Sunday, 28 August 2011

A letter to F. in Western Australia

Dearest F.,

I've been slaving in an office for a few weeks, editing video titles and adding the appropriate rating. G. PG. M. MA. Tedious just about covers it. As usual I am dubiously and sporadically employed by real organisations. The rest of my time is spent more wisely on editing PAN magazine, making notes and drafting things for my manuscript and generally running about looking at things and wishing I didn't notice every tiny detail about everything. The footpath just three houses down the street has begun to exaggerate its folded crease as the tree roots underneath swell with time.

Last weekend I travelled to Canberra with my brother and his girlfriend to visit Dad and the other wonders of our nation's capital. I found them to be much the same as last time I saw them, which is good in the case of my father. My brother and I planned to take advantage of Canberra's lax stance on smoking pot and get high in a hedge maze by the lake. When we got there the hedge maze was missing. The miniature train driver said the government had the hedges removed. I was wondering if maybe too many people had the same idea and there was a meeting in parliament about whether or not the government ought to provide a large hedge maze in which stoned people frequently ran about in and got lost. It was a great shame about the hedge maze. I was hoping to able to sell my brother to someone dressed as David Bowie.

Several weeks ago I was invited to read a short story at Penguin Plays Rough. I decided definitely not to do it due to high internal levels of fear. I was however forced to do it by the inimitable Pip Smith who runs the show. In the end I did not vomit, faint or run away and the thing was got through tolerably well. After the reading Spencer and I drank an enormous volume of beer, Pip folded a sum of money into the palm of my hand and it turned out to be the highest paid ten minutes I have spent in my life. Unless you count inheritances, of which there have not been many, but it doesn't take more than a minute for someone to die. On second thoughts that's not really earning is it? Now if I murdered someone and inherited money from that act then it might be considered earning I suppose, so no earning at all in this case.

Yesterday my mother telephoned to yell at me. Fortunately I was not the topic of her yelling, she needed to express some violent anger on a topic and decided I would do. After the yelling ceased she instructed me to get myself down to the harbour and report on the water. In an amazing coincidence that had been my intention all along. I rode the train down through the tunnels under the city until it emerged suddenly, without seeming to climb, at Circular Quay. The day looked a grey one but I was unsure as to the real colour of things as I was wearing unfamiliar sunglasses. The sunglasses belong to a friend of mine. He gave me a lift home in his car and in order to avoid sitting on the things I stuck them in my pocket. My only failure was I did not take them back out of my pocket again until I was inside The Peach. I have confessed my accidental crime to him so I do not feel as guilty as I otherwise might.

My only purpose for going down to the harbour was to visit the Satyr statue by Francis (Guy) Lynch. It was placed in the botanical gardens, just near the Opera House gate sometime in the 1970's, I believe it was originally sculpted in the 1920's. The face of the statue is reportedly based on Guy's brother Joe Lynch. Joe is the subject of Slessor's brilliant lament Five Bells. Five Bells is of course wildly popular, one of those Australian poems repeatedly set in the school's English curriculum forever and a day but I don't think you should hold that against it. The first time I properly read the poem I was at university and definitely uninterested in all things poetic. At the time I wanted violent contemporary fiction and wildly intellectual essays and nothing else at all would do. I read the thing because I had to, but made no internal note of it.

It wasn't until I was hanging over the railing of a ferry searching for jelly fish and ghosts that I remembered this line, "Deep and dissolving verticals of light". I hung perilously over the ship's railing reciting, "Deep and dissolving verticals of light", and watching the light split the "waves with diamond quills and combs of light" and plunge single-fingered through water, fish and ghosts and time waving weed that I remembered the poem at all. Bloody hell a lit match head just flung itself off the end of the match and scorched a permanent mark between the 'v' and the 'b' on my laptop. I suppose I should give up on matches and move across into lighters but I do love the sound of match being struck, nothing quite like it.

All the notes and drafts for my manuscript cross and recross the harbour. The idea of Joe Lynch seems submerged not just in our national poetic consciousness and the harbour itself but in all of my recent thought. It is possible that I have fallen in love with the man, this "Joe, long dead, who lives between between the five bells."

I was distressed to hear of the recent loss of one of your friends. I hope that you can find some solace in your impending adventure overseas.  Write to me dear F. for I always miss you. Here now is a photograph I took of myself with Old Joe.



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