At Home in the World

A couple of months ago I had lunch in Newtown with a much-admired fellow writer who was passing through Sydney on his way back to the United States. Michael is, like me, an expatriate New Zealander and although I don't know him well, I have known him for a long time - he came on section to Kuranui College when I was a third former there, supervised some of the classes I was in and left an indelible impression on my 13 year old mind, mostly because he always wore a white tropical suit and, in a Wairarapa autumn/winter, always looked cold. I reminded him of that this time and he said, feelingly, that it was because he was cold. He's an anthropologist and had then, in 1965, just returned from field work in Sierra Leone, a country he has returned to over and over again through the years ... anyway. At one point in our conversation he mentioned that he has always felt that he was born in the wrong place (a small town in Taranaki), that his true home is elsewhere, and that many people feel this way - perhaps I did too? I surprised myself, and him, by saying quite vehemently that no, for me my true home has always been the place where I was born and, rather than having to leave there to find out where I belonged, I've always struggled with an opposite feeling, that I've somehow strayed from where I should be. I've been thinking about this conversation ever since, wondering if that is actually the truth of the matter or is it some kind of sentimentalisation of childhood happiness? Over the same period I've been reading a remarkable book about a prophetic movement located in that same home town, nurtured by local Maori people over a hundred years and largely unknown, not only in the town itself, but in the country and the world. I grew up in the street where one of the more significant Maramatanga marae is located and walked or was driven or rode my bike past its entrance almost every day without ever going inside, without suspecting what was going on in there. One of the themes of the book is the magnetic, perhaps psychic pull, that the town exerts on those members of the movement who for some reason, willed or unwilled, go away: they are drawn back in the same way that I feel drawn back. Nevertheless, over the last few weeks, thinking about my childhood experiences there, those that have surfaced are of a solitary not a social kind. I remember, for instance, the concrete slab floor of a farm building, perhaps a cowshed, that lay in the paddock opposite where my sisters grazed their horses: the shed itself was either never built or had been demolished; to me that plain slab was the ruin of an ancient city, a place where the mysteries and wonders of the past could be evoked, were (at times) magically present. I had similar fantasies about the tray of an old flatbed truck that had been parked next to our car garage and left to rot. Again, I didn't really know what this thing actually was or had been: I thought of it as a ship and spent hours sailing it to imaginary locations, captain of a shadowy crew who all, perhaps fatally, resembled myself. In both these places time and space ceased to exist as real quantities or at least as limitations. I could go where I wanted to go, be who I wanted to be. There were others ... the straggly line of gooseberry, black and red currant bushes down one side of our section where I'd lie in the long grass and eat the fruit, the sandpit next to the water tank where I constructed vast machine-haunted empires, the empty sloping ditch past the quince tree on the other flank, the macrocarpa hedge down the back with its rickety gate leading on to the river bank ... when I think about these places and the things I did or didn't do there, I recognise the state of mind I entered into then as the same one that, if I'm lucky, I go into now when I'm writing. The same meditative, hyper aware yet somehow also vague apprehension of things of and not of this world. And so I think perhaps I'm drawn back to that place not because of any intrinsic quality it might have but simply because it was there that I found out what I most love to do. On the other hand ... after we'd had coffee, Michael and I walked back across King Street where we were approached by an Aboriginal woman who asked us for money. As Michael fumbled in his purse for coins, the woman looked curiously at him. Where you from? she asked. Michael appeared strange. Bewildered. His mouth worked but no words came. I realised that he truly did not know the answer. It took him quite a while but in the end he gave what seemed like the only response possible for him: I don't know. At the same moment I knew without a doubt, as I know now, if the question is put to me, exactly what I will say.


