupid remarks like, ‘Let bygones be bygones’

 

She’ll head off on jaunty toes

 

He’ll saunter off on flat feet

 

 

 

I’m taking the day off sick, he says

 

How odd that I knew that already

 

 

 

The fake is more real than the real

 

The fake is the real real real

 

Our proper estate

 

 

 

The bus driver has made a real helter-skelter across the Bridge

 

I yell my thanks as I get off out the rear doors

 

(They’re on the side really)

 

 

‘In an Absolut world you’re with the band’

 

 

The text makes no sense at all

 

But it does remind me, yes, it does remind me

 

He owes me, he owes me a bottle of Bison

 

You know, the one with the straw

 

The one with the stalk of grass

 

 

 

(Yes, they all say that, just like that

 

You know, the one with the straw)

 

 

 

13

 

 

 

The purple bells of the jacaranda lie on the ground

 

The fish restaurant – it would like to be swank – it’s entirely empty

 

She waves her Medicare card under her chin as if for air

 

She’s pert and would be busy on the tennis court

 

 

 

That I decide

 

 

 

My eyes are not improved, and other things

 

 

 

The lady in the pink shoes continues to tap them

 

The man in the business suit says ‘Melanie might have’

 

I wonder whether to take cash or not

 

It’s Alessandro at counter 5

 

 

 

We proceed from counter to counter

 

Reflexions come as they come

 

 

 

There is no direct relationship between affability and competence

 

The most suspicious man I know in ‘customer services’ is from Nigeria

 

He works at the post office

 

He might have been a security guard in a previous life

 

 

 

As if!

 

 

 

The friendliest man I know is an Arab guy from Cabramatta; he works on the railways

 

I don’t know why he likes me so much but he does

 

 

 

Hello, he says, and waves

 

Gladly

 

 

 

14

 

THE MAN WITH THE PAPERED HEAD

 

 

 

Just now

 

I see a man

 

With a papered head

 

 

Yes, you heard me, this man is papered

 

He has a papered head

 

 

Outside Armani

 

You know, the old Challis Building

 

(I’m never quite sure why it’s held in such high regard)

 

 

 

I thought he might have been getting fitted out for a wig

 

A lawyer

 

Or someone found late on the battlefield

 

Ypres

 

Or Passchendaele

 

 

 

Next minute there’s a young man in a t-shirt saying JUST DO IT

 

Except the IT is next to invisible

 

 

 

Near the steps leading down to the station

 

There are rows of treadmills

 

You know, for exercise

 

And a single strolle

 

 

I have no idea what the stroller is doing there

 

 

 

Inside the subway there’s a tall young man

 

Wearing a tiny pork-pie hat and little else

 

A tiny set of briefs

 

Yes, heading out of the station

 

* * *

 

You might note that the average age of the 7 people riding the lift is 19

 

19 or 20

 

That’s if you remove the two old geezers,

 

That’s me and the other guy

 

Me 66 and him 70 or thereabouts

 

 

 

(Get out of the way you silly old cunts

 

The abuse is tacit)

 

 

 

Males predominate

 

And of those, Indian males are in the ascendancy

 

 

 

The lady with the pram has to wait

 

She’s in her late middle age

 

And there’s no baby in the pram

 

Just sticks of celery and other vegetables

 

 

 

15

 

 

 

Of course he hasn’t ‘phoned

 

I’m supposed to sit here and wait

 

(I am the lord and master, I am the lord and master)

 

 

 

Down in Dingly Dell the lupins swing and sway

 

Down in Dingly Dell

 

 

 

He rings at last: ‘I had a stroke,

 

That’s according to Professor Saunders’

 

 

 

It’s been a long time coming, that news

 

Cross to the golf, Kingston Heath

 

Chips from the bunker, comes up short

 

 

 

The lamb tastes as if it’s carved from the living beast

 

The corn at least is good

 

 

 

(Be grateful for small mercies)

 

 

 

I try to make sense of the lyrics

 

There are weird rhymes, like ‘release’ and ‘priest’

 

 

The golfers go round and round, round and round

 

 

There must be a live instrument somewhere, I think

 

Yes, surely, somewhere in the street

 

A live instrument

 

 

 

16

 

 

 

10 dollar steaks, all the go

 

(All day every day)

 

 

We subside into silence, we subside into something worse

 

 

An antique sort of reaction, as if

 

As if there must be meaning

 

Meaningfulness

 

Somewhere

 

 

 

(Please pass me the throat lozenges)

 

 

 

She was gregarious to a fault

 

She tried other names as well, Tm, Athol, Blair

 

She may have headed towards the exotic

 

Gershom

 

Galadriel

 

Kalabut

 

But she found herself cornered

 

Corralled

 

Somewhat disconcerted

 

 

 

Let us delete all things which are not ours

 

This is not my song, it is not my dance

 

It is not yours either

 

 

 

You are cheeky, all those of you who claim to speak for others

 

You take on more than you can properly take on

 

You overstep the mark

 

 

The peasants enter via the rear door

 

They have their own lovely outfits, the stitched bodice, the blue cloth

 

Their own ways of being wily and unwily

 

 

 

Give them a handful of coins, silver

 

Let them not share their supper with us

 

Let them eat within their own tiny cluster of kin

 

The lovely girl there, the lovely boy there

 

They belong there

 

 

 

As for you others, follow your own paths

 

I cannot promise you anything, I have nothing to offer

 

 

 

17

 

 

 

Today’s storm, today’s insult

 

We sit at the table together

 

The staff looks aghast, frightened even

 

It looks as if I have spoken

 

I do not judge you, you do not judge me

 

We order an excess of food

 

She eats the beetroot, she does not eat the bread

 

There are all sorts of affectations in the street

 

 

 

18

 

 

 

A Star of David, for no reason except the obvious

 

A bad haircut

 

Brows that frown

 

 

 

I found Berlin’s remarks about Shostakovitch mostly insulting

 

A mother goes off at her daughter: ‘Can you turn that down please!’

 

The daughter is offended, she’s also pretty

 

Her fingernails alternate silver and pink

 

 

 

No, maybe pink and white

 

 

 

It’s apple and quark, she says

 

What’s quark?, I ask

 

It goes with the apple, she says

 

I’m 10 cents short

 

 

 

19

 

 

 

No, not yet

 

No

 

 

 

The bearskin awaits, the open road, the off-cream Cadillac

 

 

 

Yes, back to the open road

 

 

 

My eyes are a gone thing

 

They spit venom at my foes

 

They see beauty where maybe beauty is, or plainness only

 

 

 

Steve is about to be minted into a dollar

 

Dolores expects a sauce

 

Others follow

 

Paul down other actorly paths

 

(The sauce is not a success)

 

The celebrity savour is not always what it’s cracked up to be

 

 

 

Awkward pretensions!

 

 

 

He smiles, he frowns

 

He knows no shame

 

He puts himself in the midst of the lonely crowd

 

He wonders when and where his next shit will occur

 

He rings his friends

 

He snitches an apple from the Golden Bowl

 

He begins to bellyache but just to himself

 

He gets caught in a cold wind

 

There is much about sailing he does not get

 

He welcomes Wendy warmly

 

She is taller by far than last time and rears direct to the ceiling like an ancient djinn

 

He finds the cards he had lost

 

He escapes back to the bed

 

We all know much more than we think we know

 

His most valuable possession is …

 

 

 

20

 

 

 

He comes and goes, death planet

 

He comes and goes

 

He sheets down his complaints to very specific concerns

 

 

 

The wanted notices to go up all over southern Texas

 

He tries to consider what sort of country that is

 

He returns to the food

 

He renews acquaintance with the Southern Baptist Church

 

He anoints his kin with oil

 

He sells his new auto to his youngest brother

 

His sister Kate enrolls at Penn State

 

His other sister is a Wellesley girl: Dawn

 

 

 

We forget

 

 

 

Ugly still, ugly then, ugly will be

 

Ugly rules ok

 

 

 

We apologize for things we should not apologize for

 

We anoint our own heads with oil

 

We have no idea what we are talking about

 

 

All languages can fall into each other; a common lingo

 

 

 

I too can speak with a falling intonation

 

I too can talk with a downturn of my voice

 

I too can talk unaffectedly

 

I too can speak with a voice devoid of affect

 

I too can be a cold colourless personality

 

I too can ignore all criticism

 

I too can bleat like a sheep if necessary

 

I too can eat tofu with healthy movements of my limbs

 

I too can stir my coffee with a long silver spoon

 

I too can appear confident and competent

 

I too can read from a script

 

I too can retreat to old familiar gestures

 

I too can re-hash old ideas, shamelessly

 

I too can make life a mockery

 

I too can tell you where to go I too can play the obsequious

 

I too can come up with unthought thoughts

 

I too can

 

I too

 

I too can do as I please

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

Waterfalls, they want waterfalls

 

Rainforests, that’s what they want, rainforest

 

Great conflagrations that devour the long-extended jetties

 

Great conflagrations that devour the Norfolk Island pines that line the shore

 

Temple doorways that burst into flame

 

Cocktail glasses that contain within themselves great cultures of tidiness and refined orderliness

 

Lamp shades that cast absent shadows

 

Newsletters that contain a super-surfeit of information

 

Diamonds that drip from trees

 

Amethysts that drip from trees

 

Rubies that drip from trees

 

Tigers that stroll through the park

 

Leopards that stroll through the park

 

Lions that terrorize the residents of the eastern suburbs

 

Burghers that shake in their boots

 

Burghers that hang their sox out to dry

 

Burghers who hang up their sox

 

Burghers who tie their ties nicely

 

Thunder waves that roar

 

Thunder waves that crash on the raw, roaring shore

 

Thunder waves that crash on your head

 

Thunder waves that eat Vitabrits

 

Thunder waves that nibble at tiny, ladylike biscuits

 

Thunder waves that snub their noses

 

Undiagnosed disappointments

 

Undiagnosed pains Undiagnosed sorrows

 

Undiagnosed douleurs

 

Unfettered dolorous days

 

Undiagnosed mass hysteria

 

Undiagnosed festering sores

 

Forgotten beatings, beatings that remain unremembered

 

All the little trials and tribulations

 

Hair in plaits, hair done in braids

 

Teeth in rows, teeth in braces

 

Orders of correction

 

Belted, belted up

 

Stop start

 

Corsetted

 

Abnormal remedies

 

Entirely normal fears

 

Hell’s fires

 

On such embers your fingers may be toasted, oh errant one!

 

Beware our warnings, they are intended …

 

 

 

22

 

 

 

A visit to the rifle range

 

The prison gates

 

A rowboat on the Vistula

 

Anything that joins or adjoins the Donau

 

The towers of Torun

 

 

 

A scatter of objects from the left bank

 

 

 

An unlikely messenger

 

A well-groomed head

 

Eyes too tired to see

 

The irksome tread of heavy feet

 

 

 

Motor scooters

 

Dawn patrols

 

Mickie meets Minnie

 

Various pathways of diffidence

 

 

 

23

 

 

 

Refusal, I refuse

 

(Not me, a generic me)

 

 

 

Who says no says no

 

 

 

Zones of refusal

 

One-two-three-four-five

 

Zones of refusal

 

One-two-three-four-five-six-seven

 

Zones of refusal

 

 

 

Delay, deferral, the outright

 

 

 

Oh, when you succumb you succumb, oh my brother

 

 

 

We eat bread, we eat soursop

 

We lick the dribble off your chin

 

We play St Julien

 

We embrace the mayor, cuddle countless koalas

 

Tame the untamable

 

Drool at prospects of success

 

Play the monkey from the tall tower

 

(Singeries, singeries)

 

Play court to the Duc d’Enghien

 

Bequeath non-existent estates to “The Cause”

 

Chat on television, play mein host sublime

 

Buy shares in dinky toys

 

Take a shower

 

Send telegrams of approval to trigger-happy cops

 

Crack down on crime

 

Play cynical attitudes cynically

 

Play Tattslotto

 

Hear the latest news – ‘SYSTEMS BREAKDOWN, SYSTEMS BREAKDOWN’ – with sly equanimity

 

Pack my bag

 

Struggle with the habitual problem, the refusal to see

 

Interview ancient sporting commentators

 

Raise funds for convicted kick-boxer

 

Raise funds for arson victims

 

Write down every word I hear on radio

 

Avoid all censorship

 

Try to handle the heat

 

Try to handle the glare

 

 

 

Anger, it obeys its own rules

 

It follows its own courses

 

 

 

It is all a tremendous waste of time

 

 

 

24

 

… and so the Minister speaks

 

 

as you know we are moving forward

 

we are, we are

 

moving forward, we are moving forward

 

 

 

we are absolutely committed

 

 

 

in the interests, in the national interest

 

we

 

we we

 

 

 

note

 

note this

 

note

 

note

 

note

 

farmers can be part of the solution

 

 

 

farmers can

 

 

 

we

 

 

 

not an insubstantial contribution

 

a significant, a significant contribution

 

 

 

our political will is there, our political will is clear

 

 

 

that is what we have to do

 

 

 

what I have said is, what I have said

 

credible and

 

credible and responsible

 

 

 

we

 

 

 

business certainty

 

business guaranteed

 

500 billion every day of delay

 

the time of action is now, the time of nation is now

 

 

 

we are willing

 

we are willing to have discussions with the Greens

 

the way the Senate is configured

 

the way the

 

 

 

the

 

 

 

we have to do what we think is right

 

what we think is in the national interest

 

 

 

79 centimetres

 

1.1 metres

 

what we are to believe

 

what we are to believe

 

with the aid of the experts

 

with the aid and the advice of the experts

 

with the aid and the advice of the experts and the department

 

 

 

the upper limits of the risk

 

 

 

information into the public arena

 

we have to work through this

 

we can have a discussion

 

 

 

reducing emissions, reducing emissions

 

 

 

the minister speaks, the minister acts

 

he exercises his discretion

 

 

 

people are entitled to express their opinion

 

 

 

in relation to other matters

 

in relation to

 

in relation to other matters

 

 

 

25

 

 

 

The anthem he he he

 

The anthem ha ha ha

 

 

 

We will rejoice

 

 

 

He he he, ha ha ha

 

The anthem is for all

 

The anthem is for all for all for all of us

 

 

 

Free

 

Free and free

 

 

 

Swim you stupid bastard

 

Keep your head afloat

 

Stay afloat, keep afloat

 

It’s your duty, it’s your human duty

 

It’s your duty to humankind, the whole bloody lot

 

Lock stock and barrel

 

 

 

Power came from the barrel of a gun, kapow kapow

 

Power came from the barrel of a gun

 

KAPOW!

 

 

 

26

 

 

 

Mighty Mouse takes refuge in a piece of green cheese

 

A mere sliver

 

 

Today this will do, for today

 

Today today

 

It will do

 

 

 

Let us not let our expectations run away with us

 

Yes, let us keep our expectations in hand

 

(And so say all of us, all of us

 

And so say all of us)

 

 

 

The waters of the billabong slide over us, smoothly smoothly

 

There is nary a ripple

 

All is back to normal

 

Normalcy is returned, all channels

 

 

 

Business as usual, yoh

 

Business as usual, yoh yoh

 

 

 

27

 

 

 

the project, our project

 

(we might pray, we might curse

 

we might do anything at all)

 

 

 

a piston fails

 

a cog sheers

 

 

 

exit the machine age, the body becomes possible

 

(it might exalt but it doesn’t know the difference)

 

 

 

twiddle your fingers, twiddle your toes

 

ring your auntie, tell your uncle a lie

 

consult the weather forecast

 

 

 

never again, never again in that food hall: human swill

 

 

 

his mother in abbotsford 3 dollars 90

 

the proprietor with her hand out; what, have you no shame?

 

 

 

the eiffel tower falling down, rusted out

 

apollinaire safe in his grave

 

(the hope of the world tied in one tiny bundle)

 

st christopher crosses the river styx

 

lot’s wife turns

 

the president votes for himself in the presidential election (know you no shame)

 

speak about nothing, he says

 

speak about nothing

 

 

 

28

 

 

 

Give us a break

 

Can’t you give us a break

 

Or is this what we’re supposed to endure

 

What, day after day, day after day

 

 

 

One day they crossed the Equator

 

They didn’t know where they were, north or south

 

Or somewhere in the middle

 

 

 

They dreamed of distant climes but they were already in distant climes

 

 

 

So they sailed away, sailed away

 

Constantly in thought of other shores, farther shores

 

 

 

The ice melted, but still they sailed on

 

The sun blazed down, but still they sailed

 

The moon glimmered and gleamed

 

And strode the catwalk of the night

 

Like a haughty model too beautiful to contemplate

 

 

 

You shadow thing, I said to her, you shadow thing

 

What are you doing here

 

 

 

I am here, she said, to accompany your grief

 

The hard things of your exiting

 

I am here to accompany you in your pain and your sorrow

 

 

 

We rowed out into the stream

 

We rowed out into the wide and fulsome river

 

Reeds rattled the shore

 

And nothing inhabited the leafless branches of the willows

 

 

 

Nothing has changed, we endure badly

 

We look for stone-carved gods in the false hills

 

We lift up our eyes to the fog-scuttled skies

 

We know nothing, we know nothing

 

We say too much

 

We know nothing but insist on opening our gobs

 

Like gasping cod

 

 

 

Gasp, gasp

 

 

 

We wheeze this day into another day

 

 

 

Wheel in the oxygen tanks, wheel in the oxygen tents

 

The world is in reverse

 

It beeps

 

 

 

Beep beep beep

 

 

 

A voice cries STOP

 

A voice cries WRONG WAY WRONG WAY WRONG WAY

 

 

 

There’s a sudden urgency in the language of defeat

 

 

 

[incomplete poem]

 

29

 

 

 

They run down the stairs, they look ridiculous

 

They run down the stairs, they’re very important

 

They’re very important, they’re very important

 

They rush

 

They rush

 

They’re in a rush

 

They rush down the stairs, they’re very important

 

They rush, they rush

 

 

 

Christmas begins today, 16 November

 

Christmas begins today

 

250 000 gifts, that’s our target

 

Actors in decline, singers off the charts

 

A wrong note, a discordant something

 

We have them all

 

We have them all

 

And the Newcastle Christmas Choir

 

Come let us adore him

 

Come

 

Come let us adore him

 

 

 

They rush on the stairs, they race the escalator downward

 

Down down

 

They race it downward

 

 

 

Rush

 

 

 

Today’s its Christmas

 

16 November

 

Today it’s Christmas

 

 

 

The celestial choir reaches new heights

 

 

 

[High-pitched squeal on the sax]

 

30

 

[NOTES FOR A PERFORMANCE]

 

 

 

Shut up, first of all shut up

 

Sit still

 

Feel your bum on the seat

 

 

 

Sit still, continue to sit still

 

 

 

If you’re good-looking you may sit with your arms folded across your chest

 

But only if you’re good-looking

 

 

 

If you’re beautiful you may pout

 

 

 

You’re really quite well-built; you only need to flex your muscles

 

 

 

I owned a BMW once, brand new

 

But no, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a BMW t-shirt or top

 

I definitely would not

 

 

 

Nor a cap saying TASMANIA in big letters

 

31

 

[THE WAY THINGS ARE]

 

 

 

Australia is definitely worse

 

than any European country.

 

You can be proud

 

you achieved this

 

(an overheard remark)

 

 

 

Hi bro how’s it going

 

He grins out of nowhere, suddenly

 

 

 

The baby looks at me & sucks

 

 

 

If it suits you I could swing by in 10

 

 

 

He bops to an invisible beat

 

 

 

Hi Loretta it’s Andrew

 

Is everything under control

 

 

 

That’s cool

 

 

 

If you just plod away to 2

 

I’ve just got to run up the road and see somebody

 

 

 

25 dollars, the first of the rip-offs, to glue my shoe

 

(The sole you know it fell off, Armani

 

It happens all the time, says the taxi-driver

 

There isn’t a wedding on the Sunshine Coast he doesn’t attend)

 

 

 

Herded on the train, herded on the bus

 

Distress signals issued by the lady in number 3

 

 

 

They do not look like breeding stock

 

They do not look like breeding stock to me

 

 

 

This is not my natural habitat

 

This does not look like any place I belong to

 

This does not look like any place I know

 

This does not look like any place I wish to be

 

 

 

Allah, he says, it’s not my religion

 

Thank Christ, he says, it’s not my religion

 

They stand as one

 

 

 

Hips stiff, they lumber

 

Hips stiff, they seem to know what they’re doing

 

The one on the right carries worry beads

 

He worries them with his right hand

 

 

 

See, old habits

 

32

 

[THE FIRST OF THE CRAZIES]

 

 

 

The first of the crazies

 

Our crazy of the day

 

Today the day of departure

 

 

 

He raises his voice, I look up

 

He sees me, he sees me seeing him

 

He has an old man’s guts

 

And the hair combed back

 

Tidily

 

 

 

Waving his passports, waving his papers

 

He seems to have two passports

 

 

 

And papers

 

 

 

Such people speak to me

 

As a rule they speak to me

 

They come up to me, and speak

 

Any moment now

 

Any moment

 

 

 

But today I am spared

 

Today I am saved

 

He wanders off

 

‘I’ll kill myself’, his final word

 

 

 

Everyone is little, everyone is two feet tall

 

They don’t need seats, they could sit in each other’s laps

 

That’s what I think

 

That’s what I think to myself

 

 

 

The man in the brown suit has just stepped out of a film

 

That’s his look

 

out of a film or out of a poster

 

It makes no difference

 

 

 

See, he’s got the look

 

 

 

Here is a girl who looks like a sheep

 

At least the upper body

 

(The legs are long

 

She walks with a twitch of the hips)

 

 

 

It’s all too simple, there must be something wrong

 

It’s all too simple, I’m awaiting some sort of disaster

 

Sooner or later, yes, a disaster

 

It’s all too simple, the disaster is now

 

33

 

[SLEEPERS, AWAKE!]

