daylight spending

... always upsets me. Then I feel foolish. Nothing has changed, except the clock. But I am thrown. So, this morning, after a brief night of cartoonish dreams, I wake at 4 a.m. and stumble out on to the balcony. Why not? ... light up a Gadang Garam, go to the far end to look into the east. There, above the murk, hangs a silver crescent moon, larger than I have ever seen it. Dark city of dreams, almost purple ... I recall, the phrase is Robin Hyde's. 1926, as she came in to Sydney off a ship from Auckland. I look into the west and there is Mars setting, so big it seems almost like that picture in the post previous but one to this. I can see the cracks and don't for a moment suppose they are canals. They are clearly scars, probably tectonic. Something strange is happening to the atmos, it is as if it is swallowing the red planet. Oh, well, let it. In my confusion I think the moon is also setting but of course it's rising. The sun will eat its borrowed light soon enough. Already the currawongs are yodelling. And the koels koelling. The apocalyptic can only be faced down by the domestic, so I go and put the kettle on. A cup or three of lapsang souchong will probably sort me out. When I go back out I see the jacarandas, flowering as they are, emerging from that purple darkness. Umbelliferous. They are globes themselves, or half globes, clouds of a lighter purple breathed out of the gloom like membranes. Why do birdcalls at dawn evoke the ancient of days? Guess it's because it's always the first time for them. And for once, and again, for me. Whoops, there's the kettle singing ... I go back to bed and read for an hour, Peter Russell's Prince Henry 'The Navigator' A Life. But I don't forget that vision ... palm trees rising up like the frigid stalks of fountains, and houses down to the water's edge; no wildness, no great bare tawny patches or hills like the flukes of sea-monsters ... houses and purple dark ...


John Prine sings:

Constantinople/is a mighty long word
Got three more letters than/mocking bird
You put me on a morning train
Put me on a morning train
Ain't no need to explain ...
Just put me on a morning train



At present, in my small corner of the world, if I stand out on the balcony in the early evening, as I do, I see silvery Venus setting in the west and bloody Mars rising in the west ... both seeming to hurry faster than Earth turns towards their respective destinations. This is an illusion. They have no destinations, or none to be found outside the yearly round. Like so much else. Venus is a hurricane planet of storming vapours that would poison any of us in a breath or two. Mars is somewhere we might perhaps, with proper support systems, go. Even somewhere we (taking that pronoun in its most generous sense) may already have been. Love and War seem peculiarly reversed in the contemplation of the actual places where they have been anciently thought to have their homes. But not as viewed from here, now. All this is more or less obvious. It is strange however to be drawn so powerfully to a place I cannot go, stranger to feel repelled by another where I (generously thought ... ) might still go or yet have been. My balcony does sometimes feel like the bridge of a ship adrift among planets and stars, at other times it has the aspect of a see-saw which I can stand in the centre of, shifting my weight so it tips now one way, now the other. In Greek thought the goddess of love and the god of war were illicit lovers; but that now seems elementary. What I want to understand is how these three bodies are disposed with respect to one another in space, which I guess means in reference to the sun. In a visceral sense, that is, as a being on the Earth. Might take a lifetime.


krap anul

This was where we went on Saturday, through that mouth and into the carnie world beyond. I have bruises all over my mind. I need a spanner to tighten the bolts holding my knees together. And all I hear is a massed, high-pitched screaming. Was otherwise a great day.


