Monday, May 27, 2013

One Story in May

I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong
I came to a high place of darkness and light
The dividing line ran through the center of town
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right
Went in to a laundry to wash my clothes down
A man in the corner approached me for a match
I knew right away he was not ordinary
He said, “Are you lookin’ for somethin’ easy to catch?”
I said, “I got no money.” He said, “That ain’t necessary”
We set out that night for the cold in the North
I gave him my blanket, he gave me his word
I said, “Where are we goin’?” He said we’d be back by the fourth
I said, “That’s the best news that I’ve ever heard”
I was thinkin’ about turquoise, I was thinkin’ about gold
I was thinkin’ about diamonds and the world’s biggest necklace
As we rode through the canyons, through the devilish cold
I was thinkin’ about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless
How she told me that one day we would meet up again
And things would be different the next time we wed
If I only could hang on and just be her friend
I still can’t remember all the best things she said
We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice
He said, “There’s a body I’m tryin’ to find
If I carry it out it’ll bring a good price”
’Twas then that I knew what he had on his mind
The wind it was howlin’ and the snow was outrageous
We chopped through the night and we chopped through the dawn
When he died I was hopin’ that it wasn’t contagious
But I made up my mind that I had to go on
I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty
There was no jewels, no nothin’, I felt I’d been had
When I saw that my partner was just bein’ friendly
When I took up his offer I must-a been mad
I picked up his body and I dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole and I put back the cover
I said a quick prayer and I felt satisfied
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her
She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes
I cursed her one time then I rode on ahead
She said, “Where ya been?” I said, “No place special”
She said, “You look different.” I said, “Well, not quite”
She said, “You been gone.” I said, “That’s only natural”
She said, “You gonna stay?” I said, “Yeah, I jes might”
Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child
What drives me to you is what drives me insane
I still can remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin’ rain

Bob Dylan

Saturday, May 25, 2013


"Foolhardy," Lena said today. "Where do you think that word comes from?"
bold but rash, delighting in taking unnecessary risks
I answered that it was obvious but she got out the dictionary and said it came from the French 'foll' as in 'folly' and that 'hardy' means strong.
"I always thought it was old English," she said. "But it's French."
"Yeah ... strong and silly. Or -" and here I look to her husband J, who is of the same ilk as me, " - hurtling into a scenario and knowing your body will see you through. Yes?"
Thank goodness for strong bodies, is all I can say. Living an unsafe life can require physical resilience.
I love spending Saturday afternoons with these two. They may be public servants but they are primarily artists. They will bring out a decent wine, a plate of cheese and fruit and engage me in a robust debate on love, literature and local history. On my bad weeks, they will both hug me. They are both fallible too and they know it. I know I can always hug them back.

So, foolhardiness ... whilst encouraging my son Stormboy's hankering for a scooter license, I've found myself stalling his attempts at a learner's permit in strange, passive aggressive ways. I've been unable to locate his passport or birth certificate. Can't find the money for a helmet. Medicare card? Damn, son.
Why is this? Because I'm afraid for him. Because his dance amongst the road trains and Commodore drivers will be without the cage they call cars to protect him. Because he is still a child. Because as soon as he gets that bike, I know I won't see him very often. Because I'm waving goodbye to his childhood.

A memory swims in. It's midnight. I'm nineteen. We are hurtling along a highway, way over the speed limit, heading for the waterhole to go for a swim.  Pilbara. I've been drinking tequila. I am climbing out of the back passenger window of a speeding Toyota Corolla and onto the roof rack. Solitary ghost gums flash by. I hang on to the roof rack of the tiny, tinny car. The stars and land and sky crawl over me. I climb to where I can peer through the windscreen at the driver, see his eyes widen in horror at my upside down face.