 

 

 

They sleep, yes, they sleep

 

They sleep, yes, like babies

 

From here to Seoul, that’s what I expect

 

A long distance snooze

 

All the way

 

Yes, snooze, all the way

 

 

 

An art

 

A national art

 

Rows upon row of sleeping nationals

 

 

 

It’s daylight, for god’s sake

 

It’s broad daylight

 

It’s day

 

 

 

Had I their art, this art of ‘shuteye’

 

This art of switch-off-to-nowhere

 

 

 

I’ll try

 

 

 

Somewhere a bird twitters

 

People clap hands

 

 

 

I think of my rowboat

 

Brick walls

 

Red brick waters

 

I think of waters swirling

 

I think of mud, eddies

 

I think of cattle

 

I think of cattle sunken into the mud

 

I think of cattle sunken into the wet green grass

 

 

 

The cabin is dark, we fly over Cooktown

 

The cabin is dark, we fly over Hopevale

 

The cabin is dark, we fly over Elim

 

We fly over rowboats in which we sit looking up

 

(We are hot and we are looking up)

 

We fly over beach camps, we fly over beach camps we once inhabited

 

 

 

We fly over stretches of water we know so well we could hold them in our hand

 

(It is too far, it is too far)

 

We fly over campfires we lit many years back

 

We fly over coconuts we kicked and rattled in passing

 

We fly over blackened skies

 

We fly over tremulous taipan tracks

 

We fly over a thousand accidents of history

 

We fly where brolgas fly

 

We fly where geese honk

 

We fly where mosquitoes practice their high-pitched hum

 

We fly where sand flies lurk in the mangroves

 

We fly where no dugout has been for many a year

 

 

 

We fly where the ghosts of lugger captains remain to be exorcised

 

We fly where the ghost of that bastard Moss remains to be exorcised

 

We fly over beaches where the ghosts of the past hang heavy

 

We fly over reefs that hang bright beneath the rising tide

 

We fly high over the memory of river mouths and ancient creeks

 

We fly over places to which we shall never return …

 

 

 

The earth belongs to us and disowns us

 

The earth forgets

 

We too forget

 

 

 

We have no idea what we are doing

 

 

 

We find we cannot exist on memory alone

 

Our plans are forlorn and forgotten

 

 

 

We have no idea why we did the things we did

 

34

 

[SLUMBERING DEATH]

 

 

 

Slumbering death, such a strange sensation

 

Tears that rise and fall every second or so

 

Unaccountable

 

Unaccountable tears

 

 

 

The cabin is a death cabin

 

The cabin is like a death cabin

 

All people contained in it like refugees

 

(In sleep they find refuge)

 

Locked in

 

Locked into a self-imposed darkness

 

 

 

This is their rule: SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP

 

 

 

Somewhere between Saipan and Manila

 

Our cigar case makes its relentless lunge forward

 

Relentless as death

 

Death itself

 

Already dead and dying above the Phillipine Sea

 

 

 

It’s dark, I manage to switch on the light

 

There are texts I have to write

 

Texts I have to shed

 

Obliterate

 

Make do with

 

 

 

I do not know the memory of it

 

This adventure which is not an adventure

 

Which is not an adventure

 

And still another day to go

 

 

 

The expected attendant does not appear

 

The expected attendant does not exist

 

I am forced to ask at every turn

 

Make demand, construct myself wilfully

 

 

 

My things are taken from me

 

I am forced to surrender, even the little things

 

 

 

My sleeping companions sleep

 

My sleeping companions continue to sleep

 

 

 

Okinawa ahead

 

Okinawa lies somewhere ahead

 

 

 

I think of my son, I am required to think of my son

 

 

 

Nothing makes sense, not today

 

I am forced to endure in the company of strangers

 

I am required to endure myself in the company of strangers

 

There are no friends to greet paraphernalia

 

 

 

My eyes betray me to the mercies of others

 

 

 

The rowboat is inches from the shore

 

 

 

28

 

 

 

Give us a break

 

Can’t you give us a break

 

Or is this what we’re supposed to endure

 

What, day after day, day after day

 

 

 

One day they crossed the Equator

 

They didn’t know where they were, north or south

 

Or somewhere in the middle

 

 

 

They dreamed of distant climes but they were already in distant climes

 

 

 

So they sailed away, sailed away

 

Constantly in thought of other shores, farther shores

 

 

 

The ice melted, but still they sailed on

 

The sun blazed down, but still they sailed

 

The moon glimmered and gleamed

 

And strode the catwalk of the night

 

Like a haughty model too beautiful to contemplate

 

 

 

You shadow thing, I said to her, you shadow thing

 

What are you doing here

 

 

 

I am here, she said, to accompany your grief

 

The hard things of your exiting

 

I am here to accompany you in your pain and your sorrow

 

 

 

We rowed out into the stream

 

We rowed out into the wide and fulsome river

 

Reeds rattled the shore

 

And nothing inhabited the leafless branches of the willows

 

 

 

Nothing has changed, we endure badly

 

We look for stone-carved gods in the false hills

 

We lift up our eyes to the fog-scuttled skies

 

We know nothing, we know nothing

 

We say too much

 

We know nothing but insist on opening our gobs

 

Like gasping cod

 

 

 

Gasp, gasp

 

 

 

We wheeze this day into another day

 

 

 

Wheel in the oxygen tanks, wheel in the oxygen tents

 

The world is in reverse

 

It beeps

 

 

 

Beep beep beep

 

 

 

A voice cries STOP

 

A voice cries WRONG WAY WRONG WAY WRONG WAY

 

 

 

There’s a sudden urgency in the language of defeat

 

 

 

[incomplete poem]

 

29

 

 

 

They run down the stairs, they look ridiculous

 

They run down the stairs, they’re very important

 

They’re very important, they’re very important

 

They rush

 

They rush

 

They’re in a rush

 

They rush down the stairs, they’re very important

 

They rush, they rush

 

 

 

Christmas begins today, 16 November

 

Christmas begins today

 

250 000 gifts, that’s our target

 

Actors in decline, singers off the charts

 

A wrong note, a discordant something

 

We have them all

 

We have them all

 

And the Newcastle Christmas Choir

 

 

 

Come let us adore him

 

Come

 

Come let us adore him

 

 

 

They rush on the stairs, they race the escalator downward

 

Down down

 

They race it downward

 

 

 

Rush

 

 

 

Today’s its Christmas

 

16 November

 

Today it’s Christmas

 

 

 

The celestial choir reaches new heights

 

 

 

[High-pitched squeal on the sax]

 

31

 

[NOTES FOR A PERFORMANCE]

 

 

 

Shut up, first of all shut up

 

Sit still

 

Feel your bum on the seat

 

 

 

Sit still, continue to sit still

 

 

 

If you’re good-looking you may sit with your arms folded across your chest

 

But only if you’re good-looking

 

 

 

If you’re beautiful you may pout

 

 

 

You’re really quite well-built; you only need to flex your muscles

 

 

 

I owned a BMW once, brand new

 

But no, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a BMW t-shirt or top

 

I definitely would not

 

 

 

Nor a cap saying TASMANIA in big letters

 

31

 

[THE WAY THINGS ARE]

 

 

 

Australia is definitely worse

 

than any European country.

 

You can be proud

 

you achieved this

 

(an overheard remark)

 

 

 

 

 

Hi bro how’s it going

 

He grins out of nowhere, suddenly

 

 

 

The baby looks at me & sucks

 

 

 

If it suits you I could swing by in 10

 

 

 

He bops to an invisible beat

 

 

 

Hi Loretta it’s Andrew

 

Is everything under control

 

 

 

That’s cool

 

 

 

If you just plod away to 2

 

I’ve just got to run up the road and see somebody

 

 

 

25 dollars, the first of the rip-offs, to glue my shoe

 

(The sole you know it fell off, Armani

 

It happens all the time, says the taxi-driver

 

There isn’t a wedding on the Sunshine Coast he doesn’t attend)

 

 

 

Herded on the train, herded on the bus

 

Distress signals issued by the lady in number 3

 

 

 

They do not look like breeding stock

 

They do not look like breeding stock to me

 

 

 

This is not my natural habitat

 

This does not look like any place I belong to

 

This does not look like any place I know

 

This does not look like any place I wish to be

 

 

 

Allah, he says, it’s not my religion

 

Thank Christ, he says, it’s not my religion

 

They stand as one

 

 

 

Hips stiff, they lumber

 

Hips stiff, they seem to know what they’re doing

 

The one on the right carries worry beads

 

He worries them with his right hand

 

 

 

See, old habits

 

32

 

[THE FIRST OF THE CRAZIES]

 

 

 

The first of the crazies

 

Our crazy of the day

 

Today the day of departure

 

 

 

He raises his voice, I look up

 

He sees me, he sees me seeing him

 

He has an old man’s guts

 

And the hair combed back

 

Tidily

 

 

 

Waving his passports, waving his papers

 

He seems to have two passports

 

 

 

And papers

 

 

 

Such people speak to me

 

As a rule they speak to me

 

They come up to me, and speak

 

Any moment now

 

Any moment

 

 

 

But today I am spared

 

Today I am saved

 

He wanders off

 

‘I’ll kill myself’, his final word

 

 

 

Everyone is little, everyone is two feet tall

 

They don’t need seats, they could sit in each other’s laps

 

That’s what I think

 

That’s what I think to myself

 

 

 

The man in the brown suit has just stepped out of a film

 

That’s his look

 

out of a film or out of a poster

 

It makes no difference

 

 

 

See, he’s got the look

 

 

 

Here is a girl who looks like a sheep

 

At least the upper body

 

(The legs are long

 

She walks with a twitch of the hips)

 

 

 

It’s all too simple, there must be something wrong

 

It’s all too simple, I’m awaiting some sort of disaster

 

Sooner or later, yes, a disaster

 

It’s all too simple, the disaster is now

 

33

 

[SLEEPERS, AWAKE!]

 

 

 

They sleep, yes, they sleep

 

They sleep, yes, like babies

 

From here to Seoul, that’s what I expect

 

A long distance snooze

 

All the way

 

Yes, snooze, all the way

 

 

 

An art

 

A national art

 

Rows upon row of sleeping nationals

 

 

 

It’s daylight, for god’s sake

 

It’s broad daylight

 

It’s day

 

 

 

Had I their art, this art of ‘shuteye’

 

This art of switch-off-to-nowhere

 

 

 

I’ll try

 

 

 

Somewhere a bird twitters

 

People clap hands

 

 

 

I think of my rowboat

 

Brick walls

 

Red brick waters

 

I think of waters swirling

 

I think of mud, eddies

 

I think of cattle

 

I think of cattle sunken into the mud

 

I think of cattle sunken into the wet green grass

 

 

 

The cabin is dark, we fly over Cooktown

 

The cabin is dark, we fly over Hopevale

 

The cabin is dark, we fly over Elim

 

We fly over rowboats in which we sit looking up

 

(We are hot and we are looking up)

 

We fly over beach camps, we fly over beach camps we once inhabited

 

 

 

We fly over stretches of water we know so well we could hold them in our hand

 

(It is too far, it is too far)

 

We fly over campfires we lit many years back

 

We fly over coconuts we kicked and rattled in passing

 

We fly over blackened skies

 

We fly over tremulous taipan tracks

 

We fly over a thousand accidents of history

 

We fly where brolgas fly

 

We fly where geese honk

 

We fly where mosquitoes practice their high-pitched hum

 

We fly where sand flies lurk in the mangroves

 

We fly where no dugout has been for many a year

 

 

 

We fly where the ghosts of lugger captains remain to be exorcised

 

We fly where the ghost of that bastard Moss remains to be exorcised

 

We fly over beaches where the ghosts of the past hang heavy

 

We fly over reefs that hang bright beneath the rising tide

 

We fly high over the memory of river mouths and ancient creeks

 

We fly over places to which we shall never return …

 

 

 

The earth belongs to us and disowns us

 

The earth forgets

 

We too forget

 

 

 

We have no idea what we are doing

 

 

 

We find we cannot exist on memory alone

 

Our plans are forlorn and forgotten

 

 

 

We have no idea why we did the things we did

 

34

 

[SLUMBERING DEATH]

 

 

 

Slumbering death, such a strange sensation

 

Tears that rise and fall every second or so

 

Unaccountable

 

Unaccountable tears

 

 

 

The cabin is a death cabin

 

The cabin is like a death cabin

 

All people contained in it like refugees

 

(In sleep they find refuge)

 

Locked in

 

Locked into a self-imposed darkness

 

 

 

This is their rule: SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP

 

 

 

Somewhere between Saipan and Manila

 

Our cigar case makes its relentless lunge forward

 

Relentless as death

 

Death itself

 

Already dead and dying above the Phillipine Sea

 

 

 

It’s dark, I manage to switch on the light

 

There are texts I have to write

 

Texts I have to shed

 

Obliterate

 

Make do with

 

 

 

I do not know the memory of it

 

This adventure which is not an adventure

 

Which is not an adventure

 

And still another day to go

 

 

 

The expected attendant does not appear

 

The expected attendant does not exist

 

I am forced to ask at every turn

 

Make demand, construct myself wilfully

 

 

 

My things are taken from me

 

I am forced to surrender, even the little things

 

 

 

My sleeping companions sleep

 

My sleeping companions continue to sleep

 

 

 

Okinawa ahead

 

Okinawa lies somewhere ahead

 

 

 

I think of my son, I am required to think of my son

 

 

 

Nothing makes sense, not today

 

I am forced to endure in the company of strangers

 

I am required to endure myself in the company of strangers

 

There are no friends to greet paraphernalia

 

 

 

My eyes betray me to the mercies of others

 

 

 

The rowboat is inches from the shore

 

28

 

Give us a break

Can’t you give us a break

Or is this what we’re supposed to endure

What, day after day, day after day

 

One day they crossed the Equator

They didn’t know where they were, north or south

Or somewhere in the middle

 

They dreamed of distant climes but they were already in distant climes

 

So they sailed away, sailed away

Constantly in thought of other shores, farther shores

 

The ice melted, but still they sailed on

The sun blazed down, but still they sailed

The moon glimmered and gleamed

And strode the catwalk of the night

Like a haughty model too beautiful to contemplate

 

You shadow thing, I said to her, you shadow thing

What are you doing here

 

I am here, she said, to accompany your grief

The hard things of your exiting

I am here to accompany you in your pain and your sorrow

 

We rowed out into the stream

We rowed out into the wide and fulsome river

Reeds rattled the shore

And nothing inhabited the leafless branches of the willows

 

Nothing has changed, we endure badly

We look for stone-carved gods in the false hills

We lift up our eyes to the fog-scuttled skies

We know nothing, we know nothing

We say too much

We know nothing but insist on opening our gobs

Like gasping cod

 

Gasp, gasp

 

We wheeze this day into another day

 

Wheel in the oxygen tanks, wheel in the oxygen tents

The world is in reverse

It beeps

 

Beep beep beep

 

A voice cries STOP

A voice cries WRONG WAY WRONG WAY WRONG WAY

 

There’s a sudden urgency in the language of defeat

 

[incomplete poem]


29

 

They run down the stairs, they look ridiculous

They run down the stairs, they’re very important

They’re very important, they’re very important

They rush

They rush

They’re in a rush

They rush down the stairs, they’re very important

They rush, they rush

 

Christmas begins today, 16 November

Christmas begins today

250 000 gifts, that’s our target

Actors in decline, singers off the charts

A wrong note, a discordant something

We have them all

We have them all

And the Newcastle Christmas Choir

Come let us adore him

Come

Come let us adore him

 

They rush on the stairs, they race the escalator downward

Down down

They race it downward

 

Rush

 

Today’s its Christmas

16 November

Today it’s Christmas

 

The celestial choir reaches new heights

 

[High-pitched squeal on the sax]


31

[NOTES FOR A PERFORMANCE]

Shut up, first of all shut up

Sit still

Feel your bum on the seat

 

Sit still, continue to sit still

 

If you’re good-looking you may sit with your arms folded across your chest

But only if you’re good-looking

 

If you’re beautiful you may pout

 

You’re really quite well-built; you only need to flex your muscles

 

I owned a BMW once, brand new

But no, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a BMW t-shirt or top

I definitely would not

 

Nor a cap saying TASMANIA in big letters


31

[THE WAY THINGS ARE]

 

Australia is definitely worse

than any European country.

You can be proud

you achieved this

(an overheard remark)

 

 

Hi bro how’s it going

He grins out of nowhere, suddenly

 

The baby looks at me & sucks

 

If it suits you I could swing by in 10

 

He bops to an invisible beat

 

Hi Loretta it’s Andrew

Is everything under control

 

That’s cool

 

If you just plod away to 2

I’ve just got to run up the road and see somebody

 

25 dollars, the first of the rip-offs, to glue my shoe

(The sole you know it fell off, Armani

It happens all the time, says the taxi-driver

There isn’t a wedding on the Sunshine Coast he doesn’t attend)

 

Herded on the train, herded on the bus

Distress signals issued by the lady in number 3

 

They do not look like breeding stock

They do not look like breeding stock to me

 

This is not my natural habitat

This does not look like any place I belong to

This does not look like any place I know

This does not look like any place I wish to be

 

Allah, he says, it’s not my religion

Thank Christ, he says, it’s not my religion

They stand as one

 

Hips stiff, they lumber

Hips stiff, they seem to know what they’re doing

The one on the right carries worry beads

He worries them with his right hand

 

See, old habits


32

[THE FIRST OF THE CRAZIES]

 

The first of the crazies

Our crazy of the day

Today the day of departure

 

He raises his voice, I look up

He sees me, he sees me seeing him

He has an old man’s guts

And the hair combed back

Tidily

 

Waving his passports, waving his papers

He seems to have two passports

 

And papers

 

Such people speak to me

As a rule they speak to me

They come up to me, and speak

Any moment now

Any moment

 

But today I am spared

Today I am saved

He wanders off

‘I’ll kill myself’, his final word

 

Everyone is little, everyone is two feet tall

They don’t need seats, they could sit in each other’s laps

That’s what I think

That’s what I think to myself

 

The man in the brown suit has just stepped out of a film

That’s his look

out of a film or out of a poster

It makes no difference

 

See, he’s got the look

 

Here is a girl who looks like a sheep

At least the upper body

(The legs are long

She walks with a twitch of the hips)

 

It’s all too simple, there must be something wrong

It’s all too simple, I’m awaiting some sort of disaster

Sooner or later, yes, a disaster

It’s all too simple, the disaster is now


33

[SLEEPERS, AWAKE!]

 

They sleep, yes, they sleep

They sleep, yes, like babies

From here to Seoul, that’s what I expect

A long distance snooze

All the way

Yes, snooze, all the way

 

An art

A national art

Rows upon row of sleeping nationals

 

It’s daylight, for god’s sake

It’s broad daylight

It’s day

 

Had I their art, this art of ‘shuteye’

This art of switch-off-to-nowhere

 

I’ll try

 

Somewhere a bird twitters

People clap hands

 

I think of my rowboat

Brick walls

Red brick waters

I think of waters swirling

I think of mud, eddies

I think of cattle

I think of cattle sunken into the mud

I think of cattle sunken into the wet green grass

 

The cabin is dark, we fly over Cooktown

The cabin is dark, we fly over Hopevale

The cabin is dark, we fly over Elim

We fly over rowboats in which we sit looking up

(We are hot and we are looking up)

We fly over beach camps, we fly over beach camps we once inhabited

 

We fly over stretches of water we know so well we could hold them in our hand

(It is too far, it is too far)

We fly over campfires we lit many years back

We fly over coconuts we kicked and rattled in passing

We fly over blackened skies

We fly over tremulous taipan tracks

We fly over a thousand accidents of history

We fly where brolgas fly

We fly where geese honk

We fly where mosquitoes practice their high-pitched hum

We fly where sand flies lurk in the mangroves

We fly where no dugout has been for many a year

 

We fly where the ghosts of lugger captains remain to be exorcised

We fly where the ghost of that bastard Moss remains to be exorcised

We fly over beaches where the ghosts of the past hang heavy

We fly over reefs that hang bright beneath the rising tide

We fly high over the memory of river mouths and ancient creeks

We fly over places to which we shall never return …

 

The earth belongs to us and disowns us

The earth forgets

We too forget

 

We have no idea what we are doing

 

We find we cannot exist on memory alone

Our plans are forlorn and forgotten

 

We have no idea why we did the things we did


34

 

[SLUMBERING DEATH]

 

Slumbering death, such a strange sensation

Tears that rise and fall every second or so

Unaccountable

Unaccountable tears

 

The cabin is a death cabin

The cabin is like a death cabin

All people contained in it like refugees

(In sleep they find refuge)

Locked in

Locked into a self-imposed darkness

 

This is their rule: SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP

 

Somewhere between Saipan and Manila

Our cigar case makes its relentless lunge forward

Relentless as death

Death itself

Already dead and dying above the Phillipine Sea

 

It’s dark, I manage to switch on the light

There are texts I have to write

Texts I have to shed

Obliterate

Make do with

 

I do not know the memory of it

This adventure which is not an adventure

Which is not an adventure

And still another day to go

 

The expected attendant does not appear

The expected attendant does not exist

I am forced to ask at every turn

Make demand, construct myself wilfully

 

My things are taken from me

I am forced to surrender, even the little things

 

My sleeping companions sleep

My sleeping companions continue to sleep

 

Okinawa ahead

Okinawa lies somewhere ahead

 

I think of my son, I am required to think of my son

 

Nothing makes sense, not today

I am forced to endure in the company of strangers

I am required to endure myself in the company of strangers

There are no friends to greet paraphernalia

 

My eyes betray me to the mercies of others

 

The rowboat is inches from the shore

 

35

[THE MIRACLE OF MODERN TRAVEL]

 

Hell, the miracles of modern travel

You make a special request for assistance, on account of your eyes

They look at you as if, if your head isn’t blown off, you’re really in one piece, compos mentis and all the rest

Entirely able

 

I can tell you, the quality of English has deteriorated over the years

Now the woeful

 

Behind me a giant image of Pulguksa

Somewhere else something else

 

The bus they said would be 30 minutes

 

I left home at 6.30

The plane left late at 10 o’clock

It’s now 7.25 local time

9.25 at the place of departure

pm, of course

making a 15 and a half hour day

 

yes, thank heavens for the miracle of modern travel

 

I talk my way through most things

immigration, the customs officer

nothing checked;

tomorrow no doubt they’ll have a go at my medication

 

efficiency

we can scorn the lack of it in others even when it suits our purposes

in years gone by, I recall, I talked my way onto the Hotel Lotte bus

my determination overriding all other considerations

they didn’t argue, not too much

it was, I suppose, too much trouble for them

 

it’s a rule: look as if you just might make trouble


36

 

Today I’ve written 2 texts

That is, two texts in addition to this day’s ‘bounty’ of texts

There’s the text for the art opening in Bydgoszcz

And there’s the Lévi-Strauss text

(How much he makes of gifts

And the notion of prestation;

The circulation of people as objects of exchange

The life of things)

 

Seoul is full of red crosses

The people are as handsome as ever

The bus driver as skilful

The trip interminable

The old lanes of the old city just as they were

The art work in the hotel corridors tastefully

French

(I think I’m back at the Chosun)

The hotel room is full of cigarette smoke

(See, I’ve scored an Executive Suite

Executive means smoking)

A toothbrush will cost you 1000 won at the minibar

The meal arrives in 3 sudden swoops

The food is American, including the pulkogi

How fortunate, I’m on floor 13

The flower arrangement is memorable, worthy of a photo

I’m dog-tired

I’m ill

I don’t know what I’m doing here

 

It’s about forgiveness, sings the singer

It’s about forgiveness

 


37

 

The bone china is as expected excellent

I like the woman at the next table, her handsome face, her deliberate gestures

The lack of pretension

 

She reminds me of Alexis

 

I think of her as an intellectual

I don’t know what else she might be

 

Her one conceit is the elaborate buttoning at the cuffs of her jumper

 

Which reminds me, Toni’s repairs to my coat are a success

 

Tomorrow I will probably survive but maybe not

 

I’ll go to breakfast at 7 and try to avoid the orange juice

 

Hazards are the most ordinary hazards

 

I can overhear voices but not conversations

 

I could read Korean once but not now

 

My handsome companion has disappeared, she disappears just like that

 

A plate rattles


38

 

And reappears, just like that

 

The sun streams in, sky cloudless but not blue

Steam rising from the tops of buildings

 

Slow motion, everything is in slow motion

 

Tables are wiped down

 

Today there is fish

abalone soup

smoked salmon

something with herrings

 

There is a choice of 5 pastries

 

Today’s ordeal lies ahead

I face the sun

It’s light lands on my fingers

Glints off the fork

 

Orchids guard the windows

One doesn’t flower, the one on the west wall

 

Because it’s smorgasbord it’s called the Scandinavian Club

I suppose that’s the reason

 

Grey city, white city, grey and white city and the steam rising

Impassive

Without urgency

 

It seems she is married, my paramour

She wears the same outfit as last night

The same jumper with the buttons at the wrists

 

There is something mannish about her, something calm;

She takes photos to the west

 

She leaves calmly, taking in the view

A bag hangs over her right shoulder

 

She never hurries

She is never one to be in a hurry


39

 

No, the towels are not de luxe, they’re not even fluffy

I expect something sumptuous

 

Outside the air is cold, familiar

 

How suddenly we can feel at home

 

I like the tangle of streets

The women’s foundation garments, mannequins all naked and facing the bare street

The boys’ fashions in the shops, aping America

And now the prompt departure of the bus;

Over-prompt

 

We cross the Han (there were checkpoints once)

The water is a pale blue

 

For a brief moment I see the future

Great swirls of road, buildings in clusters

No highlight, no focus, nothing monumental, nothing too tall

Assured

 

109, 105, the buildings are numbered

Each building in a cluster is numbered

103, 102, 100, 104, 105

 

I knew this road once, the road to Suweon

Nothing here, there was nothing here

102, 101, 101

A great cage of steel rises up

 

Ah, a driving range

(Yes, we knew it was important)

 

