Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ocean Sojourn

"It is a fact universally acknowledged that a fisherwoman in receipt of a slightly battered heart will be in need of a red sail against an uncluttered horizon."
Mmmm. Yes? No? Okay, how about this one:
"Last night I dreamed I returned to The Tearaway again."

I spent last evening with friends who played ukeleles and sang The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, The Ship Song and Fisherman's Blues around a fire. Funny, later I dreamed about what my book would look like. Perhaps that is because I've been editing the manuscript for weeks, months, and last night the blokes were running over a songlist for the book launch.
But when I woke up this morning, I knew I was actually one sleep closer to the uncluttered horizon.

"An easterly is the most agreeable wind in Esperence Bay ..."
Charlotte Bronte, Daphne Du Maurier and John Fowles really knew what they were on about. Sometimes there is just nothing for it but to go to sea. It's only TWO MORE SLEEPS before I set sail from Esperence to Albany on my friend's catamaran. This is the same sea highway that my sealer men and women trod so long ago so hopefully I'll get some writing done. Hang out on the islands. Sing to some seals. Stuff like that.

A WineDark Sea's waters will be still for a week but they've been glassed off for a while anyway, seeing as I haven't been to sea for six months. (Aaagh!) I promise photographs and ripping yarns of old on my return.
And ... Happy Easter.

Monday, March 25, 2013



This evening Mum and her friend took the dogs for a walk. I watched them gather up the hounds as they do every afternoon, waving leash clips as their entreaty. I felt like taking a clandestine photograph of these women dressed in raincoats, colourful beanies, psychedelic-rimmed op shop glasses and sensible shoes, their black and brindle dogs jumping all around them.

After they left, I saw the flash of a magpie beyond the lattice. I leave food out for them: old rice or breakfast cereals, any scraps that don't make it to the worm farm get thrown to the dogs or the magpies. In the nesting season I leave out strands of my hair for their nests.

This magpie visitor carolled and sang ... then it bloody talked about going for a walk, I swear it.

I stood up and the bird flew away.
Maybe Mum hadn't gone for a walk, I thought. Maybe she'd stayed in the driveway and it was her voice I could hear. It was uncanny. It sounded exactly like her warbling when she gathers up the dogs to put their leashes at the same time every day.
I thought I must be going mad. I've never heard a talking magpie before.

Mick was the first to come home from work and I mentioned the magpie, kinda casually in case he thought I was going crazy too.
'I'm glad you told me that, Sarah,' he said. 'The other day, I'm sure a magpie said hello to me. It sounded just like your mum.'
('Hello Mick!')

Has anyone else around these parts come across a talking magpie? This one is a young male, with clean cut black and white markings. He talks like a parrot, only more eloquent. He's not just a mimic ... I feel he could be a conversationalist.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Poet #2

I found out today that the Irish poet Dennis O'Driscoll died back in December. I met Dennis a year ago when he came to Australia to promote his book Stepping Stones, a collection of essays about his good friend Seamus Heaney. When he arrived in Albany from the airport, he got out of the car, a slight man in a creased suit, and walked straight towards the sea without saying hello to anyone. He stood next to the landlocked replica of the Amity, staring out at the water. Then he returned to the car park where we stood bemused, and introduced himself.

Later I wrote a post about talking to him and how he 'interviewed' me. That blog post has made its way into my forthcoming book as part of the introduction. He said at the time that he would like to read my book, which is bolstering. I was going to send him a copy.

I met a poet from Tipperary. A man in his fifties; his humour, his wisps of hair and pale, elfin face made him a different creature from anyone I’d ever met. I wanted to tell him that, despite his bemoaning the status of poetry in Australia, clandestine visitors to one of the isolated fishing shacks I frequent had stolen nothing but my copy of Phillip Larkin’s Collected Poems. They could have shot holes in the rainwater tank or taken the gas bottle or generator. But no ... a book of poetry.

He nodded slowly. ‘Larkin. They showed good taste.’

‘I thought so too.’

‘I heard that you are a fisherwoman,’ he said.

‘Yes. We work the estuaries and beaches with nets, in a little boat.’

He took his time during the conversation. He looked distracted and stared across the table at something or someone. ‘You look like you are strong.’

‘I am.’