I only called back this memory recently. For some reason, and it was not the tequila, I'd mentally decided to lose that one. That night was a long moment of absolute existentialism. I'm quite glad I'm still alive.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Saturday, May 18, 2013

This afternoon

This afternoon I heard Poetica on the radio, a tractor reversing through lines of broccoli, a magpie impersonating a kookaburra, Dave the farmer yelling at his dog, who barked at the cows, and Mick using a grinder to fashion a washer from a length of steel scrap to fix the mower.
(Poetica, on a good day, makes me feel like my neck is being kissed. The smell of a grinder cutting steel takes me back to tin sheds and strange machines and the work of men.)
A still, chilled afternoon: the big, white clouds of autumn always threaten rain and sounds ring clear through the air.
As I hang out my washing, the neighbour shouts over the electric fence, "It must be about to rain, Sarah!" My clothesline habits, it seems, are his storm barometer.

Tis a breaking of the seal, of sorts. Perhaps that is too juicy a metaphor for my situation. Tom Stephenson has posted his recipe to draw out a dried up blogger, when he worried that his mates in other worlds were either dead, buried or walking the Valley of Shit. You can read his recipe here (the comments are v.funny if I may say so myself.)
The only reason I've stopped writing over the last week or so is that I've stepped off my red wine highway. Red wine tends to be my amphetamine or blue meanie when it comes to creativity. It can feed me in more ways than mere alcoholic sustenance, so giving it up for a week means that I am flailing just a bit. I wake up in the mornings feeling brilliantly (or at least vaguely) cognitive, and free of that nasty guilty thing called a hangover. But the rage ... the beauty ... the landscape ... the story ... all these elements have been obscured by a bewilderment, a numbness and the lack of drive to say anything at all. This is confusing for me because I always thought it was supposed to be the other way around.

So please bear with me. There is plenty banked up that I would like to write about: Helen Garner on literary prizes and writing non fiction in the Weekend Australian, google street view and the paranoid collective, a breath of sunlight outside the gaol for my ex, dancing to my 'own' band C U Next Tuesday in a garage in Lockyer, a visceral lesson in kangaroo tick management, Japan's potential leader's response to the demands of the Comfort Women, my grand daughter's amazing, open mouthed smile when she hears me say 'Hey Tilly, Tilly! It's Nana Sarah!'

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Salt Story update #2

To continue on the book thing, about two weeks ago Old Salt, Bernie and I were filmed for a book trailer. Apparently book trailers are like movie trailers, sort of. I think they exist mainly to help online buyers click 'add to shopping trolley' but also to outline the premise of the book in a visual media, over about two minutes. (Sorry, I'm trying so hard to concentrate but I have a trembling, brindle, chicken-killer Wolf at my feet. There is a storm coming tonight. He's placing one paw on my lap and pleading with me to save him.)

Okay. So I rang Old Salt and told him they wanted to make a book trailer and that we had to go fishing again. He was into it. He's been living out at the salmon camp since February so we agreed to meet there. The film crew drove down from the city. They followed me along thirty or forty kilometres of winding roads to the camp. When we turned up at the beach, we nearly ran over a tribe of kids and dogs on the dirt track.
"Is that your dog?" one of the urchins asked me as I pulled up, pointing to a black dog.
"No, it's Old Salt's dog. Hi Bernie, Hi!" I cried to the retriever. I haven't seen him for ages and we lolloped towards each other. Big hairy hugs. Bernie is one of those dogs who still has all his bits and the personality of one who doesn't.

I introduced the film crew to Old Salt. Him and Parsley were sitting on plastic chairs, chatting, looking out to the reefs. Caravans, buses and tents were crouched all over the place. Toddlers trundled around on plastic toy motorbikes. The big black dog who always brawled with (the now disappeared) Digger yelled at me and then stalked away.

We drove around the four wheel drive tracks to the next beach where they were to film me walking along white sands and dunes, looking windswept and interesting. "So did you have to outline theoretical frameworks in your assessments at uni?" I asked them on the way. "Like, do you get into Foucault, or Derrida's stuff? Lacan? Bataille? What about Barthes on the Photograph? Camera Lucida? I'm reading that now. Wow." I could feel them crunching in the back seat of the ute as we crashed through the karri forest track's corrugations and potholes, groping for their delicate camera equipment and perhaps thinking, didn't she write a book about being a deckie? Who the fuck is this woman?