An abandoned swimming pool

A side channel of the river full of dried reeds with fluffy heads

103, 102

The same commitment to fantasy

A cross on the wall, a blue cross

A graceful railway bridge, slender

A weird apparition in red

A chimney billowing smoke or steam

The river getting wider and wider

A strange appalling beauty

615, 610, 605

307, 306, 105, 103, 101

The familiar spiky peaks

111, 106, 103, 102

No apparent order

A low hill covered in colours and filigree

Another slender bridge

Another slender bridge

A whole vast mass of buildings in the west

Swirls of road

Interchanges

Great curves in red-orange

A tunnel with tiles

The calm steady skill of our driver impressive

A ‘plane taking off from Kimpo

A ringing telephone

Memories of previous visits

My black bag left in the taxi

A visit to the Embassy

My bag retrieved

(Minus of course 100 dollars)

 

(This is thirty years back remember)

 

I always lose money on trips

 

The bridge is green

The train so neat with yellow doors

And unreal the way trains are at a slight distance

This set of hothouses shines in the sun

This set of hothouses covered in clear plastic glints in the sun

This cutting on the right is immense

What function it serves I do not know

What function it is meant to serve I do not know

 

The curtains of our bus are purple

There are headrest covers in silver-blue

The bus is hung with frills and flowers

We are in the city, we are not in the city

In the distance there are clusters of buildings

Plumes of smoke or steam rise up

Rows of chimneys, cranes free-standing standing in clusters

No bird to be seen, no bird

Not one

A great bay suddenly appearing on our right

(The tide is out, the mudflats are exposed)

A great bay appears on our left

(The tide is out, the mudflats are exposed)

The smell of the mudflats, the smell of the sea creeps into the cabin

We cross a long bridge

We cross a long bridge and causeway

We hop – it seems - from island to island

The islands are pretty, covered in trees

The islands are pretty, covered in trees with bare branches

 

The tide is out, the mudflats are exposed

The mudflats shine silver in the sunlight

 

The sunlight falls on my face

The trees are thick on the low hills

The exposed earth is orange

The exposed earth is orange-brown


40

 

It will be a long wait at the airport, almost 3 hours

Maybe three hours

 

I dread waiting

 

I dread waiting

For one thing I work too hard

I work too hard when I wait

 

If there were a gym I’d go to the gym

If I was prepared to go to a gym I’d go to a gym

 

I’m tired

The man across from me sleeps

The man across from me sleeps with his mouth open

The voices on the radio go on and on

 

The sun makes me sleepy

 

Out on the right I see the airport

Yes, it will be a long wait

Out on the right I see the airport

Yes, it will be a long wait

 

There is a bridge, a long bridge and causeway

The whole scene gleams silver-grey

There is no traffic

 

Beyond the bridge there are towers

Beyond the bridge there are skyscrapers

 

They are not inconsiderable

 

We enter the airport


41

 

Some things are the same

They sit outside to smoke

They stand outside to smoke

But only the men

 

The women do not hover outside the building smoking

They do not hover outside the doorways smoking

 

Here there are peasants, who hold the cigarette between the thumb and two fingers

Farm people

Rural people

Farmers;

Their cheeks are sunken, hollowed

They are not overweight

 

A patrol of 8 young men goes by, young men in maroon berets

They walk on padded feet silent as leopards

 

If that was the west end, this should be the east end

 

They greet each other with high-pitched voices

But they do not embrace

 

This the drab end of town

 

The building is functional, Phillip Cox

The Sydney Football Stadium

The Sydney Olympic Stadium, now renamed

 

It is silent

It is more or less clear and it is silent

 

In a minute I shall inspect Domestic, maybe it is busier

In a minute maybe I shall inspect Domestic

 

There are people checking, checking and cleaning

Picking up leaves

Picking up leaves fallen from the figs, the figs in pots

 

She drives off silently, on her electric buggy

 

It has fronds at the front for sweeping things up

A scene from Fellini

A scene from Satiricon, but hardly murderous

 

The boredom here is different

It is a different kind of boredom

 

I’m sick of looking, I’m sick of writing

At some time

At some time in the future

I shall be sick of typing

 

All this

 

Yet here we are, sick of looking, sick of writing, sick of waiting

Sick, sick of

 

Just sick

 

I need a change of tactic

 

My book is rapidly being filled


42

 

Procedures are not the same

In Sydney they won’t book my luggage through to Berlin

At Inchon the resourceful Kwak (I check his name) checks my luggage right through

 

To Berlin

 

No trouble, no trouble

 

How come?

How come?

 

There is an obvious explanation

It is this:

Kwak is not lazy but the ground staff in Sydney are lazy

 

Kwak is definitely not lazy

He is also a good-looking young man

 

This makes my dealings with Kwak very pleasant

 

He is a very competent young man, competent and obliging

 

Inchon take off, ready set go

 

We sit

 

Ready set go

 

We wait

 

The clock ticks by

 

Ready set go

I have a whole row of seats to myself

(Please have a pleasant flight)

My bastard pen is about to give out

(Ready set go)

Ready set go, ready set go

(Intoning it will get you nowhere)

 

Ready set go, ready set go

 

I await the first shuddering moment of reverse

 

(The pen is still about to run out)

 

Ah, the move is made, a backward move

The seats beside me are still empty

China Airlines slides along the runway

 

The tarmac is huge, clearly military

 

China Air scuds away, China Eastern scuds away

We follow


43

 

[FLIGHT 02451 SEOUL/INCHON – FRANKFURT]

18 11 09

 

In 40 seconds lift off

In 50 seconds already at altitude

In 60 seconds we already veer to the left

 

Mud, mudflats, powder blue waters; a scatter of islands

Mud flats that appear a long way out

 

That reach a long way out and appear a long way out

 

Rocks

Two boats racing, the wash trails white behind them

 

Racing

 

Racing for no good reason

 

Just to race

 

Yellow Sea, Bohai sea

Towns with immense apartment buildings, row after row

Fields

Fields streaked with snow

Fields fallow for the winter

 

Snow in the mountain valleys

Snow on the sides of the mountains but thickest in the valleys

Snow on the crests

 

Snow everywhere

 

Snow everywhere and solitary roads, tracks

 

 

Great plains of whiteness

 

Mauve peaks

Orange peaks with blue shadows

Lands without people

Tracts without tracks

 

Irkutsk, Omsk

 

Yekaterinburg

Nizhniy Novgorod

 

Talinn, Riga, Vlady

 

North of Tula

North of Moscow

 

Szczecin to our left, Berlin ahead

Potsdam, 43 miles

Potsdam, 23 miles

 

And everywhere the cloud, everywhere the same blanket of cloud


44

 

There is a moment when we descend into the murk

That moment is now

 

Let me remind you: an in-flight magazine is not a guardian of culture

They do like to tell you where to eat

 

The murk I think must go right to the ground

 

Despite assurances that my luggage is forwarded directly to Tegel, I am doubtful

 

We’re still at 30 000 feet

 

Now the exercises begin, now’s the time for the exercises to begin

 

He looked cheerier when he got on, now he looks ravaged

 

The sky is brilliant, brilliant blues and pinks of various intensities

 

No forms to fill out

We haven’t received them

 

There is a plane below us; our paths cross

 

A Mozart clarinet piece

 

The sky flares into a true Götterdämmerung

Right on cue!

Brilliant orange, brilliant red

A startling unexpected blue

 

And now the sudden swift fade!


45

 

Undercarriage down

A landing in 6 minutes seems unlikely

 

Frankfurt on our right

 

I chide the hostess for letting the gentleman opposite put his bag in my access route

My exit route in fact

 

The autobahn streams with traffic

 

5:07, excellent landing

 

So here is heaven, here in Terminal A

 

Young men should not wear suits

(Joop)

No one should ever wear suits

(Joop Joop)

Schoolboys might wear suits but with elaborate braiding

Red

Alternating blue and white

Otherwise let them be jaunty

 

It’s now 2 in the morning or thereabouts, Seoul time

4 in the morning in Sydney

(I’d be thinking about waking up)

There’s not an ATM in sight

German is the language of the hour

Listen and you can think you understand it

There is one newspaper in English, The Wall Street Journal

There are no papers in French – or anything other language for that matter

 

I’m still peeved about the ATM

 

Frankfurt appears to be closing down for the night

It’s only 6.30

I’d ring Britta if I knew how

I don’t carry a mobile though Linda would

I wonder what Sławek has in mind, a crazy trip in the dark?

 

I’ve already been up the best part of 20 hours

I’ve had three meals

I’ve got angry once

 

Passengers leave a flight from Hamburg, they all walk brusquely

The hoi polloi, the ones in Economy, are less hastened

They don’t have time to burn but they do have time to expend

 

She slouches, he reads angrily, one-handed

He seizes the magazine in both hands

He lifts the magazine to his face, too close

The gestures are deliberate

He reads intently

 

His right foot is hooked over his left knee

He shakes his right foot but only gently

When he turns the pages he no longer shakes his foot


46

 

Somewhere the world has taken a wrong turn

If people are driven to cheat it must be for a reason

 

Give me the reason

 

Here comes someone eating a giant pasty something

See, another wrong turning

 

I’m not sure that people should be reading all the time

Or checking out Internet

 

At least they sit side by side

 

If I have to take the train tomorrow that’s three days on the road

 

Our flight will be called at any moment

 

Yes, she sniffles, she sniffles

Yes, she is the person who will infect me

Infest me

 

She sniffles

 

She sits right next to me, long-legged and sniffling

 

Ah, the wind; ah, the storm; ah, the tempest

We will crash or land

We will crash

We will …


47

 

The car park is empty

Welcome to Berlin

The car park is empty

Taxis wait like sharks

Taxis lie in wait like sharks

 

Dresden or Leipzig? Dresden

Frankfurt or Cottbus? Who gives a damn

 

There is one thing that matters: the border

We will not cross the Oder till later

We will not cross the Odra till much later

Caught in the gusting wind, caught in the flurry of blown leaves

We will soon hit the side roads

We will soon hit history

 

(The autobahn has no history, the double carriage way highway has no history

The autobahn deletes history, the super-highway deletes history

The autobahn is designed to defeat history

The super-highway is intended to delete history and to delete space

Time and space, singularity and history all deleted

Skill deleted

Calculation deleted

All travel turned into simple intention

 

The destination is the purpose, there is no journey

The arrival is everything, the journey is nothing)

 

Stopped by the cops near Gubin

Stopped by the polizei near Guben

We enter the blustering night

Stopped by the cops (show your passport)

Stopped by the cops

Stopped by the polizei (show your papers)

We escape across the border

(That is the whole idea)

Escape across the border into Poland

 

The border crossing is vast, abandoned, filled with ghosts

The border crossing is huge, deserted

It is not absurd to say you feel the ghosts of the past

A space of extreme disorientation

 

Skateboard park, skateboard park

 

Skateboard

Skateboard


48

 

I thought I knew things, I know nothing

I thought there were things I knew

I know nothing

 

There are memories and nothing else

Nothing

Memories only

 

Something has happened

I know nothing and there are memories only

Memories of nothing

 

Everything is familiar but nothing exists

Everything is familiar but out of whack

Everything is strange but it is known already

Everything is known

 

The city is full of pretty buildings, pink, green

There are trams and pedestrian crossings and statues

Here and there, everywhere there are statues

 

They are ugly, they are not beautiful

They seem somehow abandoned

They are quirky, they are familiar, I know nothing about them

Even when I read about them (in the town guide) I know nothing about them

They seem somehow amateurish

 

There are plaques

There are plaques

One of the plaques says in English «denizens of Bydgoszcz»

I don’t think they mean this

I don’t think they mean to say «denizens of Bydgoszcz»

I don’t think they mean this but maybe they did

Maybe Bydgoszcz is full of denizens

Maybe that is what Bydgoszcz is, a town full of denizens

 

[image: statue of a bear with its jaws wrapped around a wolf]


49

 

If I survive the smoke I may survive

If I don’t survive I won’t survive

 

Truths are as simple as this

 

I have no idea yet what I shall perform

 

First things first, I need to wash my hair

That is the first thing

 

On account of the smoke, of course

 

What there is on the walls I have no idea

Bows and arrows

A décor to end all décors …

 

We will get the complete list of things later

 

For the moment it is bows and arrows


50

 

The more familiar the more foreign

Not strange, unapproachable

The language is familiar, I understand nothing

‘I’m an angel from today’, he says

Which provokes me to say, ‘I don’t trust angels’

 

No, definitely not, angels are not to be trusted

 

At any moment you might hear the roar of a lion

You might hear a lion roar

 

But for the moment all is silence, silence

 

You will see nothing, you will hear nothing

Only the vaguest hum

You will see nothing, you will hear nothing

No wolf will come to your door

No wolf, no mongoose

No cobra, no viper

Just a shake of green leaves

Just a cry of wild plenty

Just a cry of wild ergot

Just a word or two in some strange disconsolate argot

Just a few wild words

Just a few wild words amid the rows of potatoes

Just a few wild words amid the rows of stale cabbages

Just a few wild words amid the flowers on the altar

 

What to think, what to think here?

What to do, what to do here?

 

We are on unfamiliar territory

What is permissible or not is not clear

Everything is doubtful, obscure

 

There is no history, there is no history to speak of

We drone like gnats

We moan like mosquitoes

We imitate the laughter of insects

We imitate the sly rictus of ants

We drown in fish fingers

We feed on buttered scones

We want for nothing, we want for nothing

 

We are cast adrift


51

 

Moaning, yes, moaning at breakfast[1]

Folkways, mores

Faded glory

 

Who are we to speak?

 

Heaviness, no, not dour, heavy

 

Spring on the wall

Printemps, été

 

Yes, breakfast is served

(‘Isn’t it romantic, isn’t it romantic’)

Breakfast is served

And no lobster by the tail

 

A long way home

Terms of engagement unclear

Terms of engagement not announced

 

Foreign is foreign is foreign

There is no stepping back

No stepping back

 


52

 

We said foreign, we said no

No compromise

We said

 

We said

No compromise, the foreign is unforgiving

 

They will kill us with their smoke trails

It’s not just in my eyes, baby

 

Pal, pal uwa, pala mu’i

Puy, puy uwa, puy mu’i

 

Coming and going 

 

Sit down, sit down why don’t you

I’ve been here a week

I’ve been here a week, I’m none the wiser

 

The footpaths are not flat

The footpaths are not flat which makes walking difficult

 

Watch each step, you must watch each step

 

You shouldn’t have to watch each step

You shouldn’t have to make such a goddamn effort

Watching each step, I mean

 

There is no need for this, no need at all


53

 

I am the invisible man, he said

Everything makes me invisible

 

He has hair down to the ground

It touches the ground

His hair

He’s not exactly invisible, not at all

He feels invisible

 

He’s made it his problem, to feel invisible

You can’t look like that

You can’t look like that and be invisible

It’s just not on

 

We come from the same part of the country

He comes from the Big River

I come from the Small River

 

He comes from the Big One, that Big One river

 

His mob, the Bandjalang Mob, they straddle both rivers

 

They’re upper river people, freshwater people

Topside People

 

Freshwater and saltwater don’t really mix

He’s freshwater

He’s freshwater but you wouldn’t know it

 

He does nothing at all to make you think he is a freshwater person

 

He’s a blackfella, I’m a whitefella

We know each other, we know each other very well

We’re friends

 

We’ve known each other a long time

It might seem like centuries

We’ve known each other a long time

We haven’t always been friends

 

The sun rises in the east, we all know that

The sun catches the top of Mount Warning, Wolombin

That’s its proper name, Wolombin

Wolumbin the cloud-catcher

It catches the clouds and it catches the sun

 

We’re all from the same part of the world

 

What does that make us, it makes us countrymen

Sort of

But we’re not countrymen

We’ve left that country

We’ve followed separate paths but still there is something the same

A vague point of contact

Nothing you can really put your finger on

 

It’s nothing special but we speak the same language

Sort of

 

I can make him laugh

I can make most people laugh

But him, I can make him laugh

 

Which is good

 

If he were here he would speak for himself

I’m sure he’d prefer to speak for himself

We’d all rather speak for ourselves except when we’d prefer someone else to speak for us

 

That can happen, that can happen when something important is to be said

Something where our real identity is at stake

We hand it over to others

We hand it over to others to speak for us

When it’s important, when it’s really important

We have to have someone we trust and they speak for us, they perform for us

 

This might seem something of a mystery and it is

If you talk too much about yourself you can disappear

You disappear behind a veil of words, a veil of self-utterances

That is how you disappear

 

It’s not invisibility really, it’s something related to it

I don’t know what to call it

You disappear but you are really not invisible

You remain visible

You may continue to be present

There you are!

But you have disappeared

You appear like a brick in the roadway

You appear as if you have become an impediment

You have thrown the first stone

Now you must pay the price

You wanted visibility but now you are just a stone in the road

A blockage

A sort of obstacle

You’ve tricked yourself well and truly

The sun appears but no, it doesn’t appear for you

And your shadow, your shadow

Is not the first that ever burst across this

Across this

Across this cold sandy shore

 

There is no real name for it

It doesn’t have a name

Yet we know it, we know it very well

 

The name for it eludes us, it eludes us utterly

 

Sometimes we must crave each other’s forgiveness

It doesn’t count for much but it’s something


54

 

They didn’t look at us very friendly when we stepped into the restaurant

They didn’t look at us very friendly when I put my coat in at the cloakroom

I did however get a big key, a big piece of metal

It said 12

It said 12 in big metal letters

 

I can’t escape the smoke, I can’t escape the smoke, it’s partout

It’s everywhere

It’s in my clothes, it’s in my coat

And despite the fact that I washed my hair, it’s in my hair

 

Smoke always settles in the hair

 

There’s not much I can say about all this except to say it’s barbaric, it’s an active health hazard

It’s ruinous


55

 

In the sick room

In the sick room where the doctors suddenly enter

For a brief moment the walls show a shadow

 

At any moment now it will be my turn for attention

 

Language, it kills us slowly


56

 

They operate as if their two eyes work

They operate as if their two eyes will work forever

All assume normal working order

 

The table is broken, one leg is shorter than the other

There is no reason that things should not work

 

My favourite doctor has a day’s stubble at least

He purses his lips when he sees my gall bladder on the ultrasound

Very bad, he says, very bad

And the lips purse

He makes a gesture as if he’s cutting his throat ‘cut it out’

‘Cut it out’

A slashing motion with an invisible blade:

‘Very bad, very bad’

If I had the time I might teach him a word

The word for the occasion: calamitous

 

He needs that word: calamitous, calamity

He needs that word

That is the word he is reaching for

 

* * *

 

My second favourite doctor is called Piotr

Dr Piotr

He’s taller than he looks with a round face and round eyeglasses

He makes me think of that other Pyotr, the one in War and Peace

 

War and Peace, War and Peace

 

Today they change the sheets

‘Prosze’ they say when they’re finished

Today is Wednesday, it’s the first day they’ve worried about the sheets

 

There is a new nurse

There is always a new nurse

Today’s nurse wears a pale green top

 

She talks to me

I don’t know what she is saying

 

My companion is back in my room

The men are either bald or they wear ponytails

If I had my hair cut off I’d leave something of myself in Poland

An image

 

I’m sick of my life

I’m sick of my life that brings only problems

There is nothing in my life other than problems

 

The pen says Stabilo Exam Grade

I don’t know what this ‘Exam Grade’ is about

 

My companion has left the room with a roll of toilet paper

The toilet paper is grey;

Other toilet paper is green

 

I’ve got something like the hiccups

The romance of life is a big con

 

Dr Piotr makes an appearance

He apologizes for the non-appearance of the surgeon-general

The surgeon-general should have checked me out yesterday but he did not


57

 

There is no point saying that outside it is grey

Of course it is grey

 

There is no point saying anything else either

 

Poetry is the language of pointless things

 

When we feel better we feel better

Simple

When we feel not so good we feel not so good

And not so simple

 

Life is for the unworthy

 

We can say any old thing and get away with it

 

My companion spends much time on the telephone

I have a feeling he’s getting ready to leave

 

58

 

Blood in the tube

A new patient with dyed hair

 

Why do I feel in the presence of crooks?

 

I’m being cured of something but what?

 

The bread tasted good

The bread tasted very good

 

Bushy eyebrows like John Howard

Other politicians might come to mind though we would need to force the issue

 

This is not my way

 

The bread is an improvement over what Dr Piotr calls ‘the pap’

 

(Yes, he knows this word in English; it is the perfect word

The perfect word for an imperfect substance)

 

You too can appear on Bydgoszcz television

 

There is no way that is satisfactory

Thought returns but there is no way that is satisfactory

 

Road closed

 

Road closed but maybe temporary


59

 

There is no intelligence

There is no what intelligence isn’t, either

 

We are caught between nothing and nothing

 

If I weep will anyone notice

If I scream will anyone seek to restrain me

 

For the moment it is nothing

And nothing

And nothing


60

 

Hello, is there anyone here?

Hello, anyone?

 

The stink of the place is upon me

The stink of the place is right here

 

You too can be dead and bruised

You too can fall into the pit

And not the pit of forgetfulness only

 

You too

 

5 days makes you Polish

5 days in Ward 5 makes you a Pole

The hospital, see, is the very thing – to grab you, to hold you, to convert you

 

Ward 5


61

 

The word is not out

Chopin is not dead yet

The keyboard is covered in blood

 

Oh yes, it’s a slippery business on the keys

 

Shall we bid our farewells or no

 

They’ve gone silent, perhaps suspecting a refugee

They’ve gone silent knowing a traitor when they see one


62

 

[Hotel in Nitra, afternoon, and raining; and the concert performance after that point at which I sat down]

 

I can’t say anything about the décor

I can’t say anything about the Asian presence

I can’t say anything about the black lacquer furniture

 

Ostentation is ostentation

Comfort is always a sort of company

Companionableness

 

The soul is restless, the soul is a disturbed country

The business of the air

The business of attention, full and half-baked

 

The next turn will come

The next turn will come in several seconds

The next break will come in half and hour

 

Sławek’s capacity to focus is strong

A great sound track in the making

invitation to a nightmare

invitation to a nightmare that is

invisible remedies

soundless disasters

precision

The buzz of the crosscut saw

 

No break, no party fever

 

The drums go ‘Polish, Polish, Polish!’

 

And break …

 


63

 

The last 20 minutes

 

Situational was the word I needed, not merely interim, immediate

Shock the local, make it present

 

Now in the last 5 minutes

Indian love bells, Russian tabernacle

Machine-gun fire

 

Clip clop, the horse is dead

Clip clop, the Western is dead

Clip clop

 

Clip clop

 

Don’t eat jaffas, don’t eat juicy fruit

Don’t praise the pope too fulsomely

Don’t undo your pledges to yourself or to others

Don’t undo the threats you offer

Don’t undo your promises to yourself


64

 

Another day to depart

Another day of departure

Another cigarette

Another day of complaints

 

Who shall pay for breakfast?

Who shall pay for the parting of the waves?