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Slow Dance

  More than putting another man on the moon,
  More than a New Year’s resolution of yogurt and yoga,
  we need the opportunity to dance
  with really exquisite strangers. A slow dance
  between the couch and dining room table, at the end
  of the party, while the person we love has gone
  to bring the car around
  because it’s begun to rain and would break their heart
  if any part of us got wet. A slow dance
  to bring the evening home. Two people
  rocking back and forth like a buoy. Nothing extravagant.
  A little music.  An empty bottle of whiskey.
  It’s a little like cheating. Your head resting
  on his shoulder, your breath moving up his neck.
  Your hands along her spine. Her hips
  unfolding like a cotton napkin
  and you begin to think about
  how all the stars in the sky are dead. The my body
  is talking to your body slow dance. The Unchained Melody,
  Stairway to Heaven, power-chord slow dance. All my life
  I’ve made mistakes. Small
  and cruel. I made my plans.
  I never arrived. I ate my food. I drank my wine.
  The slow dance doesn’t care. It’s all kindness like children
  before they turn three. Like being held in the arms
  of my brother. The slow dance of siblings.
  Two men in the middle of the room. When I dance with him,
  one of my great loves, he is absolutely human,
  and when he turns to dip me
  or I step on his foot because we are both leading,
  I know that one of us will die first and the other will suffer.
  The slow dance of what’s to come
  and the slow dance of insomnia
  pouring across the floor like bath water.
  When the woman I’m sleeping with
  stands naked in the bathroom,
  brushing her teeth, the slow dance of ritual is being spit
  into the sink. There is no one to save us
  because there is no need to be saved.
  I’ve hurt you. I’ve loved you. I’ve mowed
  the front yard. When the stranger wearing a sheer white dress
  covered in a million beads
  slinks toward me like an over-sexed chandelier suddenly come to life,
  I take her hand in mine. I spin her out
  and bring her in. This is the almond grove
  in the dark slow dance.
  It is what we should be doing right now. Scraping
  for joy. The haiku and honey. The orange and orangutan slow dance.

  Matthew Dickman
American Poetry Review, 2008.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How to do a Woman In

The Engagement is a good title for Chloe Hooper's new book: an engagement requires two parties to commit to some kind of interaction whether it be marriage, violence, a tryst, bloodshed, a transaction or a book club. Although I'm sure book clubs can be thrilling it was not this kind of engagement that kept me reading Hooper's novel until the final page, around two thirty this morning.

Chloe Hooper makes fine use of the gothic tropes played out via novels for centuries. She's transposed them beautifully into the Australian landscape: the lonely, emotionally bereft farmer, the collusive priest, the crumbling, imposing manor, the used wedding dress with tatty plastic buttons, the mad woman in the attic, and a young woman come from overseas to stay with a distant uncle; a woman made suddenly vulnerable by a transaction that she thought she was in charge of. Think Jamaica Inn, Jane Eyre and its most beautiful backchat, A Wide Sargasso Sea.

This in itself is the makings of a ripping yarn but what kept me up all night was the realisation that The Engagement could be read as a perfect recipe for How To Do a Woman In.

Find a woman who carries tiny vestiges of shame, hurt and a disconnect from true love jingling about her body like a charm bracelet. Seduce her - but let her think it was her idea to unbutton her blouse. Let her know how much you care for her, how much she needs you. Spend lavishly. Encourage her to tell racy tales because you both like that kind of sex talk. Bank these tales for later.

Chloe Hooper strikes me as an extraordinarily supple writer. Her nonfiction treatment of the death-in-custody of Palm Island man Cameron Doomadgee is forensic, personal and compassionate. The Tall Man was first published as an essay in The Monthly (You can read it here) and became a book that has been compared to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Her first novel A Child's Book of True Crime is definitely not for children - a nasty, sexy tale of a school teacher having an affair with the father of her most gifted student. There's murder, obsession and not a few scorned men and women, all set in an idyllic Tasmanian village.

Compromise her financially somehow. Then, much later in the course of post coital gentle talk, say to her, "I've never visited a prostitute before."

