Despatch to the Thousand Ruby Galaxy

All memory is lost, every memory dies ... Iskander's profile half-erased from a rough coin dug from the Bactrian sands in the time of the Ayatollahs ... what you felt last week when Archer referred that grapple tackle to the Match Review Committee ... the expression that crossed her face when you told her that you no longer cared whether she loved you or you loved her, you just wanted a bit of peace ... they are lost in thought or dead in time, they go when the hippocampus goes, they swirl away down the sink as you wash your hands or let the grey nutritious dishwater out. There's no sense in trying to hang onto anything, to say I'm trying to remember is as futile as trying to forget: you never will or you always will, one or the other, perhaps both. Simultaneously. And the things you can't remember / tell the things you can't forget / that history puts a saint in every dream ... Much later, or instantaneously (you decide), every human memory that ever was is meticulously reconstituted at an unknown station, by an unknown mind, in the Thousand Ruby Galaxy. It could be Buddha, it could be God. It could be the Stephen Hawking clone they have going 15 light years away over there. Doesn't matter. It's a vast collection of recollections and everything is in it: the song the Sirens sang as much as that cute tune you heard whistled in the underground tunnels of St James station last Thursday evening, late, and you couldn't work out who it was because when you ducked through into the parallel tunnel there was no one there but a homeless guy sleeping under, of all things, a striped umbrella. Your childhood is there. Your death that is yet to occur is already registered in those majestic memory banks. Both the last and the next times you'll fall in love. And how they'll end. Same for everyone else, Iskander's drunken rages are there, the Ayatollahs' vile sins, the ref's mistakes, everything. And, get this, it is a library. The Ruby Galaxians listen to those memories, they access them through a catalogue so enormous we cannot even begin to comprehend it and use them for entertainment. We are, as it were, entered into an iPod of stupendous dimension. They read us as if we were, each of us, a book. Not like a book but as a book. It's our only immortality. The bitch is, we do not know if we are tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, burlesque ... or some exquisite genre not yet invented in the Milky Way. We can never know. We just have to get on with it and make it up as we go along, hoping for the best: laughter and tears, cosmic derision, pity, terror or some unknown emotion that reduces a Ruby Galaxian to the trembling incomprehension which is mine as I set down this message from, and to, the stars.


Art History

North wall:


West wall, north:



West wall, south:


South wall:


East wall:


(Last night, for reasons that are still obscure but which may become clear in time, I went out and wrote down the names of the artists inscribed on the facade of the Art Gallery of NSW. It was dark night, and there were people exercising distractingly on the forecourt, so perhaps some of my transcription is inaccurate - I will at some point check. On the north wall I suspect some names from antiquity are obscured beneath the recent extensions to the edifice. Underneath each of those four grand names - Giotto, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt - is a relief, sculpted in bronze, it looks like, after famous scenes from Assyria, Egypt, Greece and Rome, respectively. Again, I will return one day or night to find out exactly what each of these shows. All I know at present is that the first depicts Ashurbanipal, who built the great library at Nineveh where a cuneiform text of the Epic of Gilgamesh was recovered in the mid-19th century.)


In the evening /

In the evening / baby when the sun goes down ... the darkness in this flat thickens and, getting up from the desk and walking out into the hallway on my way to sitting room and kitchen, presences gather ... charcoal and mystery ... and I don't know if I see what I'm seeing or if what I see is really there to be seen. Ghosts of former occupants (how many? how far away? where?) gather and I have to take off my reading glasses to see if they are actual. That grainy greyscale doesn't change and then I think maybe it has nothing to do with my near sight (bad) or my far sight (good) but is about second sight, which really means two sights. Da Shealladh. Both my vacuum cleaner and my iron are inherited, not from a previous resident of this flat but of the one downstairs where I used to live. He died, of cancer or of AIDS, I can't remember or never knew which but I do recall being told that he was a gay guy and I always think of that when I vacuum or iron. A certain fastidiousness which I don't usually entertain comes over me at such times and I begin to obsess over crinkles in the collar of a shirt or the impossibility of getting up all the dust. Then I laugh and forget. Later I remember, not him, whoever he was, but the manifold shades that surround us always with their gentle lack of insistence, their modesty about existence or the absence thereof, their quiet endurance of the very long time of the dead. I am not afraid, not even afraid of being afraid, I would like the dead to come closer, to commune more intimately, I don't want to think of them forgotten, limbo-ed, if that's a word, reduced to a disturbance in the charcoal half-light moments before I turn on the light in the hallway, look for the TV guide, wonder about dinner, check my mobile (new, recalcitrant), pick up the phone to call someone ... as if there isn't time for sadness any more, as if that hour when ghosts gather for the brief benediction we, the living, can give them has been elided in a rigmarole of hours that go by swimmingly but with an undertow, an undersong of loss that we might think belongs to the dead but is really, incontrovertibly, heartbreakingly, ours.