 

There is no parting of the waters;

The Nitra runs shallow without conviction

The town is not drawn sweetly to its banks

It’s a bad day all round

A general malaise, a general distemper

 

My wit falls heavy on earless recipients

My natural enlivening cast into the streets like a piece of offal

 

A plane flies overhead

Bratislava, maybe Wien

A grinding tool, something that cuts stone

 

We are barricaded within

I long to go

 

A green stench falls from the walls


65

 

Twice in three days, I thought but no, only once

 

There’s the sign now, off the A4

Oswiecim

 

It‘s night, the tourist buses are put away

The officials who man the gate and collect the entry fee

Now at home, their feet up, thinking nothing

And today’s children silent before the screen

Chewing gum abandoned for the moment

The shyacking given a break

 

10.30, that was the first time

10.30 at night

 

History is never witnessed, it escapes us utterly

 

History is display, explanation

 

History itself escapes us

 

Yet, yet we are there

In that thing now

In that history that witnesses nothing

And turns all to display

 

We crossed the border at Zwardon

Indecisively

Without conviction

And most certainly without fanfare

 

We were not witnessed, not that we noticed

 


66

 

Out in the cold

Yes, it is suddenly cold

 

The church on the corner is busy

The pews are occupied

 

No, this church is not for show

This church is not for show only

 

Cold

 

Cold

 

Vestiges of last night’s frost and the chill air

 

Cold

 

This is not my country but my country is not my country either

 

Where is my country

Tell me, where is my country


67

 

In the eyes

In the eyes evasiveness

The blink

 

No, your glasses will not save you

No, your glasses will not spare you though they may protect you a little

Un très petit peu

Especially, see, when the whites do not show

 

THE WHITES BETRAY ALL

 

(Hold your fire

Hold your fire until you see the whites of their eyes

Hold your fire

Hold your fire)

 

Ok, the blink, you can evade as you wish;

The eyelids, the sudden fall and snap of the eyelids, occlude nothing

They do not create anything

They do not inaugurate a break

There is no true closure

They do not make the face blank

They do not offer protection;

The blink is the most anonymous gesture, it tells us nothing

 

The involuntary is not a land of meaning
68

 

It is the mouth that shows purpose

It is the mouth that opens and shuts

It is the mouth that purses itself in readiness

It is the mouth that says ‘Hold your horses’

It is the mouth that is the site of defiance and refusal

 

There is no kiss and make better

 

It too could blink, open and fall

 

The mouths of the men are shadowed

They are shaded with a slight shading

 

No matter, no matter

 

The women have lipstick

Two of the women have lipstick

None of the men have lipstick

 

No matter, no matter

 

The axis of the mouth must be played against the axis of the eyes and the droop of the eyelids;

The eyes are a blue I cannot describe

 

The flat axis of the mouth heightens the sadness of the down-turning eyes

 

Sadness, sadness

 

A sadness beyond melancholy

Nothing defeated but a sadness that is ingrained

Imprinted

Customary

 

As if to say, ‘This is our custom’


69

 

We have spoken about defiance already

 

One boy is defiant

One girl is defiant

 

They issue a challenge even if there is no one to issue a challenge to

 

To life, says someone

 

There is no point issuing a challenge to life for life will always win

This the others understand, somehow

Not well

 

The defiance is a different defiance

It says ‘Chin up’

It says ‘Keep your chin up’

 

When she dips her chin she does something

As if the whole face is an eyelid

As if the whole face can issue a blink

As if nodding to herself

As if nodding to herself then looking back at the camera

Forced to look up because she has blinked

She has nodded

She has lowered her chin in a gesture of being present

But now she must look up

The camera is above her

 

To assert herself she has had to nod, as if in an act of entire self-acquiescence

To herself

Not to anyone else

Not to her situation

Just her

Her

 

She acquiesces to no one and to nobody

She acquiesces to no one but herself

 

In acquiescing to no one but herself she acquiesces to no one


70

 

The old women are best

In saying this there can be no surprises

They know things

They have lived the gaze and now they live somewhere else

 

Men, too, live the gaze but they don’t know what to do with it;

They never fully enter it

So therefore they can never completely escape;

They are wary as young girls and less knowing

 

Those who know the gaze best simply gaze towards it

Softly

As if nothing is at stake

Except this: to retain the constancy of the self against the gaze

In the face of the gaze, as we might say

 

The gaze is an old camel that knows nothing

The gaze is an old camel that froths at the mouth and knows nothing

 

There is nothing in the gaze

 

The gaze fools itself for it thinks ‘All will be revealed’

 

Nothing is revealed

The face is a great deceit

Nothing is revealed

 

(These four short texts — texts 67 to 70 — are a partial response to an exhibition patre, a set of videos prepared by Wojciech Zamiara and shown at the Galeria Kantorek, Bydgosczc, as part of the 5th MOZG FESTIVAL.)


71

 

French at breakfast

Spanish perhaps at afternoon tea

 

This day is deader than all others

 

Berlin awaits

 


72

 

We made a decision

We made a decision I don’t know that I will stick to

 

A theme song, yes, a theme song

 

I listen to horrible rhymes, one after another

Horrible rhymes

 

The chairs are heavily varnished

They aren’t stuck together particularly well

 

In the corner the waiters cluster together

The young waiter has a deep voice

 

We leave for Berlin in two hours

More or less

 

Expect delays


73

 

The serviettes for luncheon are more elaborate

They are putting them out now

Luncheon it seems is a serious affair

 

Breakfast only brings forth a simple serviette

Folded once

Simple

 

We have switched nations, we have switched continents

We are now in Amerika

 

(Bring out the sausage, bring out the roast lamb)

 

Honky tonk piano, honky tonk piano

Skitter and skate

the keyboard of that honky tonk piano will make you skitter and skate

Hurry up, berate the keyboard of that honky tonk piano

 

Note, it’s a simple progression upward

One-two-three-four

A simple progression upward

 

That’s the way, that’s the way

A simple four-note progression upward

 

They call it the spirit of the age

They call it the spirit of a rising estate

They call it something


Made up for the rope

Made up for the tractor shoot

Made pretty

Made perfect

 

Cosmetics applied
74

 

Where did daddy go?

Tell me

Tell me, where did papa get to?

He never told me a thing about the father

(That’s his father)

Not a thing

 

He told me nothing

 

His mother, she was French

A French woman

A nice woman

A pretty woman

Pretty as a picture

Tony was pretty, too

And his brother, Lockie

The two of them, pretty

Handsome

And if not handsome, pretty

 

Lockie the brother, visited me once

A surprise visit

He visited me the next year at the second university I went to

He turned up unannounced

He turned up unexpectedly

He hunted me out

He hunted me out in the shower room

I heard a voice, it was him

He turned up unexpectedly and hunted me out

At the college where I was staying

I was in the shower at the time, there was steam everywhere

I was young, 18

He turned up in the shower room

There was steam everywhere

I heard my name being called out

It was him

 

Lockie

 

Yes, it was Lockie with his tousled black hair

His tousled black hair and his pale skin

 

A very French look

Not that I knew it then

But later, yes, I would recognise it as a very French look

The way he walked, the way he stuck his chest out

 

How he knew I was there I have no idea

How he knew to find me there I have no idea


75

 

I find it funny how people sleep while it is sunny

While the sun is shining

 

It seems strange

 

I find it funny how people sleep when the day is at its brightest

They bring themselves to life at night, when it is dark

 

Dark is when they are alive

 

Dark is when they are alive

As if

As if, somehow, they are sheltered from the day

(No, I shall say nothing about the harsh realities of day

Day is not a harsh reality; it is day

It is day, merely)

 

The morning is bright, this morning

This morning is bright, bright as day

The sky is clear, there is blue in the sky

And the shadow

The shadow of a small mobile falls on the wall, near the door to the kitchen

 

In the kitchen is a sound system

It seems broken

Mostly it seems broken

But it’s an odd thing even so to have in a kitchen

Yes, a sound system

I haven’t before noticed the large bowl of cut Bohemian crystal

 

There is a single large comfortable armchair

Big

Big and very ugly but it is comfortable

It is comfortable also

 

On a scale of nought to 10 it would rate an eight

For comfort

But for ugliness it’s off the scale

A ten plus

A ten double plus

 

It faces oddly, I notice this

It faces oddly towards the bed

It sits at right angles to the bed

 

There is a reason for this, a good reason

What it is facing is a huge screen

A huge tv screen

That is what it is facing

 

The whole room smells

There is a stale stink to the whole room

 

I watched videos yesterday

I watched videos on the laptop

I watched short videos of men kissing

It’s what the laptop threw up

I watched a video of two young men, one English, the other Asian

Trying to connect

 

At least I think he was English

 

Things ended in tears

Things ended in tears and recriminations

 

Love is difficult between young men, even when they love each other

 

76

I regret nothing of the trip

 

These days I try to say yes

Yes to everything

 

No one in their right mind would have said yes to Bydgoszcz but I said yes

No one in their right mind would have driven to Nitra the very day they got out of hospital

No one in their right mind would be sitting in a small apartment in Tegel contemplating a further 33 hours of hard travel back to Sydney

 

33 hours 15 minutes to be precise

 

Not to mention the 2 hours plus hanging round Tegel Airport

(Yes, I just love hanging round, it’s my favourite activity!)

 

We will leave here in about an hour

 

(If I listen carefully I can still hear the planes landing)

 

Last night there were prostitutes in the streets

Long boots and heavy coats

In Ku’damm

Between the cars, leaning against the cars

In the Kurfürstendamm

Tall girls, tall girls dressed against the cold

 

(It wasn’t in fact all that cold)

 

The trip from Bydgoszcz took the best part of 8 hours

We ate at a place not far from the border

A hotel-restaurant built like a fort or a castle

Fake

With bad food

With an atmosphere of the Wild West

Ranch house but not a ranch house

A castle, a fort

With towers and crenellations

And wooden tables inside, and ugly chandeliers made of wrought iron

And fake candles

 

The fish was advertised as Halibut

But this was crossed out

The Halibut was crossed out, with a neat but firm black line

And I was served Kargulena

 

There they sat on the plate, curled and tragic and their little teeth showing

 

It was very bad


77

 

On Monday I get my stitches out

Which means I have to talk to my doctor

 

Which means that I’ll have to ask him How come?’

How come you didn’t order an ultrasound?

How come you let me travel in that condition?

How come?

 

Sławek wants me to write something about my time in Poland

I said I’d write something

(Say yes; yes, say yes)

I said I’d write something but I don’t know what

 

What do you say, ‘I was most of the time in hospital’

Is that what you say?

9 days in hospital

For 9 of the 20 days I was in hospital: University Hospital #2 Jana Biezela Clinic

 

The rest of the time I was in a car going somewhere

7 hours Bydgoszcz to Berlin

(via Gubin, of course)

11 hours Bydgoszcz to Nitra, via Katowice and Zwardon

(500 miles, 500 miles)

15 hours Nitra to Bydgoszcz, via Krakow and łodz and Wrzesnia

8 hours Bydgoszcz to Tegel, Berlin

Bydgoszcz to Berlin via Wrzesnia, Frankfurt an der Oder; and right round the southern perimeter of the city

 

Some of this time I was doing the navigating

 

I never rode a tram, not in Bydgoszcz nor anywhere else

I never went to Torun

The trip to scenic………. fell through

I never travelled by train

I never travelled by train or bus

 

I did, however, visit the main station in Bydgoszcz

The main train station

I counted the steps from Gdansk [street] all the way down ……….

 

I did a trial run to see how long it took and to see how far it was

And to get information for a performance that never happened

 

A lot of things never happened

I never got to the Oper

I never got to see the local production of Tosca

(It went fine, said the chief flautist, a brilliant musician they all said, agreement all round)

I never saw any of the performances on the Festival programme

I did see the little theatre where the local company performs

A theatre I liked very much and would adopt as my own if that were possible

 

I did see Jim Denley tuning himself up during a sound check

I didn’t see Schaeffer (many said it was a highlight)

I didn’t see Evan Parker (many said that was the highlight)

I didn’t see myself, not in performance

 

Having said that

But having said that

I did, I did get to stand on the banks of the Wisła

I did get to see a cat, running across the road at Szubin

I did get to see the train station at Gniezno, the several platforms

I did see, at a distance, the school where Gzrgosz taught for 30 years

I did hear Grzgosz sing and speak to his own performances on the drive to Berlin

(The sweet corn of domesticity, the kitsch of the jungle, the brazen call of the wild)

 

Trumpeting, trumpeting

 

An aesthetics of yearning

A yearning focused on what exactly

Scenes, scenes of desolation

A landscape turned to desolation

The obliteration that farming produces in a flat land

The colour of eyes I never finally determine

A desert with people in it

And religion, yes, religion

 

Always, always religion

 

A pity that, a pity

Piety is rarely convincing


78

 

A cat goes by, Miao!

A cat goes by, a single Miao

 

Miao

 

Just like that

 

As if in protest

As if in protest at the ignominy of it all

 

Put in a cage

Taped in with ugly tape

To have your peerless marmalade

Couleur de marmalade

Scorned

Dishonoured

Put to shame

 

Shame, shame

 

Yes, travel is a shameful business

 

There are two lanes into the lounge, gate 8/9 as they proclaim it (eight slash nine)

A fast lane

And a lane described as neither fast nor slow intended for

Yes, intended for the likes of you and me, the hoi polloi

 

A slow lane for us

And a fast lane for

 

THEM

 

THEM being THEM

The rich, the famous, the wannabe

And the plain ordinary up-themselves

 

Yes, for all those seeking recognition, their proper worth

 

There is a choice

A clear choice

You can enter the fast lane (most do)

Or you can be an honest warrior

an ordinary shit kicker

one of the volk

and enter

yes, enter

sans pride

 

And surely it will surprise you

Surely it will surprise you greatly that

Most choose the former

 

But here, here is a woman now, a true democrat

And another

And now a tall bloke with a bald patch on the top of your head, mate

Entering

Entering without fuss or rigmarole

 

I’ve entered via Poland, I’m one of the

hoi polloi

an also-ran

a bloody mongrel

an alien

an undesirable

a dangerous piece of scum

riff-raff

a piece of turd on wheels

something the cat dragged in

a waif

a stranger

a total nobody

an illegal something or other

 

Anonymous Berlin where no one is no one

People without histories

People without a personality to their name

 

They remain thin, lean

They don’t know Cassio

In general they have no Italian relations

But they remain thin


79

[BEWARE THE WARM COAT OF KNOWLEDGE!]

 

You’re a pain in the arse if you know things

People don’t like it

If you know things keep them to yourself; it’s wise

Keep them to yourself

If you know things people will hold them against you

 

Look, Tony, if you had been prepared for some of the rough stuff it might have been a different story

I’m not sure, of course, how could I have known for certain

I’m not sure you weren’t

Into the rough stuff

Roughness and tenderness, the rough stuff and true tenderness, in about equal measure

That seems to be the go

Unadulterated gentleness is for pansies

I didn’t take you for a pansy

I did however take you for a desperate drunk

No doubt about it, you were something of a desperado

 

I’m sick of Australia

(My Native Land!)

I’m sick of this land of all white cloud everywhere

Total coverage

I’m not sure what fun we might have had

(It might not have been fun)

I mean, if we’d sorted it out

Somehow

Yes, somehow if we’d sorted it out

 

I wonder if you ever had a wife, a missus

Had kids

Played the patriarch

 

I doubt it somehow

 

I regret I haven’t seen you since

 

This is true even if I forget you entirely

There is nothing about you that I remember

 

I know you but I don’t remember you


80

[THE LONGEST BEARD IN BERLIN]

 

You have

You have

The longest beard in Berlin

 

He corrects himself

 

You have

You have

The longest beard I’ve seen today in this airport

 

You have

You have

 

He doesn’t mean Berlin, he means Frankfurt, Terminal A

 

In Krakow our drummer voiced a similar sentiment: People are happy to see your beard

It makes them glad

Look!

 

Here we are in Interzone, it’s expensive

Everything is reduced to nothing

German Apfelkuchen

Any other tart or tartlet

Nothing

Made nothing

 

Thai food becomes ‘Wok Dishes’

 

No one buys anything

Everything is dead

Surely, you think, it would be a special zone

A special international zone – without taxes

But somehow, somehow

It’s become nothing

Not international, nowhere

 

It’s a nowhere zone

A vision of the future

Nowhere

Where taste itself is simulated taste

An added flavour, carefully calculated

Carefully calibrated

 

How come then it masquerades as the authentic?

 

I hear two Americans

They are the first Americans I have heard on this trip

(Star Trek has landed, Star Trek has crashed)

Pleasant they are, these young men

Friends

 

Affable

Companionable

Civilised

 

They both carry laptops

 

A flight to Washington is announced as I speak

Flight UA933 to Washington

 

It’s just after 4 now

4 pm

I wonder what time they’ll arrive

There, at John Foster Dulles

 

As for the earlier conversation, if you want children get married

Having children is a good idea

If you want to have fun hang out with one of your pals

 

Young men know each other very well

They spring with the same life

 


81

 

I’m looking forward to a good cup of coffee when I get back

The coffee here is most unsatisfactory

 

That’s one thing

 

Another thing is water

Ordinary tap water

It’s hard to get

 

In any case they warn you off it

 

Europe is a sad affair; it doesn’t see its own tawdriness

(Seek not and you will find)

The man drinking coffee from a mug is a little like Jadran

Same head

Same long skinny legs

Same posture as he sits

 

Here nobody talks to each other

 

The woman in the striped top leafs through a book

She has long purple boots, I notice

 

A plane leaves for Toronto

 

A young woman in a pink top and pink cardigan eat a roll of some description

She eats with her mouth open

 

The last time I was in Frankfurt people looked much more stylish

 

Lufthansa, I note, has flights to Warsaw

Warcawa

Warcawa!

 

I know less and less about the human condition

The older I get the more it escapes me

The older I get the more it evades me

 

No one is eating at the Thai restaurant

No one

 

Despite the tall standing statue of the Buddha

Despite the tall standing statue of the Buddha

 

Empty


82

 

The doors to the Arctic are open

The cold wind blows

 

Icy

 

Having children was once a reason for living

What is the reason now?

 

We will not recover our powers

We will not recapture the careless impulses of youth

 

I recall a beautiful girl

I recall a beautiful girl, maybe the most beautiful girl at the university

But something was wrong, something was

Disturbed

Disturbed – and profoundly disturbing

 

She was beautiful

She was

 

I was one of the last to discover that something was wrong

 

That beauty, that beauty was surely perfect

She was a girl so beautiful you could not suspect something was wrong

 

The fact is, you wanted everything to be right with her

 

She couldn’t even dance

 

DW could dance, the girls at Brunswick Heads could dance

But she could not dance

 

She looked perfect but there was a deep flaw

An egregious fault or tare

 

I was appalled, it was appalling

I was struck dumb

 

I see a couple now, he’s in a plain white shirt

She’s wheeling a trolley loaded with booze

They can’t take the trolley up the escalator

But they don’t see the lift, the door to it

I mean, they fail to spot the lift

So they turn on their heel

 

Where they expect to go I have no idea

 

There’s a little boy full of energy

He runs from pillar to post

Yes, literally

There are pillars and posts and he spots them all

 

He has places he runs to

He spots places to run to

He runs, yes, from pillar to post

 

He’s a robust little boy


83

 

not desires, ambitions

(Random schemes, proposals just for the sake of having them)

I wish to perform in Bratislava, Bucharest, Belgrade

Budapest also

 

Tell me, why doesn’t Brno get a guernsey?

 

All the Bs but Berlin does not figure

Dresden does not figure

Leipzig does not really figure

 

Warcawa, yes

Minsk, yes

Riga, yes

 

I know I am beginning to stink

I know that

I’m starting to leave things

I know that, I know what that means

 

I give myself a squirt with my Dolce è Gabbana

That sweetens the atmosphere

I want to perform in places that are deprived;

There is no point in performing into conditions of superfluity

There is rigour in poverty, harshness

You cannot take it or leave it in conditions of austerity

 

Superfluity breeds contempt, superfluity means you can pick and choose

Superfluity only listens with half an ear

 

Superfluity cannot attend, there is no urgency

It’s not attentive, it lets things slip

Its greasy fingers let things slip

Its fingers coated in lard let things slip


84

 

One day I’ll get you mob to laugh

I will

You’ll laugh

You’ll die laughing

 

Make no mistake, I’ll get you mob to laugh

If it’s the last thing I do

Yes, it’s not so bad, to laugh

To laugh, laughing

The whole laughter bit

 

(We won’t say anything about earnestness

It’s a killer

We all know that:

Earnestness kills)

 

And so

And so, having said that …

 

Pcim, every country has one

Yass, Back o’ Bourke

The forgotten place

Unlikely

Out of the way

In the sticks

In the backblocks

 

But more than that, more than that

The place no one wants to go to

 

But there it is, there it is nonetheless

The place no one wants to go to

But there it is, full of people

Full of people going about their affairs, their daily business

As if, yes, as if in fact they’re at the centre of the universe

Not full

Not full of people

But enough

People going about their ordinary business

People who

People who, not for a minute

Question where they are, or why

 

Such places carry on minimally, sort of

They maintain themselves

They do

 

And if Pcim is one such place

And Yass is another

Then what about łodz

Or Canberra for that matter

Just as unlikely

Just as forgotten

Just as nowhere

 

And if łodz has a street of lights

Colour

Clubs

Well good for it

 

Pcim has a club, it’s called Club Pcim

It’s where you do all unlikely things

The more unlikely the better

 

Pcim will not condemn you, so don’t condemn Pcim

And if the railway station at Yass is one hundred miles from the town

Should that disturb us

Or should we merely note the fact


85

 

Tartu

Vyborg

Pakov

 

The places list off

 

Overnight they disappear

It’s as if the world does not exist

 

Today the whine of the hostesses is enough to make us vomit

Kahamsamnida, kahamsamnida

The future?

 

A dubious question

Or rather, is it the answer that is dubious

 

In the upstairs corridor they sleep

lying on rows of chairs

or on the floor;

the floor looks the best option

 

There is barbarism in all we do


86

 

No one in this country takes responsibility for anything

The blackfellas do it to themselves

The doctor is innocent, the condition was merely ‘missed’

The dentist ‘slips’

The footballer alone has to watch his step

 

Tientsin, 67 miles; we have already proceeded

 

The Bohai Sea is a sea I hadn’t known of before this trip

 

Tomorrow, I have no idea

Wednesday, I have no idea

You wait on a wing and a prayer and neither existing

 

The arbitrary, let us commit ourselves to that

 

Why was I such a liar, why was I so needy?

 

The experience of the locals doesn’t amount to much

 

All my efforts to do things properly have been in vain

 


87

 

There is no social at the Pod Orłem

You might as well be a pig on the moon

 

We slow slightly

We engage in a slight descent

 

The locals I know will race to the exit

(It’s the beginning of everyday)

 

I was wrong about slowing down, we have just speeded up

 

What to do, what to do?

 

I am no Moses; and there are no chosen People

The Chosen are bound to disappear

As certain as the flight will inevitably become ‘delayed’

 

‘Through circumstances not of our choosing …

‘We apologize for any inconvenience’

So routinised no apology is intended

 

(Give us this day our daily bread, give us this day)

 

The bloke in front leans back

(Oh Caucasian wonderland!)

He is of course lord of the universe

 

Seoul is in our sights

40 minutes or less to touchdown


88

 

Business Class

(See how they run)

Business Class

(See how they run)

 

The boy from The Ramones opts for the massage

The boy from Leipzig opts for the massage

Training partner at the Olympics

Catch as catch can

Olympics 2000

Training partner

10 days only

 

Here we are in row 16

Seat G, aisle seat

Mother and two babies

A young boy

(He eats potato chips, he eats potato chips from the packet)

And a baby, a proper baby

Still at the breast

 

The little boy is not curious, not at all curious

Not about me, not about anything else as far as I can see

An incurious little boy wrapped up in himself;

I am a mater of total indifference to him

 

He sucks from a bottle

 

I’d rather be talking to the German boy, the one from Leipzig

The one who’s the public custodian

 

I’m not sure how the mother will manage the two children

The baby is a big baby

 

Time for a catnap


89

 

As usual the return is easier than the outgoing

Easier the return than the outward journey

 

This is a truth of planes but not a

Truth of cars

 

Breakfast? Breakfast awaits

 

Surprise us, surprise us

 

Collinsville, 42 miles

An old haunt

An old haunt of the Pipeline days

 

We forget, we remember

 

At 6 they turned on the lights

Promptly at 6

 

All these northern flights

All these northern flights, not exactly superseded

 

The trip? Too early to say

 

I’m not glad to be back, I’m not glad to be returned

 

The little things, we have not noted them yet

the light switches

the religious cards above the bed

the avoidance of tap water

(‘That water is not a good idea’, he said, weaning me away from the tap)

the scarcity of animals

the booze in the service stations

Martiusz’s haughty manner

his penchant for quoting Baudelaire and his facility in Latin

the firm handshake of the me

the ever-whingeing Pom

 

now tell me, what happened to the film Sławek was to make

the film of yours truly

 

the estimated time of travel keeps on getting pushed away

(it’s snuck up to 7.52)

in thirty minutes I shall put on my shoes

unusually, the eta has been brought forward

don’t get excited: by one minute

 

we’re still at 37 000 feet

our ground speed is still over 550 mph

 

the eta has slipped back 1 minute

 

I know this text is boring

There isn’t much I can do about it

The text is boring but no more boring than the condition it describes

 

No, there’s not much I can do about it

Neither the text nor the condition


90

[FOR BROKEN HILL]

 

Tell me, what is there to celebrate

What is there to write home about

 

Tell me

 

Surfie culture, yes, that was something

 

Anything else?