when lilacs last

Was just coming back from picking up my washing from the laundry where the guy told me he's ironed eighty shirts today but that's nothing, he used to iron 2000 of some other garment which he mimed for me but I couldn't understand what it was - trousers of some kind - when he worked for someone else, probably not here, probably in Vietnam although he might have said Thailand ... anyway, outside of Muse there was one of those slight mix-ups you get into on the street sometimes, two women were saying goodbye to one another and one of them stopped almost in front of me, I was feeling dreamy what with the rain just starting to fall and it being the late afternoon of a slow day, but I had enough presence of mind to sidestep in time and that brought me abreast of the second woman, the one who was going to be going my way. I heard the other say ... you're a strong country girl ... apropos of what I could not say and then I looked sideways and there in her bag, the country girl's bag, except she was no girl she was seventy perhaps with strong legs in thick white stockings, sensible shoes, more like a farmer's wife, in her bag was a bunch of lilac and I got the faintest whiff of it before I was past and going on by the Rio and Francois' Hair Salon which has some exotic name too but I can't remember what it is right now. Lilac. Every time I smell it I'm back on the front lawn at Burns Street. A country girl on her way home with health worries and a bunch of lilac which seems now like an unfashionable flower, you don't see it much in peoples' gardens here or maybe that's just because it prefers a colder climate, if it grew so profusely in Ohakune it must like the cold. I don't want to sentimentalise, I agree with what my cousin wrote once, somehow it never seems to be the right day/for nostalgia, but these scents just do ... send me. From the Greek, nostos, return home. Anyway, I'm back now, listening to a drunk who's sitting outside the building with his back to a street sign telling everyone what a great fighter he is. Maori guy by the sound of him. No way of knowing how he'll get home, guess eventually the cops will pick him up ... And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night ...


It was a disturbance in the realia. A bird unzipped the sky. There was nothing behind it. The heavy grey clouds peeled back against a black without green or blue or purple highlights, no, no red either in that darkness. Unutterable. Might only last a second but how long is that? What first is it seconding? Is this the first black, darkness moving upon the face of the waters? The bird's faint cry collapsed the air its wingbeat opened up, burned out like a spark. Fire, then? No fire. No air. No water. Earth ... yes, earth. Urth was here. The envelope of urth, that was what the sky was. Those past tenses layered before the bird's wings like waves, sound waves, the barrier it had broken, gone through. An explosion then? No explosion. Who, what, would zip up the sky? Restore the atmos? The breathlessness of unutterability. Wanted. A signifier, some thing, one, to bear witness, speak, so that this atrocity might end. End? There was no such thing. Beginning then? Again? Start over ... it was like a great soundless wingbeat, feathered, yes, shocking in its whisperless cacophony. No one saw, heard, felt the sky come back. The sigh come back. Realia ...


have added nzepc dig to the sidebar ... the site has gone digital or is it that there are digital additions? Check out Young-Hae Chang's All Fall Down, it's amazing. the other Young, Mark, is there too, among much else.

Force Majeure

The contract for Luca Antara arrived yesterday, signed, sealed, delivered, 'for your records'. I made a pretence of reading it before I signed back in August but could not really concentrate and, besides, knew before the fact that I wasn't really going to object to anything in it ... I wanted the advance, I wanted the book to happen and I had my agent's assurance that she'd already vetted it. So, today, I thought, I will read and understand what it is I've agreed to. But I still can't get beyond the definitions on page one, especially:

1.5: "Force Majeure" means circumstances beyond the reasonable control of the parties that results in a party being unable to observe or perform on time an obligation under this Agreement. Such circumstances will include but not be limited to:

1.5.1 Acts of God, lightning strikes, earthquakes, floods, storms, explosions, fires and any natural disaster;

1.5.2 Acts of war, acts of public enemies, terrorism, riots, civil commotion, malicious damage, sabotage and revolution; and

1.5.3 Strikes;

Any or all of these are possible, some, indeed, likely, with the exception perhaps of revolution. And, I don't know, they all seem to have ghostly subtexts, as if each objective phenomenon listed has an interior, or emotional equivalent whose occurrence is even more probable. The one that worries me most is 'explosions'. I feel one coming now, as I tap away, trying and failing to ignore the machine whine of the mad topiarist next door who is sculpting the cypresses into perfect cones that look exactly like rockets; any minute now he, or I, might light a fuse.


Sometimes it is possible to look at another person and know exactly what is going on with them; and I don't necessarily mean people you know well. It may even be harder to know what is happening with someone you know well: you are familiar with them, they are familiar with you, you know how to veil things from each other. Though not always; it depends on the person. The first time I ever smoked dope, I was eighteen, it was at my sister's place in Newmarket, we were lying on the floor in the dark listening to Blind Faith, this was 1970, and I closed my eyes and saw face after face float up in that interior space, these were people I knew, and as I looked at them I saw them change and age and become as they would be when they were old. The vision was involuntary and has never been repeated; while it was happening I had no doubt whatever that my view of these peoples' future faces was entirely accurate, indeed, true. There are no detailed memory traces so I can't check if I was right or not, yet I still think I was. What’s more, if an intuition like that—evanescent, involuntary, seductive—comes again about a person, I trust it. I wouldn’t say I’m never wrong, that would be absurd and anyway half the time the contact or the encounter is casual and fleeting and not of any great moment to yourself or the other; but as a way of being in the world, of negotiating the world, it can sometimes seem more profound than just about any other.