these days

Sunday night. The street all charcoal and mystery. Someone walked along there a while ago, whistling a snatch of Waltzing Matilda. Snatching a whistle perhaps. Venus blazes these spring evenings, then sets. The head of my beloved was sculpted in mammoth ivory 25,000 years ago in the place we now call France. Haunting the future is the task of art, accomplished here thoughtlessly, with grace and brevity, with an insouciance that is before and after the plain fact. And the word. Have been spending a lot of time these days on trains. White Australia not even a memory there. Or, if it is, one that scarcely troubles the sleep of reason. Thinking of that bloke passed out with a bottle in one hand and his mobile in the other, on the 6.12 to Museum. Mostly we are in India, China, south and east, west and north. One day I watched on the seat in front of me a flinty old digger making love to an immense, flushed, girlish woman in blue jeans and a winsome flowery top. The vast expanses of flesh he uncovered with his caresses a wonder to behold. Like being on top of one of those jumping castles, she said when I mentioned it. Or underneath, I replied. They left the train at Broadmeadow, heading off into an unimaginable splendour of love in the afternoon. The carriage rising slightly as they stepped off onto the platform. It is an old tune, perhaps a Northumbrian marching song brought down here by soldiers. Banjo heard it banged out on a piano somewhere west of Rockhampton in the 90s. The 1890s, that is. Legend has it. Billy Tea picked it up for a jingle and that's the version we all still sing. Does anyone seriously think it was tea they served down there by the billabong? Or in the woolshed. 1892 was when my Venus was disinterred. Her face triangular and seems tranquil ... Forehead, nose and brows carved in relief, mouth absent ... She emerged from the ground into a colonial, intellectual and socio-political context nearly obsessed with matters of race ... The proportions of the head do not correspond exactly to any known human population of the present or past ... Interpretative questions have shifted from race to matters concerning womanhood and fertility ... and so on. The song on the lips of that absent mouth would not have had anything to say about jumbucks and tucker-bags. I don't think. But might have been sung by the Be Good Tanyas if they'd been around in the Paleolithic: I tried to kill the pain, bought some wine / And hopped a train / Seemed easier than just waitin' around to die.



This morning, mumbling my way into the day, the words Lost Buddhas percolated in my consciousness. Art Gallery of NSW I thought. A show perhaps about to close, I'd better go. I went. It has only just opened, so was full of earnest lumpy bodies of Sydneysiders seeking - what? Satori? Beautifully staged and lit, if a little self-consciously theatrical. Won't try to say what the images are like. Their straight-backed unworldliness a rebuke to my own lumpy earnest body, their serenity a thousand years away from my desiring, never silent mind. After a while the press of people was irritating, the overheard fragments of conversation a distraction. I went out and across the hall to look at the Otto Dix Krieg that was displayed in the gallery there.

As I had with the Buddhas, I somehow failed to follow the images in the order they are in the exhibition, coming in and out of sequence in a random fashion, trying just to look, trying not to read the wall texts, to remain uninvolved in the debate they constructed between ugliness and beauty, observation and interpretation. It was clear anyway that the album is made up of things that OD had really seen or remembered seeing. Some I had seen before; some cannot be forgotten, no matter how hard you try: as if it might be better not to look, not to see. Too late:

I was not distressed or alarmed, after all I was in a gallery, I looked, saw and passed on. There was hardly anybody in there. In a dark back room, some footage from the first world krieg, soldiers eating in that speeded up way of old film, amazed to be granted this strange immortality, a small dark man with round glasses and a brief moustache, blasted buildings, old windowed obelisks of ruin in some European city. Then I went back in to see the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas again. The abhaya mudra, dispelling fear, the varada mudra, munificence: would they have changed, would I?



so long

West facing windows turn to lozenges of golden light in the last of the sun, momentarily transforming the city into an antique legend of wonder and sadness. Two black crows are drinking from the guttering on the shuttered and perhaps derelict NSWGR building at Petersham Station. GR must mean Government Railways. 1885 inscribed below the tower. No train ever stops at that platform, those Victorian doors and barred windows neither open nor close. I would like to go inside but doubt that ever I will. Behind its corrugated iron rooftop I can see the White Cockatoo hotel on Terminus Street where the ghost of Ern Malley props up the bar, remembering when it was an early opener and shaky old codgers used to dissolve Bex powders for their hangovers in the first schooner of the day. As number 20 goes by I can't see clearly enough to tell if that dim 40 watt bulb still burns behind the brown curtains in the front room but it probably does: some things never change. Which is what we say but it isn't actually true, things change all the time, change is the only constant ... already the burnt umber on the sky line in the west is succumbing to a smaze of gray, already I'm turning away from that brief vision of splendour and thinking instead about the evening ahead. At this point on my journey, leaving Town Hall station and going down into the gloom of Druitt Street to wait for a bus over the Anzac Bridge I don't know what I now do: that later, after wine and soup and cigarettes and conversation, even a joint, walking along Balmain Road past the former insane asylum at Callum Park in the charcoal night I will suddenly understand how three old griefs may be skeined together like thick strands of hair to make one rope that might, just might, hold together long enough for someone such as myself or any other like-minded dreamer to climb high into the air, for that gold to shine a moment longer than it did, earlier, when the sun slipped away. And as everyone also knows, and this is not some illusory old saw but a truth, when you manage one of those sleights that allow you to see what isn't otherwise there, when you climb a rope suspended without hooks from the sky, when you pull yourself up by your own plaits or bootstraps, what you find then will endure as long as you do. Or, if written in a book, as long as the book does. And, if remembered and told on, even longer. Like that proverbial sigh, as the Japanese say, long as a comet's tail.