 

We’ve forgotten

 

You think of light

You think of tedium

You think of pretentious academics

You think of arch-conservatism

You think of ‘good time’

You think of shallowness

You think of eavesdropping

You think of window dressing

 

You think of travelling salesmen

You think of death in the suburbs

You think of death in the old folks’ home

You think of miscommunication

 

You think about putting on your shoes

You think of silent abuse

 

You think of deviations or deflections, about being put off the track

You think of cultural illiteracy

You think of a social chill factor of –73°C

 

You think of indirection

Even now we’ve been asked to make a ‘detour’

Yes, round and round

Even now we’ve been asked to make a detour

Yes, round and round

Round and round


91

[HOLDING PATTERN]

 

You can go all round the world

Yet here in Sydney it’s holding pattern

(Round and round, round and round)

Yes here in Sydney it’s holding pattern

(Round and round, round and round)

 

There will be more lies yet, you can be assured of it

 

First time round, the complete loop

Second time round, the complete loop

Third time round, the loops is well on its way

 

(Hello Woy Woy, hello Dubbo)

 

Very soon we will be an hour late

(What a joke!)

Very soon it will be an extra hour

(We’re already 10 minutes late and another ‘loop’ on its way)

 

Let’s have a diversion

Let’s put on a programme about Africa

Children

Soccer

‘Their real needs’

 

My real need now is to be on the ground

Landed

Arrived

 

But no, let us delay, let us delay delay

Another half hour to go

Half hour to go

Half hour to go

Another half hour to go

 

We clear immigration in two seconds exactly

(The advantages of the new special chip passport, and the assistance of a pleasant young man)

Of course, none of this helps get the luggage out onto the carrousel or through customs;

The queue is immense; the queue jumpers as shameless as always

(I live, I prevail, bugger you others)

 

My son is not there to greet me, despite promises

They’re waiting, they tell me, at gates A and B

My flight just happens to exit through C and D

 

Oh happy life, happy life

Oh happy life


92

 

Everything in the country is a lie

The lakes are a lie

The rivers are a lie

The mountains are a lie

Any authority is bound to be a liar

 

I’m sick of having to complain

I’m sick of not complaining

 

On the train there is nowhere to sit

There is nowhere for anyone to sit who has luggage

Nowhere to sit if you have luggage

Despite the fact that this is the Airport Line

(The Airport Line, the Airport Line)

Despite the fact that it is the Airport Line

 

Appointments here mean nothing

First they ask for a referral despite the fact that I know as a fact this appointment was calculated to fall within the period of the last referral

The appointment was set for 2 pm;

It is now 2.30 and no one has seen me


93

[CENTRAL CASTING]

 

It’s hard to set things in stone, or possibly not a good idea

 

Victor and Victoria, take a bow

(Yes, Victor, we know your arm is in a sling

And you, Victoria, those eyes of yours look suspiciously blackened, though we won’t make too big a deal of it)

 

Conflict is such sweet incitement

The body alive, supercharged in any act of making-up

The sex something special, all sparks flying

 

Victoria, we know you dream secretly of his dick

Victor, we know secretly you dream of your own

Profligate in your favours

And harbouring a secret lust to be fucked by a Russian soldier

(The two polizei stroll by, bum buddies for sure

Solid and sexy in blue dungarees

And a walk more or less thuggish)


94

500 mile (envoi)

 

500 mile, 500 mile. You’re not going anywhere, brother

500 mile, 500 mile. You might as well stay at home

 

500 mile, 500 mile

 

He decided to put on a rival event, $20 dollar meal and a free video

(You too can be Queen of the Desert)

 

Hear the elephants trumpet, hear the elephants blare

Hear the wild beasts attend Carnival

 

(See how they run, see how they run

Listen to their raucous cries)

 

The Farmer’s Wife, the Farmer’s Wife

Off with their tails with a carving knife

Farmer’s Wife, Farmer’s Wife

She hasn’t saved a cent since last payday

 

Great and glorious are the expectations of the past

Great and glorious are the expectations of the present

Lay down your arms, my friends, there is nothing to be achieved

Lay down your arms

 

The days of the righteous are long spent

You can from now on only expect misery and decay

If sighing will make you wealthy you will sigh

If crying will make you crippled you will cry also

 

Do not exist within expectation, it will betray you

 

500 mile, 500 mile

500 mile, 500 mile


95

 

How come

How come I have the sense I do all the work yet have to pay for the privilege

How come?

 

Today is today and not tomorrow

Today is today; we demand a different tomorrow

 

What can we demand? We can demand nothing

 

Suck arse and see, that is the rule

Suck arse and see

You gotta crawl

You gotta get treated like shit by the receptionist

You gotta wait

You gotta crawl

You gotta play the buffoon

 

Them’s the rules, mate, them’s the rules

 

Remember this: there’s no incompetence but yours

There’s no incompetence except can be laid at your door


96

 

He’s pretty as sin, he’s prettier than sin

White top, pale blue jeans

White sneakers, pale blue eyes

White-bound book

 

He strokes his chin

He sits with everything screaming at the crutch

Drawn tight, no room for manoeuvre

 

How shall he stroke his hair

How shall he touch his hair?

 

The rain comes down, a fine mizzling rain

 

Jo has opened her new gallery

Gaynor wants a copy of my thesis

The Bridge needs a new paint job, a Golden Gate red, I think

We swiftly approach our target, the shore

The City is dun and dirty

No, it’s off the menu for today

We slip round the back of the Collaroy

We slip past the stern

 

It hoots

 

We are a small child of a vessel

Bells ring

A child hollers

 

The boy in the blue jeans reads attentively

He scratches his wrist

 

A child screams

 

Up high flags fly at attention

Down below they droop

 

Yes, they droop


97

 

You’re right, I’m wrong

You’re right, of course, I’m nothing at all

 

How come you have a mortgage on the truth

 

Yes, I’m wrong, you’re right

I’m wrong, you’re right

 

What day is it today, Wednesday

You’ll make it Monday for sure, or Tuesday

And if I say Thursday you’ll make it Friday

 

Saturday never comes

And Sunday, yes Sunday, that’s your day of rest

See, even the gods have their furlough days

 

You are a strange creature, a strange creature

But why say the obvious, why say what we all know?

 

You strum the guitar, out comes the sound of the ukulele

You bang the drum, out comes the sound of the tin whistle

You squeeze the guts out of the piano accordion

Now tell me, why do we hear the sound of an atom bomb

You, we know, have a flea in your ear

Who told you to translate that into the screech of the clarinet

Who taught you to play the parrot, who told you to play the possum

 

See how they run, see how they run

 

The farmer’s wife is still forearmed

See how they run

 

The farmer’s wife still froths at the mouth

See how they run

She picks up her mouth organ, the birds flee in terror

 

Twinkle twinkle little star

The ghosts are against us

Twinkle twinkle little star

The meteorite splits the trampoline asunder

Twinkle twinkle little star

Much nonsense has been sundered, ripped to shreds

Twinkle twinkle little star

The 7 o’clock train for Quilpie leaves precisely on time


98

 

Victor and Victoria didn’t come to the party, despite the invitation to come

Needless to say they didn’t make it to the ball either

What happened was they rang and said ‘Come over’

And I said ‘When?’

And they said ‘Straight away’

 

So that is what happened

 

Those days it was still booze and weed on the menu

Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and anything else going

Black Sabbath

Earth, Wind and Fire

And other bands I’ve forgotten for the moment

Not the Beatles, not The Who, not The Clash, not James Morrison and The Doors, except on special occasions

Not The Band

 

Yes, we had our favourites and we stuck to them

 

Being stoned we were stoned

Being stoned we were stoned and up for anything

(Caution set in later)


99

 

We have to listen, all about Tiger, infidelities

Yours truly on the make

 

He was good, she says

She doesn’t say he was bad

 

Sex is news, infidelities, that’s news

 

We wait in queue, we wait in line

We stand for an hour

(Fitness certificates issued later)

 

I’d rather go blind, says the bloke up front

What, is this a deterrence policy?, says another, a guy from Gosford

In Darwin you don’t wait 10 minutes

In Darwin you don’t have to wait

That’s what I might have said

 

(You see, we are all experts in this business

An expertise we might prefer to do without)

 

Today’s nurse from Japan, Narita

‘Country girl’, I say

‘Suburban girl’, she says

 

English, 8 out of 10

 

We do our best, she says, the nurse from China

We do our best … with limited resources

 

They’re trimming the Christmas tree

 

Nurse Lesley says Try Susie, she’s the one who hides the presents

Try her

 

It’s Christmas spirit all round

It’s Christmas spirit all round and we all wait

It’s Christmas spirit all round and the eyedrops beginning to take effect

The eternal atropine

 

Zimbabwe, I say the word

Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe

 

There are many things without meaning


100

 

Hasn’t the ward got gastro

I didn’t get it

 

We await the next advice, the next bulletin

 

Bells ring, chimes

 

A young man is wheeled in on a gurney

The ambulance guys in blue overalls

 

I await; limbo has seized me

There is no sense of progress, procedure;

The snails are having a party

 

A ‘phone rings, an old-fashioned ring

The doctor in the blue shirt stalks the floor

 

Nothing doing

 

In 20 minutes I’ll have been here 3 hours

 

India comes by in green; she looks more mannish than her husband

 

Achilles is next up; he’s a slight thin man

Security strolls by, the customary pair

(Me and my offsider)

I have no sense I’ll be seen by anybody

 

Let’s stroll, let’s stroll

The rhythm is slow

Let’s stroll


101

 

The tide is out, well out

The dense pattern of waves ripples over the lighter green

And over the darker green also

 

The wind swirls, but the ripples ripple

A smooth surface

 

Waves really there are not

 

The ferry is far off

It leaves Kirribilli as I walk down the gangplank

 

I hear the heavy chug of the ferry now

And the greedy squeal and the half-choked garble-gorble of the mulberry birds;

That’s my name for them

 

I shall splash water in my face in a minute

 

At Kurraba Wharf they are often sexy but not today

Today the typical style and panache are absent

 

Maybe she liked to think of herself as sexy

When I was 5 she was only 33;

She behaved like an old woman

 

Now the waves have gone they remind me of battleships

 

The people of Warcawa are snobs, they all said so

They walk with their noses in the air

Even though

Even tough, only yesterday, they were all peasants

Mere villagers

 

It was a remark I heard more than once


102

 

Heat, Christmas heat, shopping, heat

 

The bus slams the encroaching ute

The bus slams the front of the encroaching ute

 

(That’ll learn ya)

 

Welcome to Oz, the city is alive with heat and people and taxis

For every bus there are 10 taxis

 

We’ve run out of cranberry sauce, he says

He does not mention the shortage of Turkish bread

 

Men in turbans, young men with bandy legs

A Filipino woman with a ponytail and pink top

A slim young woman with good legs

We’ve just missed the train so we wait the full 10 minutes

 

We wait no longer


103

[OVERHEARING THE WORLD]

 

(1)

 

You were born in the States 17 years ago

You arrived from the States, what, 5 days ago

 

In Poland I don’t hear an American voice, not one

Not an American song, not one

Not an American newsreader

 

Baggage is the most important thing

And you can never deal with the baggage

So I decided

So I decided to have a girlfriend with no baggage

A girlfriend who had nothing

No past

No boyfriend

No nothing

 

Yes, he will drone on, he will drone on forever

 

No baggage, no baggage, no baggage


(2)

 

Overhearing the world

 

The husband died, one of the 6 children died

Elizabeth and Alma

My father grew up with his nieces

 

I’m sitting here, I’m sitting here waiting to be served

I’m sitting here waiting, waiting for attention

I’m waiting

 

Fury can descend for no reason or it can have its reasons


104

 

Marilyn is not dead, she’s alive and well in number 13

With the death of Michael we await the next superstar

(The white glove hangs in a closet unknown)

Elton strikes a new raw chord


105

 

Cheap little shit hole of a country

No I don’t call Australia home!

(overheard remark)

 

‘Next time maybe they’ll want a third lane’

The Chinese driver gets it at last, sniggers

At least he stopped at the bus stop to let me on: Martin Place

 

Mother and daughter chew gum, identical teeth, eyes

A knowing look, I don’t get the lingo

Spanish, I decide, Portuguese;

The father talks at speed

Si, perche …

 

He’s got a cute look, that Chinese boy

His girlfriend, his wife (maybe she is)

Frowns

 

I don’t know how she can resist him

She yawns; her teeth are perfect right to the back of the mouth

 

Tombstones

 

We ask the Zoo to arrive, here it is now

The Zoo, the Zoo: 9.15

And a thousand snapshots at the ready

 

Mother and daughter play a game

(Clap hands, clap hands)

The mother watches to see if I am looking

Yes, I look

 

(Clap hands, clap hands)

 

Others play the same game: two sisters

 

Seagull screech and squawk; remain invisible

Out of sight

 

The toy the child has left is a good toy; it makes the pigeon ugly

 

The first banana of the day is eaten; it’s not at the Zoo


106

 

At 90 I wonder what the tat will look like

The butterfly wrinkled, the flowers shrivelled, their petals fallen

 

She scratches the butterfly, it refuses to fly

 

None of the family wears hats; they do however wear matching red sox

 

Quarter to 10, says Dad, arriving at last

He wears a white cap and he doesn’t wear red sox

 

He looks like a jockey; he probably is a jockey

 

The ferry to Kirribilli is the biggest ferry in the fleet, there are 4 of us on board, maybe 3

 

I sit on the left side in order to catch a geek of today’s harbour event

The Rhapsody of the Sea

 

I’m not sure they call it that

Maybe the Incredible Hulk

Or The Bulk

 

Its whiteness reduces the Opera House to a desert cast-off

Something tainted with orange dust

 

Today the sky is a simmering sky; the day does not yet simmer

 

Flags blow to the south-west

 

A long line of cloud lies north-south

 

It sits there with no apparent reason


107

 

There is no reason to terminate, we may not

‘I can’t wait’, she says, and utters a chuckle

The sea glitters but it is not a pleasant glitter

 

I see the same palm trees; they look different

But slightly

Slightly only

It’s because the fronds on the eastern side are dead;

The wind catches them and swirls them to the south-east;

See, the airs are erratic

 

The Harbour is bare; the yachts are in hiding

 

Neutral Bay, Neutral Bay, all is neutralised


 

108

 

Here the ferry makes an inauspicious entry

Gently enough

 

A pair of plovers ignores the fisherman

She walks with a lop-sided walk

Bends through the fence

 

I decide to leave this country

It’s a woman of 40 who decides me

Fat, someone who thinks she has a right to act as she pleases

Her first commandment: Act unaware

 

The Frenchman gets off the bus with his two children, one boy and one girl

The little boy races the bus along the street

He runs fast

He runs fast, his knees lifting high up

 

He runs fast as if he likes to run


109

 

Pin the tail on the donkey but the donkey don’t exist

 

Pin the tail, pin the tail

 

The next century they were still short of ideas and the century thereafter

(Your little friend will only cost 14 dollars, special price)


110

 

Yesterday it was the Rhapsody, today it is the World

 

Glory be!

 

And yet, and yet

Frank eyes in frank faces

It is more than a glance but yet not a challenge

 

They swat flies in Cammeray

They swat flies in Mosman, Palm Beach, Dover Heights

Elsewhere the mosquitoes are busy

 

A wrecking ball wreaks havoc

A wrecking ball destroys half the suburb with a single swing of the ball;

Do not call this exaggeration

 

By rounding the Point at the hour

There is a rough chance the bus will be waiting

 

Otherwise we remain in a state of total disconnection


111

 

On the Point a setting of tables and chairs

No, two settings

 

The timber is bleached but it is not a case of inviting time

 

Such a great cloud, such a great white fluffy thing

Promising storms later

 

Roots crawl on rock and die dry-dead

 

The kiosk sits alone; there is no true shelter


112

 

STYLE

 

right there

in the middle of

his chest

 

glittering

 

the joke is all on him

 

check this driver,

he says

is it enough?

 

he gasps politeness


113

 

Shit food, shit anything

 

Christmas

 

(Nibble your life away, nibble your heart away)

 

Virus + antibiotics makes alcohol prone

 

(Nibble your heart away, nibble your life away)

 

Man in the Moon, Fragments, Elements of Desire

 

(Squeeze that brick, make it dry)

 

The rainfall of the hour makes it dreary, unintended

 

Dead prawn heads dry in the yard

brioche and  deadpan croissants make it to the bread and butter pud

(So the chef informs us)

 

This my friends is the Voice of the Expert


114

 

By Way of a Postcript:

[IN THE INTERNET CAFÉ]

 

On the streets there is always everything

The disagreeable old man

The fat man in his early thirties

 

They all get lovely as you get older

At 70 there’s no such thing as an ugly woman

Or an ugly Man

 

Where the horns should be there are two tufts of red

Proper to the occasion

 

I’m delighted by these emanations

If not the snuffling sneeze of the boy sitting next to me

Looking for a job on Heron Island

 

The chef should not kill

 

And that other boy, of course

The one with the bleached crown

And streaks of blue

As if he embodied some fountain or other

One dedicated to the latest plague

Depression

(Just a millimetre from hope)

 

We might stand aghast and sometimes we do

 

There were other things

There were other things I have forgotten already

 

How come, how come we forget?

 

Stopping for the cars in the road

The short queue in the post office

The silly woman who ignores my comments about my eyes

As if I must be a liar or something

 

We endure, we endure

 

Sometimes we are glad, sometimes

 

We alternate between this and that

Like waves in the sea

Sometimes flat, sometimes uplifted

 

Somewhere yes betwen the trough and the crest

 

November – December 2009


OPENING LINES

1    Departure approaches

2    Luscious, juicy, juicy fruit

3   10 to0 3, the train on platform 10

4   So, they said, green balloons …

5   Your take on reality …

6   You will not ward off the banality of the world …

7   What shall we say of the wayward …

8   The traveller must have a suitcase …

9   I exit exactly at 11 [Lest we forget]

10 He sits on the very edge of the kerb …

11 Once I was ignorant …

12 No truth today …

13 The purple bells of the jacaranda …

14 Just now … [The man with the papered head]

15 Of course he hasn’t phoned …

16 10 dollar steaks, all the go

17 Today’s storm, today’s insult

18 A Star of David, for no reason

19 No, not yet

20 He comes and goes, death planet

21 Waterfalls, they want waterfalls

22 A visit to the rifle range

23 Refusal, I refuse

24 Do you know we are moving forward [… and so the Minister speaks]

25 The anthem, he he he

26 Mighty Mouse takes refuge …

27 The project, our project

28 Give us a break

29 They run down the stairs

30 Shut up, first of all shut up [Notes for a performance]

31 Hi bro how’s it going [The way things are]

32 The first of the crazies

33 They sleep, yes, they sleep [Sleepers, awake!]

34 Slumbering death, such a strange sensation

35 Hell, the miracles of modern travel [The miracle of modern travel]

36 Today I’ve written two texts

37 The bone china is as expected excellent

38 And reappears just like that

39 No, the towels are not de luxe, they’re not even fluffy

40 It will be a long wait …

41 Some things are the same

42 Procedures are no0t the same

43 In 40 seconds lift off [Flight 02451 Seoul/Inchon – Frankfurt]

44 There is a moment when we descend into the murk

45 Undercarriage down

46 Somewhere the world has taken a wrong turn

47 The car park is empty

48 I thought I knew things, I know nothing

49 If I survive the smoke I may survive

50 The more familiar, the more foreign

51 Moaning, yes, moaning at breakfast

52 We said foreign, we said no

53 I am the invisible man, he said

54 He didn’t look at us very friendly …

55 In the sick room

56  They operate as if their two eyes work

57 There is no  point saying that outside it is grey

58 Blood in the tube

59 This is no intelligence …

60 Hello, is there anyone here?

61 The word is not out

62 I can’t say anything about the décor

63 The last 20 minutes

64 Another day to depart

65 Twice in three days, I thought …

66 Out in the cold

67 In the eyes

68 It is the mouth that shows purpose

69 We have spoken about defiance already

70 The old women are best

71 French at breakfast

72 We  made a decision

73 The serviettes for luncheon are more elaborate

74 Where did daddy get to

75 I find it funny how people sleep while it’s sunny

76 These days I try to say yes

77 On Monday I get my stitches out

78 A cat goes by, Miao!

79 You’re a pain in the arse if you know things [Beware the warm coat of knowledge!]

80 You have [The longest beard in Berlin]

81 I’m looking forward to a good cup of coffee

82 The doors to the arctic are open

83 Not desires, ambitions

84 One day I’ll get you mob to laugh

85 Tartu

86 No one in this country takes responsibility for anything

87 There is no social at the Pod Orłem [CHECK SPELLING]

88 Business Class

89 As usual the return is easier than the outgoing

90 Tell me, what is there to celebrate [For Broken Hill]

91 You can go all round the world [Holding pattern]

92 Everything in this country is a lie

93 It’s hard to set things in stone … [Central casting]

94 500 mile, 500 mile [500 mile (envoi)]

95 How come

96 He’s pretty as sin

97 You’re right, I’m wrong

98 Victor and Victoria didn’t come to the party

99 We have to listen, all about Tiger …

100 Hasn’t the ward got gastro

101 The tide is out, well out

102 Heat, Christmas heat …

103 You were born in the States …

104 Marilyn is not dead, she’s alive and well in number 13

105 ‘Next time maybe they’ll want a third lane’

106 At 90 I wonder what the tat will look like

107 There is no reason to terminate, we may not

108 Here the ferry makes an inauspicious entry

109 Pin the tail on the donkey …

110 Yesterday it was the Rhapsody …

111 On the point a setting of tables and chairs

112 STYLE

113 Shit food, shit anything

114 On the streets there is always everything {In the internet café]
NOTES & COMMENTARY

1

The ‘blind man’ on the escalator is George. George  …

The Maori guy from Upper Hutt. Djon knows him as well. The catalogue he is referring to is the They Are Meditating catalogue, on the Arnott’s Collection of Arnhem Land Bark Paintings. He’s passed my article onto Neil …., who commissioned me to write a long text on Spinifex Art. The paperwork never arrived though I said I’d do it. At the time I thought I could see a connexion between the missing catalogue piece and the reason for the delay. Now I read it differently. At the time I just thought: ‘Oh the catalogue ended up with this dealer in Melbourne. Oh yes.’ Now I suspect that the gallery person responsible may not have liked the piece at all – and in reality wanted a different kind of writing. I haven’t had any negative feedback on this piece. But then you get little if any feedback at all ever. The feedback I have had is good. But it hasn’t changed how people write. Convention rules even when it is completely outmoded – and unable to deal with the political or ethical questions that the contemporary situation throws up. No wonder later I find myself unable to think, unable to speak, and … Well, Jo the Gallerist (yes, horrible word) is Jo Holder, always committed to ‘good works’ and ‘The Cause’. The Cause keeps a lot of people going. I call it false concreteness. There are plenty of Cause Queens and Cause Groupies. Others may call this the Vulgar Left. My own position is that life is complex and should not be prematurely simplified into ‘self-evident truths’. There is no such thing.

Warren is Warren Mundine. If he has come out against The Intervention no one in the family has heard of it. I quiz Djon explicitly on the point. ‘Ha’, he says, ‘it’s not what Kay and my brother are saying …’ By brother he means his brother Roy, I suppose.

My reference to Helen of Troy and the
Greeks escapes me now. Helen of Troy makes me think of Marlow but … No, it must have been a reference to some conversation I overhead. Anyway, predicting a Greek calamity seems to have been prescient. I give myself no brownie points on that score, however.

Yes, something about dealing with the shit – but what?

2

As mysterious to me as it seems. There is nothing I can add. A string of observations, probably based on a ferry trip.

3

Circular Quay station. I can re-visualise the scene easily. The odd thing is the ‘all-trains-lead-to- Campbelltown’. But I’m not going to Campbelltown, not today.