The title Your Face Tomorrow makes me think of the John Berger book, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos, a copy of which I owned for just a few months ... it was given me by a friend and I gave it on to another friend and I don't know what happened to it after that. The only thing the two titles have in common is the word 'face'(s) and, perhaps, the 'our' which re-appears in 'your'; but the books seem to be about the same thing, even though the one consists only of images and the other almost exclusively of words. In every face you can see futures if you know how to look; also pasts; both, it seems, are only possible if you also see presents.


narrative horror

Narrative horror, disgust. That's what drives him mad, I'm sure of it, what obsesses him. I've known other people with the same aversion, or awareness, and they weren't even famous, fame is not a deciding factor, there are many individuals who experience their life as if it were the material of some detailed report, and they inhabit that life pending its hypothetical or future plot. They don't give it much thought, it's just a way of experiencing things, companionable, in a way, as if there were always spectators or permanent witnesses, even of their most trivial goings-on and in the dullest of times. Perhaps it's a substitute for the old idea of the omnipresence of God, who saw every second of each of our lives, it was very flattering in a way, very comforting despite the implicit threat and punishment, and three or four generations aren't enough for Man to accept that his gruelling existence goes on without anyone ever observing or watching it, without anyone judging it or disapproving of it. And in truth there is always someone: a listener, a reader, a spectator, a witness, who can also double up as simultaneous narrator and actor: the individuals tell their stories to themselves, to each his own, they are the ones who peer in and look at and notice things on a daily basis, from the outside in a way; or, rather, from a false outside, from a generalised narcissism, sometimes known as "consciousness". That's why so few people can withstand mockery, humiliation, ridicule, the rush of blood to the face, a snub, that least of all ... I've known men like that, men who were nobody yet who had that same immense fear of their own history, of what might be told and what, therefore, they might tell too. Of their blotted, ugly history. But, I insist, the determining factor always comes from outside, from something external: all this has little to do with shame, regret, remorse, self-hatred although these might make a fleeting appearance at some point. These individuals only feel obliged to give a true account of their acts or omissions, good or bad, brave, contemptible, cowardly or generous, if other people (the majority, that is) know about them, and those acts or omissions are thus encorporated into what is known about them, that is, into their official portraits. It isn't really a matter of conscience, but of performance, of mirrors. One can easily cast doubt on what is reflected in mirrors, and believe that it was all illusory, wrap it up in a mist of diffuse or faulty memory and decide finally that it didn't happen and that there is no memory of it, because there is no memory of what did not take place. Then it will no longer torment them: some people have an extraordinary ability to convince themselves that what happened didn't happen and what didn't exist did.