The Anthe Arc Around Saturn


three lakes

My mind takes a holiday and my body, faithful and indissoluble accompanist, goes along for the ride. We circumambulate a sacred lake above which the mountain floats white on a white sky like something that cannot be yet is. Later I drive around another profaned by corpses from an ancient massacre; about the first we walk in perfect clarity, the second I round in a miasma of confusion and get lost: body and mind crying blindly out for soul. Had I forgotten there is a third in which all of our complexities are mired? It is like this in all the old places. New memories rise up with the alarm cries of birds and say: Go! Depart this place! Come here not as you are but as you were or would be! Nevermore! etc. The bush fizzing with tui in the glory of the morning. Light glinting from the leaves and from the swift mirror of another lake, across which the once baleful cone now looks almost benign. As if the echo of catastrophe can only linger for so long before a sleepy domesticity of sun and shadow prevails; as if the days outlast the nights. There's nobody here but me and the birds: paradise ducks honking as they swim out past the landing place. Black swans spreading their wings in alarm as they stagger clumsy through the mud to water's edge then instantly transform to nonpareils of elegance and grace. Little blue ducks that were here last time we came as well. The wordless fascination of wordless things. That silence in which all other silences inhere. I can almost touch it, there, past the weir, past the raupo, past that greeny slope and past the sky. In the visitors centre the man from Tuhourangi is thinking of giving up his curatorial duties and going to Port Hedland to drive a road train. Port Hedlands, he says. Headlands maybe. Uncorrected. What is interred here laments still in his eyes. It's written on a plaque beside the road: They lay scattered in the deep night, the intense night; the sorrow and grief a tattoo of pain on my skin; and tears stream from my eyes for my dear departed ones. I show him the photo of the man I'm interested in. That's one of my great great uncles, he says, but I don't know much about him. And that little he does not say. Rewiri not Rawiri. Bare feet not boots as I had always thought. The quizzical look of one who has died and been reborn: we are not separate and distinct he says or seems to say. Mind body and soul: three lakes with one source. Turbulent or calm. Fathomless. Full of green bones. Or crayfish. Or the massive weedy trunks of trees. In those black depths you may drown. Fall through the earth all the way to China. Become engulfed in tendrils of fear, the terror of forgetting, that dreadful sink of longing. Although I wanted to I did not go through the dark doorway to the buried village. There was an ache in my soul as I drove away, bereft, unsatisfied: like a spirit hungering for blood so it can speak what it knows. And this was not some kind of possession from outside, this was me. Us. Mind body soul. Spirit. And then I knew we must go there again another time.


Ocular Disaster

On the plane back from Auckland on Saturday one of the lenses (the right) fell out of my reading glasses and was lost. I didn't discover it had gone until I was in baggage claim - someone had abandoned a small wooden crucifix there and I reached for my specs to take a closer look at it ... by the time I was home and had worked out how to call lost property the cleaners had been through the plane and the plane was on its way back to Auckland. Nothing had been handed in so they must have thrown it out. Or never noticed it at all. Since then I've been using one or other of two pairs of 2.5 magnifying glasses I bought at the Reject Shop in Ashfield last time this happened. Then, I found the errant lens lying on the grass at the verge of the path that leads from this apartment building to the street. It happened once before too, but I don't remember the details. Third time unlucky perhaps. The glasses I had before that disappeared mysteriously one day from the outside table on the deck of the house I lived in in Cornelian Road, Pearl Beach, in late 2004. Perhaps a bird, a magpie or a currawong, or a sulphur crested cockatoo even, took them: they had bright shiny buffed steel frames, of Italian manufacture. There wasn't time to replace them before I went overseas so I travelled around Malaysia and Indonesia with a pair I bought for $20 in a service station. They were a great talking point in Malacca and Labuanbajo and rather better to look through than the Reject Shop glasses but are now too painful to wear because one of the supports has fallen off, exposing naked wire that gouges into my nose. Trying to go through the editor's mark-up of the ms of The Supply Party with these current glasses is excruciating: there's no depth of field whatsoever so I have to poise at exactly the right distance from the screen in order to see the tracked changes. Afterwards I can't do anything much that involves reading or writing, though (obviously) (why?) I'm making an exception here. Help is on the way: this morning I went up to the local optometrist and within about twenty minutes I'd had my eye test, chosen new frames and coughed up a little under $300 for a new pair. Now all I have to do is wait until Friday, or perhaps next Monday, for the new specs to arrive. In the meantime, I guess it'll just be spicks.