Christmas Tree Cluster aka Open Cluster NGC2264


corner of truth

Samsara has never seen the Amethyst Room and wants to, so our next rendezvous is there in the Philosophical City on a night when the moon is full and the air made out of presences, suppositions, apparitions. She brings a purse full of rings, amongst which is one with a large pale oval amethyst in an old silver setting, which she gives to Rosemary, the chatelaine, when we meet out by the hibiscus, the lavender, the poppies, the sunflowers, the tomatoes. Rosemary slips it onto the little finger of her left hand and gives us the key. The room is as I remember but the Tahitian lime outside the stained bow window has ripened, its fragrant blossom changed into small green fruit that we cut and squeeze over the cantaloupes that we eat with shiny spoons before going for dinner at the Atlas ... except the Atlas is booked out so we end up next door in the Bogey Hole and afterwards go to a hotel, the name of which I cannot recall, where we drink bourbon and coke and play a game of pool with ourselves and then another with a couple of blokes we meet there. Samsara has a clean, straight-ahead style at the table and, both times, sinks the black to end the game. A band is gearing up to do their set but we go instead outside to smoke and fall into conversation with a fellow called Colin and, later, one called Sam who sounds Irish but isn't - he's a native of the Philosophical City and, despite being blind in one eye, has a broad reach and a humorous take on almost everything. Colin has just had his ex-wife to stay, she has broken his wine glasses and rearranged all his things, not through malice but drunken incompetence and he tells us how his mates took him down to the corner of truth to sort him out about it. Where is the corner of truth? I ask and he says that in his case it was in the park just out the back of where we are, which is maybe called Delaney's. Colin goes down to his father's farm for two weeks every year to make the wine from grapes they grow there, somewhere to the west of the Graffiti Capital of the World and advises, inter alia, against growing olive trees as a way of making money ... not that I was thinking of doing that. I'm mostly silent, I sit and drink and smoke and watch Samsara as she comes and goes, moving fast, without a doubt, scattering reassurances like confetti or should I say tinsel? She is beautiful in her black dress, her insouciance and her grace and when at last the pub closes and we have to leave, I imagine (or perhaps I don't) that a universal regret attends her departure. We go back to the Amethyst Room and leave the curtains unpulled all night long. Next morning, at breakfast, the other guests, Kurt and his Danish wife Jeanette (it's their anniversary) tell hilarious stories about a dysfunctional Scottish funeral director Kurt once worked for but Samsara isn't really attending, she is transfixed by the green eyes of King Solomon staring out of a cubistic painting of the Queen of Sheba on the wall behind us ... there are presences everywhere now, it is as if all the denizens in the Illustrated Golden Bough are simultaneously manifesting, as if the lost gods of the Dogon are there, Alexander too, Bucephalus, her mother fleeing Sangala to the other side of sorrow, the further shore from darkness, away from the uncreated world, millennia ago, the Dark Lady, John Dowland who serenaded her, the naked unaccommodated men of Eureka and even perhaps Sha Na Na ... we leave and walk up onto Obelisk Hill where grey striped dragon flies mass around the coprosma below the gun emplacements and I remember errant episodes from my childhood, for instance the concrete slab of an old cowshed that I thought was the ruin of a temple from antiquity, the wooden tray of a flatbed truck that was my ship of fools, the sandpit where I constructed epochal cities ... we go on down to the sea and ramble over the rocks, perfectly happy, looking in pools where anemones waft their purple tendrils and the exoskeletons of crabs abandoned by the tide drift, disintegrate, and when we swim it is in the Bogey Hole, excavated by convicts for some satrap or other, attended by putti, with a fleet of coal ships whose number I cannot count moored out beyond or before the delusive horizon and here, with salts and iodines streaming from her hair she tells me Samsara is not her real name, that was a ruse to divert Moksha's agents, she is really called ... they make one last attempt, there in the car park, impotent, ugly and grimacing as they slide greasy hands down the glass through which they cannot pass and then we're away, we're gone, we're laughing, that was our corner of truth and now we are free to ramble forever as we wish and will but what about the truth test software? I ask and she smiles her secret smile and does not answer ... and in the instant, driving away, I know that we are it and that she knows it too and knows that I know: whereof we cannot speak, I think but do not say, thereof we must pass over in silence. It is the place called home. The Thousand Ruby Galaxy. Or similar.