Yes, all roads lead to Rome. So they say, but it is not true.

As becomes clear I make my way to Medicare. The Wynyard branch. It must be a Thursday. It is only on Thursday that they get such huge numbers. But because many of the customers have to go back to work the queue can shrink dramatically.

Having written this it could be Tuesday. I rarely go on a Tuesday because the queue is so considerable, at the end of the lunch period. Yes, the time tells me it is a Tuesday.

There is a shop in Wynyard Arcade that sells teriyaki chicken and hoki fish and boxes of sushi. I frequent it reasonably often, but maybe not in the future. I establish habits only to rupture them.

4

The gradual deadening of the life world. It happens in front of our noses. History is being deleted. Nobody stands for anything now except themselves. The possibility of transcendence is being removed. We are now all smaller than we are. If the Cenotaph is to commemorate the fallen of war, what might the monument to the fallen self look like? It is no accident that the poem begins with balloons. The fact that they are green says something maybe about global warming and the crisis of the environment. Yet I see the current crisis in quite different terms. People will always fetishize the environment (for this read, the weather) in conditions of real existential crisis. It gives them something falsely concrete to cling onto. Like the baby it’s bottle, or the drunk, his bottle …

5

The death of Nic Waterlow ‘shocked’ the art world. Like all crises it mobilised. I didn’t go to any of these events. I met Nick on at least 50 occasions. On each occasion he’d introduce himself. It was as if I didn’t exist. I was ‘forgotten meat’. Yet he knew who I was even if he didn’t know what I was. One might think of him as shy or diffident. Margaret Farmer has written a competent if uninspiring (and very conventional) obituary in the latest issue of Art Monthly (March 2010). Educated at Harrow he was clearly a person of privilege. What brought him to Australia? He followed the love of his life, an Australian woman. Even so he seems to have quite early made his escape from Britain, studying in Grenoble and Florence. The review does not indicate the taking of any degrees. I’ve always praised the Spirit + Place exhibition at the MCA, though he might have scrutinised more intently Djon’s Aboriginal Memorial (1988). It is undoubtedly Djon’s though the fact is not always noted. He might have questioned the ‘once and for all’ impact of colonisation, rather than seeing it as differential and progressive and relentless. It isn’t the 200years of sameness that is at issue, but it’s relentless commitment to itself. Colonialism is a very conservative project. It works through repetition. It seems incapable of questioning itself, or working out the true nature of its modalities. There were many Invasion Days, not all at once.

This is not a personal remark but the Nick phenomenon raises fairly starkly the issue of Pommie curators of the Sydney Biennale. Nick is not alone. David Elliot is the current curator. Meanwhile Liz-Anne reigns at the MCA. And Edmund at the AGNSW. On my count that makes it (in terms of the principal art institutions operating in Sydney) three out of three. Three Brits. Liz-Anne might legitimately question being lumped in with the Poms but she’s a Brit. Maybe that is why the tartan is so important in marking her ‘difference’. Instead of playing his double bass outside the MCA Sławek might consider playing the bagpipes …

 

DJM will make a number of appearances in these texts. Here he is at the Catholic Club in Campbelltown, at the gym. He’s on an exercise régime. His presence seems to disturb certain other frequenters – whether it is his long Medusan dreadlocks that trail on the ground, or his penchant for disrobing in the change room. Perhaps it isn’t the frequenters at all but management, and management alone. Perhaps they have a special envoy of the Pope, with a single function: to maintain proprieties. Maybe he should apply for a special dispensation.

Racism in Australia takes many forms. In each and every case it involves over-scrutiny and the invoking, suddenly, of rather quaint notions of respectability. It is from a world of imagined respectability and proper behaviour (appearance) that Djon is outcast.

Daniel makes his appearance. My circle slowly announces itself. The notion of circle is important to me.

6

The criticism of Oz continues, the improper taking up of local possibilities, the whole notion of transplantation. Transplantation is the horticultural (stylistic) equivalent of transportation.

Is immigration still thought of under the head of ‘transportation’? We surround ourselves with what are in fact penal colonies. We have in recent years taken them off-shore. That matches the general fondness for ‘outsourcing’. This does not make us global, it must serve to strengthen the sense of isolation and the drive to exclude. The drive to exclude doesn’t make us exclusive, it makes us exclusionary.

There is nothing new in these thoughts.

7

Jennifer (another member of the circle) provides me with a suitcase for the trip. It’s flash, green, Benetton - and bloody awkward to pack. Yes, I should carry it empty. That is the perfect way to leave here, empty-handed.

We talk over breakfast – at Club Central aka Petrol!

Yes, it is with trepidation that I go to apply for my passport. Surely someone will put something in my path. I go to Head Office, near Central. I need it in a hurry. It costs me extra.

8

The application process is painful. There is a nice woman trying to assist me. She normally works in a Post Office, but here she is doing ‘special training’.

When I leave I realise that she has not taken my signed photographs. Hello, I say to myself, if I had not picked this up what chance getting the passport in time? Rather than taking a position back in the queue I bowl straight into the ‘exclusion zone’ (yes, there is such a thing) and hand them over: ‘You may need these’, I say. She flusters an apology.

She’s decent.

As I leave one of the lesser national ceremonies is in progress: a mini-ANZAC. The 11th hour … And yes indeed the irony is not lost on me: my application at the 11th hour.

An old digger stands stiffly at attention as they play the Last Post. He looks directly at me. His eyes do not waver.

Ah, the old Australia!

But no, this isn’t the local RSL, it’s a sandwich shop.

The reality question is about my beard. I’m frequently approached because of my beard. It’s a talking point, like Djon’s dreadlocks.

I hadn’t really considered the issue of whether I’m really being taken for a ‘bushie’! Bushie beard, you must be from the bush. There’s the underlying folk logic.

On the train back to the Cross the New Australia appears, in full brazenness. Sexy Arab girls with virtually nothing on. It’s their day to be sultry. Every day is their day to be sultry. An instant harem with purring sensuous catlike creatures stretching themselves along like dusky river dragons …

Our soldiers went to the Middle East. Now the Middle East has come to us …

10

The multicultural theme is taken up, different lifestyles, different customary gestures and postures, the fact that our habitus is full of alternative ways of doing things, all taken for granted.

Asia predicts Asia. Not that I’ll be there for long. But the reminder is there: that soon I will not be able to assume my capacity to be understood. Yes, English takes us a long way. Perhaps too far and too easily. But the assumption of communicability can no longer be assumed.

Incommunicability poses the question: WHAT AM I? As soon as one is in a zone where normal functioning can no longer be assumed our being is up for grabs. Not our identity, merely our capacity to operate or function. Yet we always manage. We are all more resourceful than we think we are.

At the end of the text a further member of the circle makes her appearance.

To be praised, to be praised in that particular way (‘I am proud of you’) is disabling. We collapse. We collapse in the face of its annihilating onslaught. For what are we, the gourd itself? We shatter. We lose our self-possession – and all sense of responsibility to the self.

This I know from my friend.

11

In praise of the spot, the tare, the fault – a theme already announced in the previous text. This view of things is forgiving. Beauty is best in any case when it arises surprisingly. If we look for it … No, better when it slams us in the face, without warning. Even our own beauty.

12

What shall we say of Sławek? He’s a key figure of this account. Something of an absolutist, whatever that means. Everything is black and white, or at least clearly delineated. Maybe there is more wishful thinking than might seem to be the case.

His absolutism is a challenge. Others might call it authoritarian. I don’t think of it that way. There’s a take-it-or-leave-it – and a sense of absolute priorities. The compromises are instant – or not at all. I suspect there’s a great personal cost involved. Yes, something admirable.

The bison runs head down. It’s as if the woolly collar around its neck pushes the gaze downwards. Even when they run over the cliff they fall head down. Down but not bowed.

The bison is addicted to its one blade of grass, its one lodestar. This is not Pascal’s roseau pensant. It is not the thing that bends.

13

Appearance, pretension, the desperate remedies people are driven to in extremis. The jacarandas are a thing of beauty also.

Yes, I’m back at Medicare. All the years I’ve been going to Wynyard – and before that, Martin Place – Alessandro has been there. Alessandro the perfectly coiffed, Alessandro the perfectly attired, Alessandro the helpful, Alessandro who tells me his personal woes – but discreetly. Even when I don’t end up at his counter (it’s rare these days; once he was able to engineer it) he gives me a wave.

14

Apparitions. Martin Place is a good place for apparitions. Maybe because it is constant. Constant places allow us to see the strange, the aberrant, the untoward. These things are important to me.

And ordinary observations.

We had teachers at school who had plates in their heads – from the war.

Others might say ‘silly old farts’. But ‘silly old cunts’ is also in currency. What is the cunt in this connexion, something missing?

15

I hate it when people don’t ring when they say they will. It’s an abuse of my time – my time and my expectations. Others are very cavalier in their use of the telephone. They unplug without a care in the world, make their calls when it suits them, become unavailable when they choose. This I cconsider selfish and discourteous.

I can understand it sometimes, the need to disconnect.

There is a power trip in the telephone call, too: ‘I can ring when I like’. Note that it is the caller who always thinks they have the right to put the phone down. At once initiator and terminator.

Dingly Dell is the name of the cottage where the famous horseman and poet Adam Lindsay Gordon lived outside Mount Gambier. I remember the broom and its yellow flowers.

I don’t know why it appears here. Maybe it’s spurious ‘Englishness’.

16
The peasant scene is from a Chekov play – a scene of revolt, uprising. The peasants enter at the very end, from backstage armed with implements: hoes, rakes, pitchforks. They do not speak, they have not appeared hitherto. It strikes me as a terrible scene, for the actors forced to act this part are treated as dismissively as presumably the peasants they are supposed to represent were. I saw this play once in Murwillumbah, directed by the mother of a friend. No, I didn’t see it, I was in it – as one of the peasants! Yes, enter at the end, look like a rabble, makeshift weapon upraised. Be rebellious, say nothing.

There is no end to the smugness of the middle class. It is a sea of satisfaction. It smiles its seaweed smiles, lank and wan.

17

The bread is not gluten free, that must be the issue; or it has wheat in it. Beetroot is so salt of the soil. You’re a true democrat if you eat beetroot.

18

The images are clear. It’s how they’re assembled and read. A Star of David cut into the head. Maybe punk. Shostakovitch, himself Jewish, being patronised by another Jew. (Shostakovitch is several thousand light years ahead of Berlin.) An ordinary mother-daughter pairing, dirt poor and dirt cheap, but pretty. There is something there. If you could protect you would but they’re already consigned. Their fate has overtaken them. It makes them tragic, grand even. I’m at Central, at the Railway Square end of the long underpass. Quark, I have no idea what it is. I go to pay, I’m 10 cents short. She lets me off.

That’s how I remember it anyway.

Maybe I’ve just collected my passport.

19

Yes, a passport to somewhere, a passport to nowhere. The Steve is Steve Irwin, the crocodile man, dead on the end of a stingray barb, pierced through the heart. Dolores is almost certainly a figure of my imagination. But maybe Diana Dors who also came to a sticky end. (Yes, whatever did happen to Micky?) Paul is Paul Newman of the impossible blue eyes. They die of over exposure. Paul Newman – but also Jack Thomson and his horrible barbeque sauce, widely distributed at Garma in 2008. I purloined one of the bottles; I have it yet. Exhibit A, as they say.

Savour or saviour, take your pick. It’s a mere editorial choice.

20

The me as me me me. Choice, they will say, has become the done thing in an age of consumerism.

I wonder then how they consume themselves. Painlessly, tastelessly?

Read it as you will. The consumption is all yours.

21

This is before I saw Avatar. I’ve always thought that there should be waterfalls tumbling from the heights of tall city buildings, with micro-environments at their base. (‘Where lithe lianas coil!’) And recently I’ve come across an artist (Olaf blah blah blah) who has been paid precisely to implement this idea. (See, it’s the implementation, not the idea.)

What this tells us about art I don’t know. It’s beyond art.

Each of the things cited could be an art event: burning jetties, burning pines (not to mention the topless towers of Illium!), temple doorways in flames. Why not? Sounds good to me.

The cocktail glass is a thing of beauty – and refinement. But as to our other cultural products …

The art of excess. The art of plenitude. The art of Aladdin’s Cave. Open sesame, open to all. An art that is not about hoarding but openness, display, availability.

Even the thunder that roars is contained, brought under control, diminished. There is something amusing in this. But only for a moment.

Even the thunder that roars can become an advertising gimmick.

22

A wish list, a moment of self-definition, self-objectification. Towers, rivers, prisons! No, the catacombs do not appeal. No, I have never been down a mine and I don’t intend to start. It’s not important. Minds yes, mines no.

And this, we don’t need to experience everything.

The left bank is my natural predilection. The right is murderous.

Then ordinariness. Well, that’s what I take it to be.

Even so there is a curious satisfaction to be had from the ordinary.

23

But even the ordinary will end by assailing us. We need to build up our resources first. Yet we are assailed anyway. The media assails us, the radio assails us. If you have television, it assails you. You are told what to think, what is important, what you must buy. It inserts you in the now. But the now is the same as that now, the thing you are inserted into and nothing more.

To resist requires refusal, a certain aloofness.

I won’t repeat my hatred of ‘good works’. The responsive gesture or act, now that is another matter. To care, that is another matter. Not to drown yourself in the misery or misfortunes of others.

24

The Minister is Minister Wong. Penny Wong. This is a direct if incomplete transcript of an interview she gave on radio. No, it doesn’t matter what it is about. It’s about the Murray-Darling, of course, whatever that is. There may be a river, a river complex, but that has been replaced by something else. I don’t understand this process entirely. It’s when things have been administered into total non-existence, so that all that is left is a suite of further administrative moves. It is administration creating the conditions of further administration. Let us not talk of efficiency, or care, or anything at all. It is a further bad dream commenting on another bad dream. It is not regressive. It is indeed progress. But what it progresses to is a very precise form of extinction. What we do to the river we do to ourselves. Global warming can be seen as a fantasy representing not the desire to limit human action but to extend it further and further. It’s a war of sorts. The weapons are undoubtedly easily identified, but who can be bothered?

I have a suspicion – yes, it grows – that at a certain point Senator Wong merged into Minister Garrett

25

The strategies of the political. The will to power. The will to power domesticated – by creating the domestic as the general sphere of action and being. Or everything modelled on the domestic. This is why there is such an insistence on family values. But if you have given up on the family or the domestic as a sphere of anything!

There is no action possible in the sphere of the domestic. It’s a flat earth. It has activities, repetitions, tasks – but no action.

Sorry, they’ve put in a development application, certain modifications to the family abode.

26

Return to 25.

27

From another angle. The loss of personal integrity, I suppose they would call it.

28

Another bad day at the office.

How odd that I am being asked to talk precisely about this, Southern Perspectives, otherwise known as The North-South Dialogue. There is no North-South Dialogue. The South is anything excluded from the main game – the main conversation.

There’s only one answer: try harder, no, not at thinking, sport. That’s the go. No, it doesn’t take much brain power to sell iron ore. It’s easy to sell, but on what terms? You can always sell it if someone wants it.

There’s more of course but this is some of it. How to create an intelligent abode? The principal dialogue has to be here. There is no conversation, just deals …

Some of my stupidest friends are very good at this. They grow orchids in their spare time. They’re always doing things. If it isn’t the yacht it’s the golf course.

The smarter ones grow orchids and do home repairs. Elaborate home repairs. They’re very skilful in a fashion.

They’re already antiques.

29

A real scene. Martin Place station just before 9.00 am, what the French call ‘les heures d’affluence’. It’s the crowd at its inattentive best. That’s why it’s called the herd – or the mob. It’s bestial. There is no attention to others. It’s all destination. When they’ve arrived there what next? Ah, they take off their shoes – and sharpen their pencils. There’s always things you can do with paper clips …

Further up the food chain there are always meetings to attend. The lower echelons organise the sandwiches. They haven’t thought to poison them yet.

I know this, I’ve done this.

The herd arrives by train or by foot. Their superiors arrive by car. If they’re from out of town they may walk. After all the hotel is only a hop and a skip from the office, the meeting chamber …You call it exercise, Yes, just a little stroll …

It pays well.

 

Martin Place, it’s a very important site for me. Even so, despite my best efforts I’ve had great difficulties getting anybody to film it for me, or to stage little ‘insertions’. I’ve written about the beggars. They’re some of the best installation art in town. The office workers who smoke downstairs, they’re the worst. Them and the bosses who join them.

30

More things you see. The status game, metonymy in (unfortunate) action. You are what you eat, you are what you consume, you are what you place close to your skin. Yes, a second skin, the skin of identity.

31

A young man on a mobile. A young man who definitely thinks he is somebody. A young man who has clearly got talent. I mean, he’s got the performing bit down pat. If we were to create a typology of modern conditions he’d have to be there. ‘Hey baby!’

I finally got round to getting my shoes back. I might have taken them back to Armani; I should have. Now that I’ve got one shoe glued the other is almost certain to become unstuck. For that reason I felt tempted to take the pair of them to the shoe-repairers. (There’s a famous shop in the Strand Arcade. It’s expensive.)

I haven’t got anything against Armani shoes. I have a favourite pair. I call them my coconut shoes for they look as if they’re covered in scattered dried coconut strands. Wonderful shoes. But they need new soles. I wonder if it is possible.

The old men at the end of the text are almost certainly Greeks. They’re old companions. I see them on the train.

32

31 is the final text from part 1: the pre-trip section. 32 takes us into the zone of departure. The next section, the trip itself, could be treated, together with texts 1-31, as ‘Outward Bound’. That gives a very simple and conventional overall structure to the work, ‘Outward Bound’, ‘Being There’, and ‘The Return’. An archetypal structure, if you like. It aligns with another tripartite structure: ‘Death’, ‘Limbo’, ‘Heaven or Hell’. As I write I feel the choice has been made, but only because there are no real alternatives. The Heaven, the Hell, is here. But it is in fact a Limbo of another sort. No, I won’t call it Purgatory.

The crazy man is a good way to announce a journey. He’s a crazy man with two sets of papers. Maybe he’s in a quandary not knowing which set to use. It’s a very public display. People can only declare they’ll kill themselves if they feel already dead. It’s to make the condition secure. People are neat in that way. It’s what’s called logical. The rational is to make yourself what you already are.

I don’t feel two people; I don’t even properly feel one. By creating myself as a person needing assistance – I do – I give myself a strange alter ego. I surrender to others. It’s not really being looked after.

It means I come last.

33

They’re off somewhere. Me, too. They know where they’re going. Maybe it is that that allows them to sleep. I don’t know where I’m going. Maybe it is that that forces me to remain awake, conscious, taking everything in, no matter how tedious it is. Airports, aeroplanes are meant for people who know where they’re going. They’re not for people like me, people who have no idea. I exist in a state of expectation; but I expect nothing, nothing except the occasional problem, problems that can’t even be predicted.

I can understand Gaynor’s sudden fear when she finally had to catch the plane to Tokyo. She hadn’t been there before. She’d prepared but it was new. She didn’t know what to expect. She was expecting but she wasn’t knowing. Her ambition was vague, undefined.

I enjoyed writing the section about flying over Cape York Peninsula, down the east coast and needling towards PNG, imagining the view from the ground of our flying overhead. I could, of course, visualise clearly the terrain we were flying over. I’d mapped much of it, I’d been there. It was a mythic country that I knew intimately. It no longer existed, it was a bygone era. I was flying over a forgotten land, a thing no longer, a time in the past. I was flying in present time over past time. It was odd to think that I’d been there. But that was another time. It is truly past.

I was already a dead person.

This was not an upsetting thought. Even so it is a strange condition. To be so intensely in something and then to be elsewhere …

I was returned, but imperfectly, to a previous life, a previous existence. And all around me they slept, and not even to dream what I knew, what I’d experienced.

 

As to the ‘bastard Moss’, that is Bob Moss, the skipper of the barge we used to map the east coast of the Peninsula, from Lloyd Bay to the mouth of the Stewart River. He was a bastard. He drank my scotch and pretended it was broken. There was a bottle of something else, probably brandy but maybe rum. He lived with one of the Boyds – the Merric Boyds, the Robin Boyds. She looked like a Boyd, she behaved like a Boyd. I was in my early thirties. They’re probably dead now.

The son will be somewhere.

We never slept on the barge, we always slept on the land. Since it was the wet season we had to put up tents everywhere we went. Big army tents.

 

Princess Charlotte Bay is the site of a disastrous cyclone that destroyed the pearling fleet out of Thursday Island and hundreds and hundreds of men, numbering, as I recall, into the 500s. This is hard to believe. This was back in the 1890s, for memory. A great catastrophe.

Furry Short remembered WWII and the Battle of the Coral Sea. Airmen were parachuting into the jungle and onto the unwelcoming slopes of Cape Melville. Planes were coming down everywhere.

One of the rescued airmen took him to the States …

 

I wrote what I wrote without looking down. It was unnecessary. I felt it too vividly. I didn’t need to look.

34

Self-evident, as far as I can gather. In the face of death we struggle back into being – through activity. Meditation alone leaves us in the death space. We become a missile of the night.

Maybe we can grieve silently, for ourselves.

The flight attendant, is this not a death companion, ushering us towards death, dissolution? The dying pillow?

A crossing, but to what? The rowboat is an appealing image, the rowboat that rows itself.

Go along for the ride!

35

The terminal at Inchon. Air terminals constitute massive spaces, full of emptiness, like a vast crypt.

Pulguksa, the famous Buddhist shrine, in Chongju. I’ve never been certain what its fame is based on.

This night I will pass the Lotte Hotel in Downtown Seoul. There is a bright array of Christmas decorations out the front … Trees, for memory.

36

There is nothing to add, nothing to explain. Check-in is polite, efficient, painless.

37

I don’t need to say who Alexis is. Those who know will know. We can if we wish add Alexis and Toni to the ‘circle’. But one is central to it, the other on the edge.

38

The notion, the nature of reappearance. There’s something mystical about it, like an emanation. The ‘ghostliness’ of Seoul is made manifest in wreaths of smoke or steam – steam, more likely – rising up from the tops of the taller buildings. It makes them into bodies that breath, things that exhale. It gives them a strange eerie life – which in fact is no life at all. It gives them an odd sense of belonging – a belonging in which one can participate for a moment or two but which one will soon be forced to quit. A graveyard. Signal fires emitting signalling to no one.

Sunlight shining on one’s fingers creates a sense of presence. Not illumination so much as being there. Tangible somewhat.

The woman, rightly or wrongly, represents a sort of maturity. Another plane, another plane of being.

39

Luxury comes in strange guises. Often it is the hotel towels (signs of quality). In Queensland, as I like to joke, it is the quality of the pawpaw at breakfast. Lime instead of lemon.

I don’t recall the Han ever being blue – this pale pastel powdery blue. I remember the checkpoints on the bridge, at 5 in the morning when the curfew had just been lifted and you could start to drive round the city. A city more or less deserted but the young men in their military attire guarding the bridge and tracking movement …

I don’t know this yet but the form of urban development in contemporary Seoul is preparing me – unwittingly, as I have stated – for Eastern Europe. This is more Socialism than Kapital. The key difference in Poland, I will discover, will have to do with the disposition of the buildings. There they are set out higgledy-piggledy, not in rows or neatly in parallel to each other. They’re all set, I like to think, to catch the light.

The image of reeds with fluffy tops is a recurrent image. We will encounter it again in Poland. It is always a reference to my much regretted friend, Peret. Agu pimpa, a place of reeds, in western Cape York Peninsula. There is a telltale patch of reeds in a small bay below Black Mountain in Canberra, in Lake Burley Griffin. Peret himself explicitly made the linkage. It was a little patch of ‘home’. At least, a recurrence.

Sites, of recurrence, yes, an interesting topic.

 

Death is a recurrent theme. I am somewhat shocked at this. Maybe surprised rather than shocked. I don’t want to moralise about it. To prepare for death, it is not so much melancholy as an increasing detachment, a taking leave.

There is nothing essentially bothersome in this.