Javier Marías : Your Face Tomorrow


the land of once begun

Somewhere in his writing Bill Manhire speaks of a slight lift of excitement as he sees a Zed on the page he is reading. As I recall he goes on to say something about how his eye then slides away to other disappointments, suggesting the Zee in question was not after all a signpost to the back end of 'home'. Yes, it happens, I've experienced that. Rarely do you find any particularity in those instances where the Zed does point to the South Pole, it's usually just a sign for somewhere derisively or unimaginably elsewhere ... but not always. I'm reading Javier Marías' Your Face Tomorrow, the first volume of a novel cycle entitled Fever and Spear. I think there's two more after this, one written but not yet translated, one a work in progress. (This translation from the Spanish is by Margaret Jull Costa whose version of Pessoa's Book of Disquiet is my favourite). Your Face Tomorrow is set in Oxford now and is about the recruitment of a Spanish academic to a shadowy network of ... shadows. He has the ability to see through people, not necessarily to their future though that is part of it. What he and those he works with see is character and their view is dispassionate, objective, real, if you like. I'm not going to say character is fate because what the book is about is those two terms and how they might be related. Jacques Deza is recruited by a man called Sir Peter Wheeler who is in turn based upon a real figure, Sir Peter Russell, a distinguished scholar who recently published a much praised life of Henry the Navigator. I do not know if Russell was born in Christchurch, New Zealand before the First World War, but Wheeler was. There's not a lot of his childhood in the book, it's not about that, but it is curiously pleasing to find in a fiction, or a quasi-fiction, the historic connection between NZ Universities and Oxford honoured and particularly the tradition whereby literary men from those antipodean halls of learning became spies of one sort or another during the 1930s and 40s. Your Face Tomorrow is multilayered, multifaceted if you like, reflective, analytic, measured, leisurely and extremely perceptive about motivations, particularly where trust and betrayal are concerned. I'm loving it. Incidentally, on the back cover are praises by J. M. Coetze, whom Marías has made a peer of a Kingdom he rules (really!), W. G. Sebald (from beyond the grave?) and Marina Warner, who compares Marías with Sebald. The comparison is I think made because of the alluring intertwine of the real and the imaginery in Marías but their styles are very different. Reading Marías is more like reading José Saramago. And just as good.


Was that the rain falling in his sleep? Or was that the rain falling outside the window? Was it the same rain raining in his sleep and out the window? It was as if in this half-dreaming, half-waking state his mind—but not his mind alone, his body was also implicated—became a vast extension, flat, two dimensional, reaching, perhaps, as far as the edge of the rain cloud that hung over the city. How far was that? When the wind gusted and the makeshift tapa curtains belled and sucked, those perturbations rippled the ridges of dream, they rucked the silks of thought, sent shivers across his skin and then it was all one, the distance to the end of the rain was no distance at all, it was he who lay over the city, over the ocean, over the bed, over the cloud that clouded his mind; and this was where the humdrum hauntings showed their faces: his books and papers specked with rain drops on the bar, the huddle of dark musicians sitting on beer crates, reaching their hands up behind them without looking to shake his, the procession of martyrs from door to door, bound into their starched formalities, deriding all other faiths as they came uselessly a second time in the same door and out the other; and why was the wrinkled penis hanging out the front of someone’s trousers considered an act of fealty by these pilgrims of despair? Why could he not go elsewhere, into the next room perhaps, where masses roared shoulder to shoulder at their pots and sawdust lay on the floor? There seemed no end to horror, as if the consequence of every act of bad faith was exile to this place he could neither be in or leave. And thus the rain, falling in the window, falling in his sleep or not-sleep, whichever it was, laying the dust on the grimy floor, came to seem like a benison which, waking, he might at last receive. Grey wet streets, a fallen frond, melancholy cries of birds. A trickle of liquid spiralling in the cochlea of a shell like something running out his ear. Streets, leaves, birds, a water droplet upon which, in the faint early light, he saw tremble a meniscus of pollen dust.



I very much regret that I never accepted the several offers of paintings Phil Clairmont made to me over the time I knew him. Because, although I've written a book about him and probably looked at more of his works than just about anyone still alive, I don't have one to hang on the wall. C'est la vie - only my silly younger self to blame. All I had to do was say yes, please but some inverted sense of pride prevented me. However, when my sons gave me a small black picture frame for Father's Day, and, coincidentally, going through some old folders, I found a photo I took about ten years ago of a Clairmont self portrait, something clicked: sure enough, photo fits frame perfectly and looks gorgeous sitting up there on the bookshelf at eye level so I see it each time I leave the room. The image above doesn't do the picture justice, it's too bright, too washed out, although I do like that mad flare of light from the right eye. My photo's much better. The blues are more lustrous, the whites starker, the reds bloodier. At the time I took it the painting was hanging on a wall in pre-fab office at a rendering plant in the Waikato in NZ's North Island; the stench was suffocatingly bad and yet the painting, which is to me about the self as the site of atrocity, seemed to fit the strange ambience. I don't know who ever looked at it though. I understand it's now back in the mansion of its owner in Auckland. Although of unknown provenance, I'm fairly sure it's one of the last, if not the very last, of the many self portraits Phil made. Though I would of course rather have a real one, if I did it would probably not be as haunted and haunting as this one, even in reproduction, is. I'll settle for it.