After they filmed me walking up the beach and down and back up again, Old Salt drove down with his boat and it was time to launch.

It didn't go that well. Old Salt and I haven't launched a boat off the beach for six months or more. I nearly drowned him on film. Damn. My only defense is that launching a seventeen foot boat into surf is always a debacle, well for Old Salt and I it is anyway. And see those huge waves? That was just low tide. Wait til the tide and the next set comes in. Gnarly.
Once upon a time I was driving the trailer back up the same beach after dropping Old Salt and the boat into the surf. I heard shouts and screams and saw people running towards my wheel tracks. I thought I'd run over someone's kid or dog but the shouters were running towards Old Salt. He'd been toppled by the boat in the waves and knocked unconscious.

Yeah, well. Anyway, hopefully the bit where I nearly turfed him into the surf this day won't be on the book trailer. But as soon as I get some footage, I'll put it up on A WineDark Sea, near drownings and all.

Salt Story update

 My book, out in November, is called Salt Story, of sea dogs and fisherwomen. So now it has a real name!
Yesterday the Australia Post lady beeped outside (she's a bit worried about that brindle hound Wolf) and when I lurched outside in my nightie, she handed me a parcel from her car. It's the typeset proofs.

The editor at Fremantle Press and I have been sending edits back and forth for six months now; pages full of red squiggly lines, cross-throughs and comments; using MS words's track changes. I've shifted chapters around and shifted them back on her suggestions, rewritten introductions and conclusions, changed names and written new stories. Yesterday was the first time I've seen the book in the above format. It was just photocopied A4 pages but eventually it will look like a real proper booky book. 

Then there are some of the images that the graphics folk will use to illustrate Salt Story:

The fish pictures were created during an 1841 zoological expedition around Australia and published in a weighty tome called The Zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Erebus & Terror: Under the command of Captain Sir James Clarke Ross, During the years 1839 to 1843. The Western Australian Museum provided the scans.

The publisher printed out six copies of the book so I could give the fishermen copies to check. I want them all to be okay with their representations and their pseudonyms. Yesterday I drove down to the fish factory where I knew I could find some of them, because it is where they buy ice or drop off fish to be processed.
'Axel's' wife was in the office but, "Hubby's out at Stokes' Inlet with Unruly. They're sharing a car because of the fuel costs getting back and forth. They'll be in on Saturday." She looked at the manuscript. "Is his name really Axel in your book?"
She looked at me curiously. "How did you come up with that name?"
"Don't know. It just popped into my head."
"I don't reckon he will like it. In fact, I know he will hate it."
"His mum had a 'dalliance' with a bloke called Axel, about thirty years ago. He doesn't like him very much."
So I guess there are still changes to be made! Thank goodness I'm running it by the fisher men and women first.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Two Tribes

Yesterday I had to visit the prison to pick up money left for me by an inmate. He doesn't have much obviously but whatever he does have, he's been putting aside for my son. I couldn't just bang on the front doors of the prison, so I went into the little outbuilding that is the visitor's first stop. She seems to know me by name and she is a kindly sort, working on the coalface of humanity as she does. The room was plastered with friendly, cartoon-style warnings about drugs and sex. She was playing a CD by the Sex Pistols. She rang me through and then I stashed my bag in the lockers and walked down the pathway of dying agapanthus towards the gates and razor wire.

Beep. A goon (sorry, but his unfortunate genetics and choice of occupation made me decide that he would otherwise be a 'doorman') opened the door and said, "Sit there please." Brown, filthy couch.
I sat on the couch. Everyone worked on, ignoring me so I studied the lockers and the retina scanner.
"Excuse me." A warder was waving a manila envelope at me. "Hello."
It's a small town. The warder was an ex work colleague's husband and had played quizmaster with natural authority on a night when my table won. We won a plastic frangipani-shaped candle holder, if I remember rightly.