 

Yes, a taking leave. We have to re-visit in order to leave. But to record a leave-taking, how do we do that? Not via photographs, I think, or videos. They create new attachments, new presences.

The train is a sign of another way of being. Trains exist in another order of reality. There they are – over there.

40

In the context of death and dying waiting takes on a new force. It’s almost a paralysed state, I think to myself, but this is not right. Maybe suspended animation. There is something abusive about it.

Korea has been curiously empty. When I think of the mountains – in reality they are little peaks – their shape, their contours impose themselves on me. They are imprinted.

41

More or less sociological observations. I’m not sure they mean much. They can connect, they can connect us.

The sudden intrusion of the modern condition, young soldiers in felt slippers. Like a pack of sleek panthers. There is something sinister in their padded synchronised run-by. Even more than the kalashnikovs or whatever they are carrying across their bodies.

42

Yes, the airport is a prodigy of departures. All roads lead to …

43

No, the speeding speed-boat is no göbukseon (Turtle Boat). Admiral Yi is not to be found in these parts. The transition across China is rapid. It is an oddity that the snow is at first heaviest in the valleys …

Later I shall see the floaters in my eyes clearly, silhouetted against the ‘pure whiteness’.

44

The anxiety of arrival. The imponderable of possible things gone wrong, things not properly attended to, things unpredicted.

There is an exercise video shown each time before landing. Why it is not played earlier I don’t know. A young man and a young woman. Stretches. Ritualistic, I suspect, there is no real expectation that anyone will do them. Lip service to the hazards of midair thrombosis.

The ravaged man arrived all glamour and style. AQ prince of his time. The cabin crew doted on him, he could do no wrong. I thought he must be a television star. He made himself absolutely at home, arranged his luggage halfway round the cabin. At the end of the journey his whole appearance had collapsed. But then there was the task of arranging his luggage for departure. It is then he encroached – dangerously, in my view, certainly improperly – into my space. I complained. Unusually. But in fact it was an outrage.

I would ban cabin luggage.

As to the Götterdämmerung effect, it is always gratifying to find a direct analogue in the real, a direct inspiration, as it were. Nothing could compete with this sky – though why it should signal ‘the twilight of the gods’ I do not know.

An absolute ‘Kodak moment’.

45

The mechanics of landing. Yes, whenever we’ve landed in Frankfurt the city has been there on the right, over-present. Reach out and touch. It’s western European; Berlin by contrast is eastern. Things may change but it will take time …

Despite its promise of cosmopolitanism there is nothing cosmopolitan about Frankfurt airport. I wonder what Europe means in this context. How is Europe coming into being, or is it still rampant parochialism? How is the ‘national’ constituted and maintained in these conditions of change and realignment? Indeed, is there any realignment?

As for the foot-shaking (foot-rattling) it intrigues me. I always see it as a form of undisguised sexual urgency.

I saw another instance of this yesterday, in Campbelltown, at the restaurant of the regional gallery. Two men in their early adulthood sitting opposite each other, both jiggling away merrily – and compulsively. One sat with his ankles crossed, the other sat with his feet apart. The latter was more discreet, the former more violent.

Yes, I wish to recreate such scenes on video. It is always disturbing to witness such agitated displays. A sort of weird distorted erotic dance.

46

I don’t like being sententious in this way. I am suspicious of such statements: ‘Somewhere the world has taken a wrong turn’. But yes, the notion of a fall, a sudden blight.

I’m truly horrified to be sitting next to a sniffling if attractive woman. Late thirties I guess. It seemed incomprehensible that she could be allowed on a flight in these days of swine fever. It seems incomprehensible this can be permitted or that she would take it upon herself to act thus, so irresponsibly. I’m sure I’m going to catch the contagion.

She’s sexy, she reads a Hollywood-style gossip magazine, she wears highly patterned stockings. Her long legs stretch and stretch. But then the sniffle returns me to that reality …

47

My luggage is there, my flash green suitcase. Sławek grabs it. Yes. He’s there and my luggage is there.

I soon discover one of his habits – a move he makes, bordering on a compulsion. It’s the drive to leave the main road and to take a side road. ‘Now why do I do it?’, he inquires. We make it back onto the autobahn. It’s a motif that will be repeated, the autobahn and the elsewhere, the back road, past and present, the sudden unfamiliarity of the ‘new road’, the deletion of history.

There is always the impulse for me to enter the position of the navigator, even in unfamiliar parts.

We might have crossed the Odra by ferry. ‘Yes, a good shortcut’, says the petrol station attendant, clearly a local, ‘a very good shortcut. Unfortunately the ferry …’ Yes, the ferry stopped at 6.00pm, not to resume until 6.00 in the morning.

At night all the towns looked the same; even the trees along the road, the same. Too close to the road, real hazards. I worry for the young blokes of the future when they all have cars, or aspire to them. There will be deaths here, and each tree implicated.

The petrol stations are full of booze, rows and rows of liquor. The same in Germany, they tell me.

Meanwhile the past asserts itself, and the interventions of the new. Sławek only has his Australian driving license. I – with my German name (this has already been noted) and an Australian passport. What an odd couple we are, It is then I decide to demand that my name be pronounced in the proper German fashion. In conditions of everywhere we can all reclaim our proper past. It’s not about conformity or assimilation. We are all signs of an elsewhere.

The border crossing is already an antiquated reality, You can detect the border now by the shift in the mobile telephone signals – an array of beeps and bleeps.

Sławek could not wait to leave Germany. In his panic he stayed there longer than he needed. A sense of entrapment, maybe. History imposes itself on him still. It is made manifest in his relation to border crossings. ‘This is a good crossing’, he says of the road to Wrocław (Breslau), ‘it only takes 2 hours’. Maybe he corrects this to 4. ‘Frankfurt could take 2 days …’ I understand now why Frankfurt (F. an der Oder) was so scrupulously avoided.

48

A consequence of being in the unfamiliar, trying to give it meaning and shape and to feel a sense of belonging. We might call this dislocation but it’s a term, a sense of things, that doesn’t mean much to me. Normally it would reassure me, engage me. But there seems to be little to engage with.

We arrive in Bydgosczc at 4 in the morning. The wind howls. Sławek complains about the new roads, the new roundabouts. He is the one dislocated, not me. The wind howls. It has torn the big banners from the museum building. Some of the stonework has been damaged. Not the ravages of war but of something. It remains to discover what this something is.

My early morning inspection is taken up by an early morning walk. Little Berlin, it is known as – or has been known. Neo-classical buildings in pretty colours, art deco, hints of flamboyance and church architecture that is as much ‘orthodox’ as western Catholic.

I seek sites of movement. There are flower stalls outside the churches. I ask, ‘What’s this all about?’ My hosts are ignorant of this obvious fact. They look at me, obviously nonplussed. It’s for funerals, I say. They accept this but still claim they haven’t noticed. It seems that death and funerals are all the go. Men come up to me in the street and speak to me at close range. Face to face. Accosted, we might say, but what they are accosting, what they see, I have no notion of.

Of course I cannot speak. Even if I could speak it is unlikely that I would have anything to say. I am more than mute, I am silent.

49

In a short time I find myself fearful of the smoke. My chest hurts. The smoke has a particular smell. I cannot describe it. There is certainly no sweetness to it. It’s a dull odour, with something of the quality of wet dish clothes. But there is of course no dampness to it. Bitterness, rather. Yes, there is something bitter to it. It envelops, but more than that it insinuates. It infests, it infects. Yes, it is a disgrace.

I will never complete my inventory of the interior. There were chairs – more stools than chairs – made of welded metal. Like the bar in Star Wars. At any moment Chewie might appear. Maybe it is me …

50

Given my previous remarks I can now understand why the thought of lions entered me. My companion was lively, skull shaven shiny smooth. Mephisto, I call him. Funny, amused, obliging, with superb English. His job? Translating how-to books into Polish. How to manage hotel staff, that was the latest treatise. He read sections of it to me. Hilarious. I wanted to build it into my performance. We made tentative arrangements for this to occur.

Hilarious – and frightening. Nobody talks about the relationship between fascisms and managerial practices. But it is no accident we call these management types apparatchiks. The apparatchik mentality …

51

Breakfast at the Pod Orłem. Faded glory. Heavily recommended, the fourteen dollar breakfast. (What’s that, 30 zlotys?) It’s not exactly welcoming, it’s not at all sociable. An ethic of service retained from the 19th century. There is nothing contemporary about it.

Yes, the scene of reference is France. The triumph of the French chanteur tradition, Jacques Brel, Yves Montand, others. Here’s La Mer being belted out exaggeratedly. Art deco prints, Été, Printemps, but no Hiver or Automne, embodied as female figures …

I walk to the main railway station before venturing into the hotel. I need a trial run, to see how far it is and to check the timing. 943 steps, that’s what I assess it at. As usual the station had a scene going but I did not investigate it.

52

Pal, puy, coming and going. Come here, go away. Push and pull. Nhiina, sit down.

The walk to the station is difficult, for the footpaths are uneven. There is no notion of the smooth pavement.

There is courtesy in having an ‘easy way’ – for it frees us to think and to consider other things.

None of us should be required to explain our way.

53

Djon, who should have been in Bydgoszcz but wasn’t. He wanted to do a piece called The Invisible Man.  About being in the spotlight, the invisibility that arises from being ‘overlit’. How we can disappear even though we are at the centre of things. The condition, the condition of the blackfella, made invisible, but why, how? ‘No’, they say, ‘you must be … you must be somewhere but please, not here.’

Friendship is a strange thing.

We all need to speak for ourselves. But there are times – in conditions of over-determination – when it is important to have someone to represent you, not as your representative but as someone that takes on the burden – and the imagination – of speaking for, of bringing into speech.

54

Entering the foreign space. No, not so friendly. But then again, there is no real basis of connexion. They can pretend you are already connected; or they can recognise for what you are, a stranger, a newcomer.

Being a newcomer one is subject to the threat and the reality of contamination. Infiltration, we might say. It may work in two directions. How do we infect the other? The newcomer is wary not to infect or infest.

The newcomer, the outsider, is given a number: 12. A big metal slab with a number on it. The price you pay is to hand over your skin, your cloak, not of invisibility but of appearance.

55

A response, powerful, immediate – and entirely beyond interpretation.

A dangerous remark to make for the moment we deny the interpretative possibility it rears up and smacks us in the face. Yes, that ridiculous caption on the Magritte in the (old) Tate – to the effect that ‘This work lies beyond interpretation’. Yes, «Le Dormeur téméraire», can there be any work where the interpretation is so over-determined!

56

In the ordinary of the other, in their self-naturalising habitus of self. What a strange encounter this is! You are implacably there. No mistake.

To exist in the gaze of the other, to be suddenly subject to the inquiry, to the attentive inquisition. What are they looking into? It is by no means obvious. What is the move, what are its implications? Are you merely patient? In any case, what is that? What is a patient, what is the patient? Are you already a dead man in their eyes? To be looked into, to be spied into? What are the consequences of having one’s privacy violated in this way? Are you thereafter ever the same? You can be x-rayed and remain utterly other to yourself, as if the x-ray ain’t. It ain’t. It’s an image of an elsewhere, and not you, not at all.

The strangeness of his gesture, as if he’s cutting the throat of an unknown enemy. I’m already excised, subject to the excision.

 

The nurse is not nurse Maddalena, the sexy nurse Maddalena. She makes her appearance after my second bout of surgery, when I have the ward to myself. Sweet. She made major efforts with her schoolgirl English. I admired her guts, her sweetness, her sweet bravado. There were nurses who wore sensible black skivvies, with no cleavage. Maddalena had a cleavage, and hair streaked with colour. The young women with blond ponytails all had a cleavage. The others did not. Maddalena had a history even if it was thin, without reverberation. A true local girl with no ambitions – except to be present. Yes, she made herself present. She was there, real. And full of sentiment, like the people who love me in Aurukun or Edward River. She too might have cried when I left. Instead it was her who left – but not without coming in first to say goodbye. Monday was her day not to be here. It was only when she came to say her goodbyes that she became shy. She had three children, all by different fathers. Her mother lived with her.

57

‘Poetry is the language of pointless things’, I like that line.

58

Simple things, the reintroduction to bread. It was good, without butter (though they brought pats of butter to spread on it). Butter didn’t seem such a good idea at the time – but the sliced meats served with it (a single slice each time) was itself fatty. Later I’d be served a boiled egg when eggs were themselves strictly prohibited. My surgeon, the admirable Professor Arkadiusz Jawien laughed about this. ‘Ah’, he says, ‘institutions!’ Then pouting his lips in order to blow the hair out of his eyes.

It is easy to appear on Polish television. Just perform an art event – like opening an exhibition of Aboriginal art. (Yes, they let me out of hospital to do that. It was I think a lively performance.)

Polish television is about to change. The arts will disappear, live events will disappear. They too will be fed a diet of disasters and things to keep their anxiety meter ticking along nicely

Anxiety, the new method of social control. Once it might have been an incitement to social action, an inspiration to confront.

59

Self-pity. The moment of it. Like a reality check.  A release of sorts. The dynamics of self-grieving.

Nothing remarkable about that, I suppose.

60

The hospital is an insistent site.

61

There is a precise reference, to Roger Woodward, the local exponent of Chopin. An early evening performance at some school of other in Darwin, an upright piano, Roger playing Chopin’s études with the greatest of difficulty. On account of the heat, on account of the sweat dripping onto the keyboard, on account of the inherent difficulty of the music. He would get up from the keyboard and retire to the boys’ toilet. Someone would come and wipe the keys with a towel. Then he’d reappear. It was one of the most engrossing performances I have ever witnessed.

After the performance – we gathered briefly for tea and biscuits in a drab staff room – my companion (DB) and I ventured out of town to a paddock covered in horse jumps. There we joined others in dancing the polka. It was progressive, wild, fun. Somewhere near Howard Springs – or Berry Springs. The exact site is not so important.

62

There was a decision to be made, to include the texts from the Nitra performance (written the morning of the performance itself) or to keep them separate. There is a case for including them – but I haven’t. The history of our drive to Slovakia, the ‘500 mile, 500 mile’ of the journey (I heard a wonderful reggae performance of this once on the radio but have been unable to trace it since), almost exactly that, in fact, 800 kilometres. The direction of history, the ‘turn to the right’, the issue of surveillance and security, locals caught in the crossfire of transience, the drive-through world – onlookers at a ghastly unfathomable and constant ‘passage’, a ‘through-pass’, the elsewhere always invoked but never made precise. Being in hospital. Being in Nitra. John Dobie accompanying the ‘journey’, an intended plucked performance on the electric guitar that was supposed to conjure up a sense of country-and-western. Sławek on the double-bass doing the hospital stay (his choice). And Qba on drums and percussion accompanying the rain piece (a rainy day in Nitra, how we are all embraced in the rain, how our gestures, our bodies, take on the same moves).

This text leaps from a hotel where Qba found a facility for accessing his e-mail to the actual performance. In the hotel we saw a lone Asian, a middle-aged businessman from China. The décor was a strange semi-oriental fantasy, comfortable and lurid. I felt as if we were interlopers. In the performance we were more than interlopers, we were true aliens. The more alien we were the better. I felt aggressive, but not in a nasty way, more forceful than anything.

Sławek was concerned about his own performance, I considered it sharp, focussed.

The room acoustics were difficult. Maybe it was why I projected myself physically into the room. It was fun to be active, not tied down. After my own performance I was wound up and felt compelled to write.

63

The last 20 minutes is the last 20 minutes of the ‘concert’. These performances are called concerts. They last an hour. That seems to be the convention.

My own performance had run 25 minutes or so. It concluded in an ensemble with everyone participating. When I felt finished I sat down and left them to it. Our host suggested that I should have returned at the end, to frame it. Maybe. He said I was lively ... ‘Nothing to report, nothing to report’. He picked up on the refrain in the first piece, the security guard and his patrols: ‘Nothing to report, nothing to report’.  As a comment on the current condition it will do; there is in fact nothing to report. We have to do something else. Create something, in fact. Any form of assertion is a form of self-assertion. It’s not against the void, it’s against something else. Annihilation, maybe. The annihilation of Ward 5 and its display of sinister icons.

The hospital ward as Death Valley.

64

Leaving Nitra. We strolled around the city the previous night, after dinner. A strange Italian restaurant that wasn’t Italian at all. I had minestrone based on broccoli. I was careful about my diet. The soup was excellent, an excellent choice, and very cheap. After the ‘Italian’ restaurant we ended up at an Irish pub. Horrible. I decided to leave. There were locals talking loudly, showing off their proficiency in English. Heavy American accents. Big-noting themselves and speaking totally vacuous piffle.

The town was too small for that.

When we arrived the previous night – about 2 in the morning – there were young women leaving a bar and falling down in the street. It had a big neon heartg at the front, in red I recall. A police car guided us to our hotel, a vestige, all agreed, of a bygone era: the communist hotel. Bare, basic, with a giant bathtub in the bathroom.

At breakfast we were given coupons. There was a coupon for every slice of bread.

Once I could not have resisted the temptation to explore the town, climb the hill to the ecclesiastical complex that dominates it. The town itself is dominated by a large mountain, called something like the Bison’s Head, or the Giant’s Head. The Gorgon’s Head. I forget which. Our hotel took its name from this eminence. Memories of Woolly Mammoths and hunting parties. The Palaeolithic is near, near at hand.

65

Ozwiecim, Auschwitz. The surprises of history. How we converge on things, how things converge on us. A certain inescapable.

No, Auschwitz is not somewhere I need to go to, not now that it is made a site of instruction, a tourist destination masquerading as ‘instruction’ or ‘necessary site.’ I don’t need to go to Auschwitz to be reminded of Auschwitz. Auschwitz is anywhere. Auschwitz is everywhere. There are many such sites. I’d prefer the unknown, the forgotten, the unexpected, the hidden, the private. Certainly the unofficial.

It’s become big business, official site of horror. The gate attendants could have been there then; also as gate attendants, ordinary functionaries, ordinary people doing their job. (You are at Auschwitz as long as you are at Auschwitz.)

Is Auschwitz escapable therefore? We do not avoid it by avoiding it.

66

Back in Bydgosczc. I say nothing about Krakow. There is much that can be said. I lit a candle in the cathedral, to a friend. I didn’t want to geek, I didn’t want to join the queue of foreigners, I had no desire to be a tourist. If I am in things I want to be in them.

I forgot to remove my hat. I was in a weird sort of panic. What induced this I do not know.

I object to paying to enter a church.

Yes, Bydgoszcz had suddenly become cold. On the drive back of the night before Sławek was checking the temperature to establish whether there was danger of ice on the road. It hovered around 1°C. (The weather was soon to become very cold indeed, down to minus 25, minus 30.) I was out on my early morning walk, with a camera. There was a men’s clothing shop I wanted to photograph, very trendy, with good American music. (Yes, there is such a thing.)

Old people are entering a church. I wish to follow. I do follow. There they are inside. I don’t get a strong sense of religiosity – even belief. I do get a strong sense of relief from the cold. That is the burning issue; not religion, not belief, not piety.

Piety begins with the senses. Piety begins with survival – and self-interest.

The question of country follows from the issue of self-interest. Where would my interests be best served?

This question remains.

67

As I explain in a note, this is the first of a set of texts devoted to an art exhibition. I’m under instruction to see it. A set of videos. A set of videos that focus on people, how they react to the fact of being recorded, of being placed in front of the camera and over time. Nothing new in this idea.

The issue of evasion, evasiveness. Conversely, the issue of candour.

68

The site of purpose, yes, the mouth. The mouth is always purposive. The oral phase is never dead, never superseded. The mouth speaks, the mouth utters. The mouth says things. It gives itself away. The mouth is, therefore, a site of betrayal – of the self as well as of others. The Judas Kiss is no accident of history.

The play of the face, the mouth set against the eyes. The eyes do not have it, certainly no alone. The mouth is a slit, an extended slit. It is the place of closure – for the precise reason that there is choice in the matter.

The Polish look has evolved. It is adaptive – but to what? What are the conditions of its appearance?

69

The notion of self-acquiescence, the moment of self-acceptance or the acquired capacity to accept oneself. A bowing to one’s own condition.

70

This cannot be questioned: the older women are triumphant, the most resolved. If there is triumph at all it lies with them. It is a success, an achievement. It is an acquired resilience in the face of the gaze. It is a self-appearing intended to live beyond the gaze and not to be dependent on it.

71

French, Spanish, German – all to the west. Romance and the Teutonic – but where in this the Slavic? If you define yourself endlessly against an elsewhere … Yes, I know the Romance Bloc, I know the Anglo-Teutonic Bloc, I don’t know the Slavic Bloc. These are first steps.

Divide the world into blocs and work with them all.

72

What was anticipated is what happened. My ‘fears’ were well justified. We did not leave until something like 9 hours later. Dilatory departures, the requirement to wait. There is nothing much that can be said about this.

It’s an odd matter, driving out of a country.

The afternoon was full of messages: ‘We will leave in …’ I already knew these adjustments were unreal, unlikely. They were a statement of intention rather than anything else. A sort of goodwill.

In any case Grgosz had to close down his apartment, hand it over. It was a proper departure. No doubt he feels he follows the tide of history.

73

Waiting we are forced to attend to the most trivial things, whatever appears. We are at the mercy of time – and others. Both are merciless.

Waiting is cruel. We are put to the test.

74

Memory intervenes for there is nothing else. A regression of sorts. Old regrets, probably unreasonable. Scenes from the past. We can’t call them all lost opportunities. Some things are already set in concrete. Our choices have been made for us, there is no turning back. Even when we are innocent there is a sort of knowing. This text was extended – then savagely pruned back. There is still possibly something unsatisfactory.

We can have no guarantee of resolution. It happens of its own accord.

75

Berlin. A seemingly abrupt transition. Now we are there, in earshot of the airport. The building is noisy. A literal rendering of ‘jerry-built’. (Yes, my friend confirms, it comes from the German.) It’s surprising such shoddiness. Love and companionship, they’re on the agenda. I am abandoning Poland. The separation is necessary.

The text ends naturally at

Love is difficult between young men, even when they love each other

And so I shall terminate it there. This failure of love between young men is an absurdity of the current condition. It is overcome in different ways. I have noted some of them on this trip, not because I was on the lookout for them but because they came my way. Casual admissions suddenly unleashed, moments of sudden fleeting candour. (Blink and you might have missed them.) Delicate, casual admissions – and signs, miniscule signs. Off flickering glimmers. Doors suddenly opened into personal histories – and the histories of friendships.

Love is love. That is what I would think now, without knowing properly what love is. A form of self-recognition that requires the existence of the other, that’s what I think. Self-regarding broadens the more one accepts the mirror of the other. It is doubtful that the self achieves itself by narrowing. This is why I espouse the doctrine of ‘say yes’. One has to keep within the game of love. Once I might have been more apt to see it in terms of a progressive narrowing, a focussing, a purification.

This is still up for grabs.

This move whereby I allow myself to terminate where I terminate allows me to abbreviate the poem. But I shall retain the residue here:

 

It was watching these videos that made me think of Tony

I’m not sure why I didn’t let him do what he liked

But I stopped him

I stopped him, simple as that

As I’ve said already he might have said he loved me

But he didn’t

He didn’t say that

He didn’t say anything at all

It might have made all the difference, it might not

I think it might have made a difference

It might have made a difference but then it might not

It might not have made a difference

I have regrets

I have regrets now; they are real

In fact, let me say this, I’m somewhat annoyed at myself

This is not a sentiment that is likely to last

 

I see my refusal as a limitation, maybe even cowardice. Who is to know what is right and proper? Yet maybe there was a significant component of self-protection.  I do not know the rights and wrongs of this case. I was after something else, after something that was not on offer. I did not find it.

As to the matter of my self-annoyance. True, I know myself well enough on this point. We announce our regrets only to abandon them.

I also know that we can deceive ourselves.

76

No sooner thought than spoken. Yes, the ‘say yes’ of my contemporary practice. No, I no longer assert that identity arises through refusal. Well, not only. It has to have the confidence to assert itself anywhere, and to remain silent when it considers it prudent to do so.