For some reason I've been thinking lately of Andreas St. Jean, a guy I knew briefly in San Francisco quarter of a century ago now. Andreas was Chilean, a small red-haired man with pale skin and an unquenchable anger at what had been done to his country. That he had ended up living in the nation whose government had destroyed his was an irony which would not let him rest, not ever, not once. The assassination of his former commanding officer during the the time of his military service, Orlando Letelier, blown apart in Washington DC in 1976 by agents of Pinochet's junta with the collusion of the US authorities, was likewise a constant goad to him. But he had more pressing problems of his own. He was himself a fugitive from justice, as they say. Andreas and his girlfriend, Marsha, a very beautiful woman whose father was the Guatemalan ambassador, had been hanging out one day in the house they lived in then over, I think, in the Avenues, when a drunken sailor stopped at their window. This guy lingered, wanting a smoke, offering them speed, trying to join them. He wasn't welcome, especially when he started hitting on Marsha. Andreas warned him off but he took no notice. He was given a second warning, also unheeded. Andreas went to the kitchen and came back with a knife, with which he widened the smile of the sailor. Widening the smile, Andreas explained, is a ritual punishment in his culture for the type of harrassment the guy was guilty of. It involves cutting the skin at either corner of the mouth, just where top and bottom lip meet. Well. They had to leave that place in a hurry, going to live with some Israelis in another part of town and then, later, moving into the flat where we lived, above a Chinese laundry at Greenwich and Gough, just a couple of blocks from Highway 101 where Van Ness Avenue turns into Lombard Street on the approaches to the Golden Gate bridge. At the time Andreas was working as a cook at a restaurant in Union Street which specialised in omelettes and was assiduous, even passionate, in his desire to master the technique of making them. He didn't let on right away the trouble he was in, waiting, I guess, until he knew me better. What had happened was that the sailor had an influential family, including an older brother in the military, and they were determined to hunt Andreas down and get their revenge. There was a warrant out for his arrest, the charge, which amused him, was mayhem. He'd been eluding capture, as he saw it, for about nine months and that amused him too. His political anger was somehow fused with his personal predicament and he clearly felt no guilt about the 'crime' he'd committed, not so much because the guy was connected to the US military as because he got what he deserved. Incidentally, Andreas and Marsha were not only very much in love, they were also one of those couples who seem absolutely right together. We were a rock 'n' roll band, gigging around the Bay Area, hanging on by the skin of our teeth, illegal in that we had already overstayed the three month tourist visas with which we'd entered the States and also working without Green Cards. It was a strange time, the Jonestown Massacre had just happened, not long after the murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk would occurr. Every time we went down to the Fillmore where the other half of the band lived in a big old mansion on Steiner Street where various alternative therapies flourished, we passed by the People's Temple compound and saw piled up there the sea containers full of the dead pilgrims' personal belongings. One place we played regularly was the Miramar Beach Inn, south of the city on the coast, a lovely room looking out over the ocean where, I don't know, the punters liked us and we liked them. One night Andreas and Marsha came down there with us, as they sometimes did. It was a good gig and we were happy as we drove back to town in the wee small hours; we had an old Buick station wagon and a small white van for the gear. Our habit was to go in convoy to the Steiner Centre in the Fillmore to unload before heading home. We were bumping the black boxes into the basement when the cops pulled up. This wasn't unusual, we were always having to deal with them for some reason or other and usually managed to avoid trouble simply because a bunch of Kiwi musicians seemed so improbable, even exotic, even to cops. Andreas and Marsha were asleep in the back of the van, maybe they'd had a bit to drink, maybe they were just tired, but when one of the cops shone a high-powered torch in Andreas' face and asked him who he was, he told them. It was startling how quickly they came up with the information that he was a wanted man, distressing to see him manacled and hauled away, horrible to witness the cops' gleeful brutality ... needless to say, once they'd fixed on Andreas they altogether lost interest in us. He got two years. I visited him in the city jail, where he was awaiting trial, before we left SF for NY, we talked on telephones through a smeared plastic screen; a year or so later, when we were back in LA and about to return to NZ, I called him up and learned that he'd been released after serving just nine months of the sentence. It was a strange conversation, there was no ease or lightness in it as there had always been between us before; Andreas seemed dulled, perhaps diminished, by his experience in jail, which he did not want to talk about at all. It might be too much to say that his spirit was broken, it might just have been the exigencies of a long distance call between two people who, after all, did not know each other all that well ... I don't know. But, when Harry Lyon, one of the songwriters in another band I was connected with, entirely coincidentally, came up with a tune called Allende ... Thanks very much I don't like to cha cha/That old Latin beat you know it's bad for my feet/I don't like to tango/I don't want to hang though ... I could never hear the chorus, which consisted solely of a wild yearning cry of the dead leader's name, without thinking of Andreas; but I have never had any further news of him from that day to this.