He waved the envelope at me again. "Do you want your money?" His tone had a grudge beneath it, like it was his money and I was diddling him a bad deal.
All of the other warders in the waiting room pretended not to be interested. I walked to his counter. He pulled some bank notes from the envelope. "Make sure you count it out."
So I counted the notes. A radio played somewhere. I went to put the money back into the envelope but he whipped the envelope away and held it up by his shoulder. "You need to sign it to say you've received your money. I have to keep it for records. Sign here, please."
After I signed the envelope, he put it on a desk behind him and handed me 'my' money. What was I supposed to do with it? My bag was across the compound in another locker. Stuff it down my fucking bra and give them all a wink? Fuckers. Failed fucking parking inspectors. I crushed the notes into my palm and he nodded at the goon who pressed the lock and let me leave. Beep.

After prison visits, getting out the front door and heading for the car park always makes me inhale deeply, look at the sky and think, thank God I'm outta there. Imagine years ... two hours in there and I'm gasping. I'm headed straight for the nearest bottle shop.
But this was the first time I've had to pick up money and, hear me, I've never been made to feel more like a two-bit hooker dysfunctionally attached to some piece of banged up gutter trash than I did yesterday.

This dirty feeling and the undertone of the guards' behaviour really bothered me as I drove away. C'mon Sarah, I tried reasoning with myself. You know how this all works. It's Sociology 101. Bentham's panopticon. Hobbes. Foucault's Of Other Spaces. The Milgram and Stanford experiments. Come on Sarah. You know this shit.
But, while driving, my education was stormed over with a personal indignation and gathering rage. The magistrate in her tight designer dress wriggling into her SUV outside the local supermarket. The lack of even a token rehabilitation or counselling. Being put in this position by an idiot family member. Tears outside the courtroom. Dragging my son out of school to give him the news. That glance between the quizmaster and the goon. (You can let her out now.) The covert demonstration of power and class that I saw, condensed into a single room, yesterday.

And so this, from Anna Akhmatova's Requiem:

No, it is not I, it is someone else who is suffering,
I could not have borne it. And this thing which has
Let them cover it with black cloths,
And take away the lanterns ....

Friday, May 3, 2013


In the cave he arranges her limbs to kneel on a bed of small, polished stones.
It's an undersea smell, they say, briny, like the inside of a sea shell and slightly fecal to begin with, studded with buttons of squid bones. It will mature to become grainy, musky and precious for its rarity. To verify, heat a needle above a flame and slide it into the waxen flesh. The smoke will be white and sublime in fragrance. Miraculous.

He places her limbs, he directs her to her knees. Her arms are goosepimpled but the long planes of muscle each side of her spine are smooth. She is sharpened into living, pulsing and warm, fluid, as her head and her hair fall back onto his shoulder.
Are you okay? Are you alright on these stones?
Oh yes.
Stones thrown up from the belly of the sea, rained down from the heavens, jewelled conglomerates of shells and lime blast-hardened into calcite, the basalt ballast of long-wrecked ships, the smooth pebbles of coal.

They are mere flesh amongst the stones. From behind her he can see out of the cave, opening like an eye, to the island. The island is the eye's grey green pupil. It's domed like a leviathan rising and crowned in barnacle boulders.
Their boots water bottles bags clothes orange peel with the stickers still on, are scattered all around. She smells like an animal, tastes like the inside of a shell. It is time for her to smile at his big freckled shoulders crouching between her knees. She reaches up her arms, places her hands flat on the ceiling of the cave. Gasps in delight.

Meteors shower at the sides of her eyes. Her vision sparkles at the moment when his pores burst sweet sweat. He whispers things, songs, oaths to her. She can't decipher his words, nor he hers, over the roar of the surf running up the ferny reef to their door. What they experience is so exquisite it is supposed to be dirty. It is said to be wrong ... but ... that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? *
She brings the wind and the undersea. He brings chocolate and the petite mort of dawn before the livening of birds. There is the sea, there is the island, there is the cave - and here are their clothes scattered all around.

*Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Vintage Classics, p. 456.