No, it was foolish to go to Bydgoszcz. What is there for me there? Very little, I suspect. But then again it was entirely the right decision. I entered another world, one I did no know existed. A whole new sphere of the human condition. And somewhat trustworthy.

It has crippled me financially, the cost of the air travel, the hospital bill. But too bad. There has been a tiny realignment. Not much but something. We have to be grateful to these tiny seismic shifts. I’ve always sought them.

I regret nothing of the trip. Not that it points to a new way.

77

Monday is back in Oz. 6 December. The prospect of seeing my doctor, of having to see my GP, does not please me. Partly I am angry. I’m very angry over what is – very clearly – mistreatment, insufficient care, insufficient caring. In the afternoon I have an appointment at Save Sight. I am not looking forward to either of these encounters, GP (my GP of 24 years!) and Save Sight. My experience at
Save Sight is of being treated dismissively. The authoritarianism of the medical fraternity, its unwillingness to be challenged or questioned, the attitude of ‘I-know-best’. These are worse than galling, they remove all agency. You are not made a participant in your own well-being.

78

A cat like an Albert Tucker cat, aghast, on the verge of screaming, trapped in a cat pack, a pet pack. (Where are these animals stored on the plane, in the hold?)

We identify as fellow travellers.

It’s already distressed. The cage would quite possibly be better darkened.

Class, that hated phenomenon. Yet what was curious about Poland was how class had drifted down, seemingly untouched, from the 19th century. It was a society of old classes and old class cultures. I felt this intensely. Not that I felt or encountered any simple one-on-one relationship between class and attitude to the communist regime. Greed, says Professor Jawien, is the curse of the new order. He happily reconciled Church and Communism as both involving ethics of care. In the most unexpected quarters there is a belief in the Caring State: from cradle to grave. There is little sense that State can be both Cradle and Grave. But if it is a choice between the Swaddled Citizen and Open Slather, I know which I would endorse.

Poland is no doubt full of patriots. I found it a remarkably homogeneous society, certainly in ‘look’. There was a true democratic spirit, especially among ‘the workers’, the village people. (I found this also in East Germany. It was refreshing.) Yet there are accusations of haughtiness; and instances of true aristocratic haughtiness …

79

Hide what you know. Learn how to hide. All this in preparation for the return. Australian democracy resists any form of knowing; it demands ignorance. It is in ignorance that equality can be guaranteed. An egalitarianism of nothingness. Rightly or wrongly I did not find this in Poland or Slovakia.

Many food outlets – along the highways – were run by Russian women. What do we say about this? What does it require us to think?

The nature of desire, the nature of the ‘turn-on’. Masculinity, the fiercely masculine. A valorisation of the masculine. (No, this doesn’t mean macho. It means reliability, firm action, discretion, a capacity to withhold, clear statements of principle.) No, I’m not into ‘pansies’. Gay culture is an abomination, a purely simulacral, anodyne condition. Anything that hints at domesticity, domestication, ‘niceness’, even bitchiness, such things appal me. The Chamber of Commerce is never far from our door. It requires its own soft options – and endless protection. An endless exemption from the harsher realities. It demands the Mafia, in whatever form that takes.


Why do we forget? Because we are not seized. Because we are not represented. Because we are somewhere else.

80

Frankfurt, Terminal A. The international terminal. I’m accompanied from the domestic to the international by a talkative young Indian woman, from Gujarat. We have, she tells me, to pass via a tunnel. It’s a long walk. Despite requesting assistance at Tegel there was no one to assist me on arrival in Frankfurt. A security guard came to my rescue and took me to the appropriate office. There they were all help and assistance.

The Nowhere Zone is beyond Interzone. Here everything is reduced to a pale imitation of itself. It’s an installed zone which imitates an elsewhere where things actually taste, where things have actual flavour, where things have substance and vitality. In Nowhere Zone things crumble in your hand. They exist in a world of appearances.

Luxury goods have something of that quality.

 

In Krakow it was sweet of my young host to take me on an extended walk – to see the sights. He was aware of the impact we were making. There is generosity in that.

There is always generosity in awareness.

Krakow was not Nowhere; nor was it Interzone. It hovers on the edge of something unexpected. It sits in the midst of great ugliness.

81

We were sitting in MacDonald’s. It was more or less comfortable. Nearby there was a bookshop. I looked through the books and the magazines. Many were in English. There was a large book – a large format book – of photographs. Taschen. A thing to have but not to buy. Something of the tawdriness of which I speak. Not tawdry enough, however. On special offer. Not the sort of thing to have to lug onto an aeroplane …

82

The flight from Seoul has landed. We are the return version.

83

Sometimes it is good to set arbitrary targets. Create a frame and see what happens. The Bs are a recognition of proximity, a part of the world I had never considered. Yet there they are, more or less close together.

The notion of sites of deprivation, It’s reasonable. Surfeit issues a killer blow. It is as I say careless. Yet deprivation can enact itself by enacting itself further.

84

To laugh, to laugh, we all know this. To lower the tension, to lower the heat, to narrow the gap between this one and that one, this state of affairs and that state of affairs, this concern and that concern. Laughter mediates. It mediates and it disrupts. It’s a crack in the ice.

The notion of the forbidden place – and not so much forbidden as condemned, already consigned to the outer. OK, so Pcim may be on the frontier, or not far from it. But I doubt it gets its reputation from that, it’ll be from something else. Yass is part of my own personal mythology. To what does it owe its reputation, in my mind? Because it’s a place you pass through, it doesn’t detain you, it’s on the road to nowhere and from nowhere. Once it might have been a staging post. Now it’s more or less nothing at all. It appears to have no raison d’être. Despite the substantial courthouse … It has been ripped apart by passing traffic. Far better for it to be truly off the track; then it might become something.

Canberra were it truly abandoned might become something. At present it is nothing at all. A truly derelict town.

85

The return to Seoul-Inchon is inconspicuous. The world is annihilated. The whine of compliance is impossible to take. This ‘insincere’ obligingness, let us put a stop to it. It’s insulting; it’s deeply insulting of the human condition. Nobody needs to be subject to it, not to have to utter it or to be on the receiving end of it. It is dismissive.

There is a backward look, back to Frankfurt. Yes, people in the upstairs corridor asleep on chairs or on the floor. It gives people the appearance of refugees.  Their interim condition seems permanent. It’s as if the war has not ended.

This is the barbarity, part of it: the dismissiveness. An annihilation of the soul.

Ha, bad pun!

86

For no apparently good reason we are suddenly back in the Land of Oz. A forward prospect. If in approaching Seoul, the halfway point, we look back, now we look forward. A sort of scanning, backwards and forwards, two ways. The primary issue? It appears to be the refusal of responsibility, inattention. It may be something else.

(As I sit here writing these notes I’m bombarded by mosquitoes. My fingers, my ankles itch.)

Part of the inattention is not to get things right. We don’t have rivers, we have something else. We don’t have mountains, we have something else. We don’t have forests, we have bush.

None of this is bad, it just has to be recognised for what it is, subject to proper identification, properly thought.

For some reason I recall the mud in Poland, on the walk near the Wisła. It seizes you, it clings to you. All of us who walked there are mired in the same condition. There is something good about that, the involuntary sharing of an experience or a condition. This makes the mud a habitus. It is habitus that shapes us. Unless we can agree what the habitus is, what constitutes it, we can share nothing. Just fibs, deceits. It’s not even wishful thinking, it’s a vast nothing at all.

We don’t share a condition for we refuse to speak about it. We are mired in complaint but without acknowledging the generality or the righteousness of the complaint. A shared condition that is somehow avoided. Things happen but they always happen to others. We have no life. We are instead fed the tragedies and triumphs of others. We never achieve the condition of selfhood. We’re all martyrs to the cause.

It is the silencing of the general condition, its inability to establish itself as a spoken real, an acknowledged thing, that is oppressive. It cages us. We’re like the cat in the travel pack. Except the cat makes its displeasure known. It’s manifest. Part of the human condition is to conceal distress. It may be a survival mechanism but it doesn’t help survival as anything more than that.

OK, we survive, so what!

As I write planes land overhead. None of us like it but we won’t mount a campaign. We suffer, we suffer in silence. We have to put up with things. It is the local, the locale under assault, and without any prospect of benefit to the local, or even accountability. Talk about greenhouse gases. I’d be content with proper silence, not this silencing into which we thrust ourselves, apparently complicit.

Earlier there were birds, thin piping calls, pure, wonderful!

We make our thin piping calls but they are in vain. It’s all about ‘making do’.

87

The Pod Orłem will do as a sign of something, this ‘vacancy’, this refusal to enter into a proper engagement. You sit there, you eat, the buffet beckons. It might be a trap. There is a scatter of seed beneath the bird trap.

Crash, down it comes. We don’t hear the crash.

 

Silent entrapments.

 

The cabin is a trap, the flight is a trap – but like all traps they are traps of a different order. They can’t merely be assimilated to each other. We flee entrapment. Sometimes the acknowledgment of the fact of entrapment is enough to allow us to escape it.

One of the traps is to become the leader, the guide to salvation. There is no salvation, we might as well give up on that idea.

Moses should keep his trap shut.

Each apology announces the fact of entrapment, the delayed arrival, the delayed departure, the unwelcome intrusion.

Rudimentary thoughts. Rudimentary for they are not properly experienced, just in a shadow way. There is a responsibility to announce things properly.

88

Business Class means a rapid escape, a more rapid escape. I escape at last to the hotel where for $US50.00 I’m allowed a 6 hour rest in a pleasant soundproof room. It’s good even though I awake every hour on the hour. The boofy young man with the Ramones t-shirt or jacket – I forget which – opted for the massage. He tells me this when he catches up with me. (Of course, from a certain angle Korea equals massage.) He’s friendly, an East German, somewhat on the make. From Leipzig, he says. He’s learnt to recognise the possibility of options. It’s not heroic but it does involve a certain openness, even courage. He’s turning up in Bexley on speck. His host doesn’t know he’s arriving. Unfinished business from the 2000 Olympics …

The little boy beside me makes himself at home. He’s surly. He insists on speaking to his mother in English. Not a word of Korean passes his lips. He’s largely taciturn. He goes to sleep with his legs over my lap. I don’t mind, not at all. The mother is embarrassed, or acts embarrassed. ‘No really, I don’t mind …’, I say. There’s more kahamsamnida politeness.

The fact is, I don’t mind, not at all. For someone to hand themselves over to you so casually, so entrustingly, it’s a compliment of sorts.

89

The return to the familiar is easier than the departure to the unknown. This is true even when there is no desire to return to the place of returning. The return journey tends to seem shorter. Outward bound is full of anticipation. Anticipation stretches time in a particular sort of way.

All such truths are uncertain. Truth in general is uncertain – except there are some forms of truth which are not uncertain at all: when we encounter something as the truth. The truth as truth is not apt to last. It is by its nature a provisional thing. All truths lurch towards uncertainty and question.

A time of reassessment. What have you got out of the trip? Time will tell.

Boring texts have to be permitted their own reality. Boredom does not make illegitimate. Boredom has its own force in the world.

We are already readying ourselves for escape.

90

Why this text is dedicated to Broken Hill
I do not know. Maybe there was an image on the screen. I start to think that breakfast is served – meals in general – to help the cabin crew survive the trip. What if they had nothing to do?

I have chosen the Korean meals on all sectors. The pibim bap was not really as I remember it. No egg on top.

I assess my prospects on return. What am I returning to? It’s not encouraging.

Australia cannot be approached directly. As soon as there is direction – directness – the place disappears. It is not a direct country. It is full of meanders and sudden disappearing acts. It’s reasonable to ask whether it really exists. It’s oblique, wary.

91

The notion of ‘holding pattern’ could apply to the whole national estate. A land on stand-by. Its dynamic is illusory. There is hidden privilege – privilege that is very content with itself. It’s based on a strong sense of deprivation.

Racism, we always suspect its presence. Now if this was a Qantas flight would we be put on hold or invited straight in? Invited straight in, I suspect. And what is the fuel cost of being ‘held’? It’s a gross inefficiency.

We are accustomed to lies and lying.

Sudden efficiencies coupled with bottlenecks and snarls. It is one thing to speed up immigration but then if we spend an eternity in getting our luggage, or going through customs!

92

The theme of the lie is continued. What is a lie exactly? No, I don’t mean simply as an untruth, but as an act: the act of lying. Why this form of evasion? Wouldn’t the truth be simpler? We lie and we condemn ourselves. The danger must be great to be prepared to pay such a price.

At the Eye Hospital I’m asked for a referral. Yes, in a heavy American accent. I say it is unnecessary, she persists. No, I say, getting angry, this appointment was made explicitly so that it would fall within the timeframe of the existing referral. She did not want to listen, she knew better. You won’t get your refund, she says, you won’t get your Medicare rebate. Now tell me, where is this woman coming from?

The Kiwi receptionist intervenes. She invites me not to push it further. She says she’ll explain it all later. She says their system has crashed and they’ve had to re-enter all the appointments and referral details and whatever else goes into systems registers.

The fact is I’m itching for a fight.

A good question, says the eye technician, when I ask them what their appointment policy is. She’s more than ready to dob in the doctors. Dr Kervassian or whatever his name is, he’s always late, she says. Between having my eyes tested (I refuse the game of ‘scoring well’ on the charts) and waiting to be seen by the aforenamed one I watch old men, older than me, crawling to reception in order to be treated well. They make monkeys of themselves. I swear to myself not to play this game, the agreeable, the buffoon, the court jester.

When I see Kervassian (the name will do) – neat young man, dapper, with a slight French accent (the name tells me he is Armenian) – he attempts to ease his way past the organisational chaos. It’s systems, he says, as if they have failure and inefficiency built into them. Systems can work, I retort, they are meant to work. It’s how individuals respond to them, I say. They don’t need to fail. Institutions don’t just institutionalise themselves

He has no come back. And suddenly the floodgates of care are opened. In order to get rid of me, I suspect. Suddenly I’m told to make contact with Dr Playfair – in his rooms. Griggs has disappeared off the scene, as far as I’m concerned anyway. There’s been a deterioration, says Kervassian, we should operate. I interpret this as getting rid of the nuisance, the troublemaker.

Later in the afternoon I will have to see my GP. He comes over all solicitous about the eye operation when I see him. I’ll keep my eye on it, he says. That of course does not occur. There was never any contact made with the eye people. I rang Playfair myself. I was asked to see him at the eye clinic (at the Eye Hospital). When I see him, yes, something has been decided: they will operate. And in double quick time. To such a degree that the nursing staff and the people at reception are mortally offended, as if I’m queue jumping. No, the operation is scheduled well within the normal waiting period.

Efficiency plus. But out of nowhere. Inexplicable except that I think I’ve hit on the explanation. The ‘unknown factor’ is that there has been an infection at the hospital and they are way behind on all the lists. But how that translates into instant action for me I don’t know.

93

Central Casting, my nickname for the emergency department at the Biezel Hospital in Bydgosczc. Yes, we have somehow returned, looped backwards. Unfinished business.

Yes, what a spectacular array of characters, all worthy of some film production. Victor and Victoria, my favourites, a super-sexy couple.

There are others there as well, men drinking vodka from bottles wrapped in brown paper or newspaper. I forget which exactly. It is a great crime to appear on the streets carrying bottles of vodka, a heinous crime, I am told. But it’s apparently OK to swig on your bottle in the waiting room. Sławek, while appalled at this behaviour, is solicitous of people he finds in the street. One man was lying on the footpath, virtually in the middle of town. He tried to rouse him. The man refused to get up. I’m alright, he said in Polish, leave me alone. The weather was not then at its coldest but I could easily see how people could die of exposure.

94

More unfinished business, the theme song from the Nitra performance (500 mile, 500 mile). I must be feeling vengeful. The restaurant proprietor at Pearl Beach put on a rival event to our concert. He offered a 20 dollar meal and a free screening of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Apparently nobody turned up. This was a cheering result.

The trumpeting refers back to Grgosz and his trumpeting trumpets. 3 Blind Mice was one of the themes of our first performance.

A call to arms, an escape, a girding up of the loins for future combat.

Or some entirely different meaning. Who is to say?

95

A breaking from the old habitus of the self. A recasting of practices. No longer to be the bunny, the patsy. A refusal to crawl.

But when is obligingness crawling? Mostly, probably. (See the discussion text 92.)

96

New beauty, new possibility. Display, exhibitionism.

Possibility is juxtaposed against the demands of the hour. The demands of the hour almost always stand against possibility.

Somewhere between exaltation and the drear. But there is no need to say this, for it is already there. Maybe it is an actual fact of life, therefore some balancing act required.

The call of duty, the call of possibility. They are not always so different from each other.

97

A palpable return to the issues of the first performance, at Tin Sheds. But not resolved, that is apparent. There have, dare we say it, been reminders, recurrent efforts to drag one down, in, to implicate.

The responsibility issue remains paramount. Or should we merely say, in the air?

98

A time when things were open, not yet set in stone or arthritic. Is that the word? Sclerotic?

The recurrent appeal of the ‘wild one’, the one who is not responsible and self-willed.

Even so, boredom is not far away, shallowness, lack of purpose. It is this that drives me from the irresponsible.

99

A return to the clinic, in this case the retina clinic at the Eye Hospital. Yes, I’m by no means the oldest in the queue. We’re made to stand. We don’t even shuffle along. The old bloke ahead of me has driven overnight from Cobar. That’s a long way. It is grotesque that we have to stand.

We are being managed. There is a new strategy of patient management. We are individually attended to. What that means in fact is that we are isolated, forgotten, abandoned, set apart from each other. We are shuffled here and there so that we no longer stand in a queue that, from time to time, issues a tiny movement, that is drawn into a slight shuffle forward. This is not quite a danse macabre.

After an hour I have not moved.

My experience of the clinic is now considerable. My experience of the clinic here does not draw me into the Australian condition, or if it does it is a condition quite unspeakable. I can try to make it speak, but it’s difficult. Unlike Poland I do not have my foreignness to fall back on.

It is this session that earns me my place in the elective surgery queue. It all happens when it happens in 10 minutes. Less.

100

You do not write the interaction. What we write is the non-interaction, the waiting. We do not write the interaction itself. The interaction itself passes without record. Somewhere there is a file. It’s full of annotations and comments that no one reads. The file is no more real than I am; it isn’t even a guarantee of my reality. It’s precise status needs yet to be clarified, rendered clear and unassailable.

101

Such odd random thoughts when the day is apparently at a low ebb. Neither fish nor fowl.

Mulberry birds ate the mulberries from the trees that grew alongside the verandah of our house in Byron Bay. Occasionally they would panic and fly into the panes of glass of the French windows that gave access to the verandah. Purple shit full of half-digested fruit would splatter down the wall. Birds haunted by their own reflection.

Is that us, creatures shaken by our own reflexion?

The mother makes a sudden guest appearance. A young woman who was never young. Earnest, resourceful but not vital, haunted by her own self-image and memories. She lived aghast to herself.

Snobbism is a response to belittling – to its actual occurrence or to the threat of it. The shitting bird is a belittled bird. It takes itself unawares.

The encounter with the self is a dreadful thing.

102

The city goes berserk. It’s the Thursday before Christmas. That’s how I remember it anyway. The chronology is probably wrong.

Ordinary things are not available. It is supposed to be a time of plenitude. It would be a pleasure to be able deliberately to misread oneself. To lead oneself astray.

103

This overheard conversation occurred at Petrol. It was oddly compelling, breath-taking in its blatancy. I based a performance on it, at the Friend in Hand Hotel, Glebe, at Richard Hillman’s book launch. (His collection of poems did not appear on the day; they should have.) Eventually I interpreted it as an effort to arrange a marriage. I was convinced it involved the Scientologists. The audience at the launch was noisy but they shut up totally at that point of the performance when I dealt with these overheard remarks.

104

A neighbourhood brimming over with celebrities, or committed to the idea of celebrity. They believe in it, here they believe in it. They know all about it. They are very knowledgeable, forgiving people. They know all about life, how fragile it is, how wanton, how cruel. They know things. They know all about haircuts and hair-tinting and buying avocadoes and decent coffee and nasty people whom they insist on naming.

They are friendly, they say hello, they smile at you. They do not fill the bucket. Just a drip or two of not much. They leave it mostly empty but even so they won’t throw acid in your face or dob you into the taxation department or engage in any other gratuitous nastiness. Their voices are fresh, girlish; or they rumble with the weight of history, foreign parts. A voice comes forth like rich fruit-cake, but not fruitily. There is no real affectation. They’ve been around, they’re good mates.

Their nails are sensible.

105

Yes, I comment on the traffic, to the bus-driver. There are drivers all over the road, thoughtless, inconsiderate. The bus-driver takes a moment or two to get my comment, but then he does and he laughs. We’re heading down to Circular Quay.

At Circular Quay there is a mother-daughter pairing on the jetty. At number 2.

People spotting, it’s a favourite game.

106

The oddities of scheduling. Do we really need such a big ferry on the Neutral Bay run? It’s that time of the year when foreign vessels come into port, the big cruise ships. Rhapsody of the Sea, it isn’t much of a name. Like Love Boat. It’s kitsch beyond belief.

The interior is never far away. It can announce itself unexpectedly. Yes, the Opera House is still coated with the red dust from the storms earlier in the summer. In my street there were drifts of orange-red dust, and the windows stained, and the cars streaked.

Observation is a way of inserting oneself into a scene. It’s an adjustment inwards. An effort at entry.

107

The slight mysteries of the everyday. The difficulty in pinning down the affect of ordinary atmospherics.

108

It is the High Street wharf we speak of. There is frequently a fisherman there, an eastern Mediterranean man with leathery skin and a flamboyant moustache. It’s from another world, another time. It will not exist elsewhere.

A heavy woman clambers through the fence. She does it skilfully, a practiced move. It’s almost graceful.

If there’s identification there’s also its opposite. Here’s one now, one of the pushy ones. A great slurping hulk, consumed only with the idea of ‘getting ahead’ and devouring all reality she comes into contact with. Proximity disappears. There it goes.

Yet for every unpleasantness, there is a countervailing something, a delightful surprise. Today’s surprise is the little boy who runs along the footpath, racing the bus. How forcefully he commits himself to his chosen task, how pleasing that he feels free to follow his whim.

109

The text does not annoy me as a text in itself. But as something to be interpreted, as something demanding a commentary, it is a curse. We have no alternative but to let it be.

110

There is nothing exclusive about the flyblown estate. It can strike us all! There are equalising tendencies as well as the pursuit of advantage and privilege. Change is constant. Not just the wrecking ball but the mere – and constant – fact of decay. Young and free is already the end of days, a sly antiquity.

111

Inviting time, what is that? Surely a calculated ambiguity. The tables are set but they appear far from inviting.

Various signs of ‘promised futures’. There are no real sites of insertion. It’s not so much foreign as simply uninviting.

Partly it has to do with the privatisation of space. This reminds me that space in Poland is a complex affair. Poland is strangely spacious.

112é

Style, is that all there is? He negotiates with the bus-driver. There is something here I wish to approve of.

113

Leftovers. Leftover brioches, leftover croissants, these end up in the bread and butter pudding. The chef tells me so.

What are we to do with the residues? Are there any residues? No, not really. We have, I think, achieved a sort of completion, no loose ends.

No, nothing for dessert.

114

The chef makes his appearance, the maker of confections.

Another chef sends his résumé off, Barrier Reef islands, elsewhere.

The ordinary pursuit of ordinary pursuits.

The world is in motion. Unequally. A moistened cake mix in the mixing bowl. A world in the making, not yet cooked. Raw, more or less inchoate. Not yet ‘baked’.

Perhaps we shall be permitted to lick from the bowl.

The seemingness of things is hard to detect. Not to detect, but to pin down with anything like accuracy. In significant respects the world is in decline. It’s reactionary, not up to the challenge of the now. There is arrested development, something like a chest infection. It wheezes.

John von Sturmer

Sydney, 8 March 2010


 



 

 

Note: In the few cases where the poem has a name it is noted in square brackets. In the case of poem 32 [The first of the crazies], the name of the poem is taken from the first line – so it seemed unnecessary to repeat it.