It was one those tears in the fabric, one of those rents, one of those places where you enter a stillness that is not so much outside time as more deeply embedded in it. He saw it first through the train window and only later found a way to get there past the derelict sheds, the daubed superannuated carriages, the dead engines, the great wheeled machines whose uses were forgotten and gone. A rectangular enclosure fenced with hurricane wire. A silver tank that had lost its bogies. Heaps of blue metal here and there on the brown beaten earth. Pampas grass. And everywhere, the sacred ibis. It did not seem a likely place for them to be nesting, so far from water, nor could he imagine that they found food there either. It just seemed a place they wanted to be. He stood a little way off, close enough to see them clearly but not so close as to scare them away. In a patch of sun beside a pile of bricks. It was hot, the first real hot day of the year and he thought it was the heat making him feel dizzy; but when he moved into the shade and sat down on a piece of masonry, the buzzing in his ears increased to a near unbearable whining hum and then suddenly accelerated out of range and he was through, he was there, in the oasis. Not pampas grass, papyrus. Lotus pools where the brown earth had been. Flash of silver from the meniscus of the river and a reflection of palms shimmering there. This was what the ibis saw, this was why they were here. The illusion lasted only a moment and then he was back on his stone, back in the dust of the abandoned rail yard, faint with longing. He heard the metallic sound of wheels on rails and saw the grey train passing. That was him at the window, one minute he was watching himself go by, the next, looking out through smeared glass at that enigma of ibis about weedy gravel mounds behind the hurricane fence.


local history (2)

Next time he went to the Town Hall there was just one couple turning on the wide floor. Nothing somnambulist about them: they were practiced ballroom dancers, practising. He, thin, sandy, suited, peremptory; she, buxom, brown, skirted, dutiful, wearing lime green high-heeled shoes. No music played and yet, as he watched through the plate glass windows from the foyer, it was as if something unheard lay upon the air and guided them through their moves. The same telephone hung upon the wall as before but he made no move to pick it up. There was a poster of a painting by Pro Hart on the noticeboard, boys playing cricket with sticks and apple boxes in some stony paddock. Just over the way was the Oval where Bradman made his first first grade century. Broke his bat on 97. Run out at 110. He could not help eliding, every time he saw the famous name, that r, turning super hero to villain. Upstairs he met for the first time the local historian. She gave him a box of microfiche on which were recorded the names on every inscribed stone at the necropolis. Largest in the Southern Hemisphere he recalled reading somewhere. The names were indexed according to religion: Old Anglican, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, Indeterminate, No Religion ... the one he was looking for was not there, nor did he expect that it would be. It might not even be the right graveyard: the only clues were red earth and daisies, far out west. And a pale child interred there, who would bequeath his name to his grieving mother. The archives were held in the old Council Chambers where the dark wood and red leather furniture remained bizarrely in situ, as if the ghosts of councillors gone still mumbled over the traces they had left. Minutes turning to centuries as they watched. It was History Week. The display celebrated the place of women workers in the industrial suburb of the mid-century years, with a brief nostalgic glimpse at the bucolics that had preceded it. Coming down the stairs later he remembered nothing except the picture of the General Motors plant opened with great fanfare in 1926 and closing abjectly only five years later. The resounding names along the front of the building: Oldsmobile Vauxhall Bedford Pontiac Cadillac Buick Chevrolet GMC Truck. The Hall was empty, the dancers had gone; but the unheard music lingered. It carried him all the way back home, where there were lines out to places you could never go by car.