We agree to meet at a nearby railway station but the traffic is heavier than I thought it would be and I am late for the rendezvous. I park the car and hurry into the tunnel under the platforms which is strangely deserted - not only can I not see Samsara, it seems as if, on an otherwise busy Friday evening, all other travellers and sojourners have disappeared as well. I come back out by the other ramp and see, past the waiting taxis, her standing with a suitcase beside her in the small park that adjoins the station, looking up into the green leaves of the trees. The cacophony of birds is so loud that she does not hear me when I call out to her and, since she is looking upwards transfixed by the enormous sound of the rainbow lorikeets going to their roost, nor does she see me approach. Although there are now many people about I have a curious impression of her standing alone in the midst of the plane trees, which I have never before realised are disposed in a circle as if in a sacred grove ... she cries out as I touch her arm but the sound of her momentary alarm is also drowned by the noise of the birds. We go back to the car and drive the short distance to my place listening to trance music on the radio and talking of what I do not remember. I am nervous because I know that certain recessive, perhaps inverted aspects of my personality are expressed in the way my apartment is arranged, the things I have decided to display, the manner in which I live, and that these aspects of the self I am necessarily blind towards will undoubtedly appear to her with peculiar force. I know too that what is most familiar to me will look most strange to her and vice versa, also that I can never really see what she will see, know what she will come to know. She is intrigued but not intimidated by the mask of Anubis that I have set upon a high black bookshelf; she surprises me by re-calibrating the alignments of the various stones that I have placed on the wooden window sills in the sitting room; she takes the small blue bottle of volcanic ash I keep on my desk and lays it in a small, red-lined box made out of native woods; she replaces the broken off arm of the Caroline Islands idol standing in the bathroom. I don't ask why she does these things; I think perhaps it is because she is afraid of being pursued by Moksha or his agents and believes that the re-alignments will confuse, disorient or otherwise keep them away for us. Naturally she is tired from her journey, hungry and thirsty, so I serve dinner and afterwards run her a bath. The next two days pass in a blur during which she shows me aspects of the city I have never seen before. We visit a dance academy where the Rumba, the Samba, the Paso Doble, the Cha Cha Cha, the Jive and and other Latin American dances are taught and where I learn that she is a mistress of the Tango and would like the master of the studio, a man by the name of Da Silva, to give me lessons in how to do it; in the evening we go to a club in the city called the Men's Gallery so she can check out the dancers there, who have names like Brianna, Hunter, Shanika and Tenielle, where the ambience is louche and a little sad, even though both staff and clientele are universally cheerful, as if by decree, and where the notes of an alternative currency known as tricky dollars are purchased by punters and then tucked into the garters of dancers they like or admire. Later, stumbling down George Street in the aftermath of a violent electrical storm that has halted the rail system, outside the Hilton Hotel we almost join a party of Japanese getting into a stretch Humvee but instead are swept by crowds of stranded revellers down to Town Hall and into a #50 bus that takes us home. Her mysterious agenda also includes a concert of the music of John Dowland that we go to hear in the Opera House on the night of the day after its creator, Jørn Oberg Utzon, who never saw the epochal building he made, dies in Copenhagen. The two lute players and their lutes are a revelation so intense and various and beautiful that I will not even try to describe what it was like except to say I heard fairgrounds, I heard barrel organs, I heard the continuos of small Salzberg ensembles, I heard chains, I heard towers, I heard the lonely call of marsh birds across misty swamps in the antediluvian night, I heard Spain, I heard gold, I heard the sounds that drift between the stars ... and after all this and much that I will not speak of here, a little more than 48 hours later we are back in the park outside the station at dawn where the cacophony of lorikeets waking up to the day resembles exactly their previous cacophonous roosting two days or two minutes ago. As the train gets ready to pull out of the station I realise we have not once discussed the Eureka Stockade but before I can even begin to mention it Samsara leans from the door of her carriage and whispers something in my ear. This message is coincident with the guard's whistle blowing, the station master's white flag dropping, so I cannot be entirely sure that what she said was a re-statement, perhaps a disambiguation, of a phrase formerly used between us when we were speaking of the lost letters of the Dark Lady: the beatitudes, she said or seemed to say, her breath as sweet as honey mead, of erotic love raised to a higher power ...