3.6.09

excursus

We were out late dancing the night before, in a gay bar on K Road that didn't seem to have a name. It wasn't until some time the next day that M found she had torn the hem of her dress while genuflecting to the gods of sexual excess on the boy haunted floor. In the taxi back to the hotel delirium rode with us. And in the lift. And ... in the breakfast room we talked with authors of young adult fiction as if we are ourselves young adults; as perhaps we were. In the rain washed morning we stood under the heavy concrete of the portico, beside the bus's throbbing engine, waiting for some New Yorker to join our party; much later we found he had been on the bus all along. No matter. The festival director would not meet my eye, I had asked for money the day before, she had not given it to me. The former archbishop of a Scottish diocese was gracious and attentive as he bent his long body and lowered his head in conversation about the eccentricities of those who discuss philosophy on such inadvertent occasions. As the bus filleted rush hour traffic, on the way to the former psychiatric hospital, a pony-tailed man, with some gravitas, backgrounded the visit we were about to make to a house of learning. Also some well-worn jokes. I knew and did not know what he was telling us; have been on buses like this before, on excursions such as this one was. Neither native nor foreign, not at home but not a stranger either. Weary of my ambivalence yet willing to assert it too. So it was (not) a surprise when the karanga made the tears start from my eyes. We took off our shoes and went in to that house of learning. The learning was the house, the house as encyclopaedia and dictionary, the house as compendium of knowledge. A lifetime is not enough, we know that already, what could an hour or two add? I felt again the affliction of memory, the affliction of forgetting: how will you? Not? Actually I remember everything but most I cannot recall now. That's both nonsensical and true. After the speeches and the songs, the explanations and the looking, the reverential jokes and the joking reverence, we were the last to leave to go across the lawn to where the tea and coffee, the pastries, cakes and fruit were served. A man we had not seen before was talking, he had built the house although he had not designed it. The thought of that man ... ! he said, speaking of the one who had. Let me show you ... There were subtleties I never would have noticed: the house arrowed towards the past but if you went and stood with the ancestors and looked back you would see the future. The double helix figured as a tiki, rongo rongo script found in a cave on Hawai'i, 5000 years old, on the tiki next to that. Binary numbers on the barge boards, some inscrutable code, all of the zeros blacked out because the future is unwritten; the 1's resplendent in their multiple singularity. As we walked across the green round a sea bird swooped and the three pukeko there stood up in warrior poses; and again; and again. Those ancient logs, the branches not the trunks of trees, burnt in a fire, waiting to make a bridge; the hidden water; the surveyors on the other slope, practising. On the way back I fell to talking about sheep with a joker from the Rangitikei; and offended another fellow, from Jamaica, who wanted to hear the rest of the explanation of what it was we had seen. M was sleeping, her head against the window of the bus. I could feel the arrow of the past, contracting away from us; and the future opening the way a river does, when it meets the sea.



2 comments:

maggie said...

Beautiful, a princely walkabout of sorts.....

Richard Taylor said...

I enjoyed this - beautiful writing.