Prostitution themes emerge early in The Engagement. Liese and Alexander begin their strange and charged relationship with illicit meetings in vendors' beautifully appointed inner city apartments. (What a beautiful premise! Makes me almost want to work in real estate. Almost.) Alexander is the potential buyer. Liese is the realtor. Her very name suggests a capacity for rental. Chloe Hooper has some fun with her slutty vision of Australian real estate here. It's quite delicious.
"As my uncle put it, the locals just pumped minerals over to China then stacked higher and higher 1BR or 2BR boxes for spivs making a killing in resource stocks who needed to diversify their portfolios." She describes Leise's change of costume as she enters the real estate sphere. "... and so I began dressing in a close-fitting grey suit and fawn heels, the plastic nametag Liese Campbell pinned to the breast of my white shirt."

Wave away her protests of innocence. Offer her a way out, an exit from the awfulness of debt and being alone/predated upon. Tell her you trust her, that you are falling in love with her, that you don't mind all the other men. 

The Engagement is told over two days, with a back story. Over these two days, Hooper ramps up the tension.When Liese arrives at the country manor alone with a man she didn't really know and is ushered into a child's pink bedroom where she was to pack her dirty weekend lingerie into undersized white drawers, she begins to freak out, and fair enough. Her mobile proves out of range. There doesn't seem to be a land line. He proposes to her.

Once you have her in the house, show her the information you've gathered. Withdraw those racy details from your bank and collate them into a new narrative. Photoshopped images are good. She will wonder whether an ex lover had betrayed her. Her hurt and confusion about past lovers will help dismantle her reality and distract her from your own. Mention a home video that you have seen on XTube and that you've been receiving letters from people who have been 'intimate' with her, who worry that as a land holder perhaps you are being rorted. Let her know that she is being undermined but that you will protect her from them.
Whenever she pecks you on the cheek or heads for the fly of your pants or unbuttons her clothing, going for the safety and purity of sex, hold her firmly by her shoulders and say "I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. We shall have lots and lots of babies. You don't need to do this ... you've done it with so many others. We are different." 

Question the origins of her rampant sexuality.

Suggest that you may not be able to take her out in public. Ever. You've seen the sideways looks in the street. But console her that only your closest friends are aware of her past. They understand and they will be the only people she has contact with.
Lock the doors. Remove the phone.

Jesus, I thought, bleary eyed at one in the morning. I know that man. Actually, I know three of them ranging in varying degrees of dangerous. One was a farmer whose expertise at artificial insemination and breeding programs informed his love life - fortunately he was harmless and about as clever as a hatful of hammers. Another was dumb/dangerous; a drunken Romanian who trapped me in his Subaru for several hundred kilometres once he'd decided that I was to be his next wife. The third man came really close to doing me in and it is his recipe that I can see laid out in this book; knives, condiments, carcasses and all.

Chloe Hooper is quite surgical in this dissection of a man bringing a woman undone and consequently unravelling himself. Nobody wins by the way. But oh my, what a yarn.

Chloe Hooper, The Engagement, Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, Australia, 2012.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Marina and Ulay

In the 1970s, the lovers Marina and Ulay performed their art out of the van they were living in.

 When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China,  each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.

At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I would like to walk tonight

This morning it rained and I woke to the garden steaming. The wind has stopped, finally. After months of wind, that onshore whore has blown her last job which means we must be coming into autumn. There is a sudden stilling of flowers. The bush holds her breath and the vege gardeners wonder what to plant next as the pumpkin vines and tomatoes die off.

I would like to walk tonight.

Clouds cleared away. I spent the day in the blue room, looking out to the marina occasionally. Someone dropped in for a chat. We talked about university deadlines and how many hours per unit per week. I wrote: maybe a paragraph. On my midday break the sun burned my skin. I could see the backpackers outside the laundromat, sitting around in the Sunday carpark playing guitars, their washing lines roped from van to van. I headed for the jetty.

Yes, wasn't that what Janis said after Leonard hit on her in the foyer of the Chelsea Hotel?
There is seagull shit all over the new entertainment centre complex. I walked out towards the groyne and watched the seagulls land on the bonnet of a brand new four wheel drive, the blokes in the cab eating their lunch and trying to shoo them away.

This evening a magenta light hit the eucalypts and turned their trunks to rosy gold. Their leaves, if you can imagine a red lens on brilliant green, were quite beautiful. Even the birds were quiet, startled perhaps by the absence of wind. The air was silky and quiet. Around me, the sounds and smells of dinner.

I would like to walk tonight.

In my home, I have the radio and the humming of the fridge, laughter from the house next door, the astringent taste of rosehip tea, the reversing beeps of a tractor over at the market gardens
and a warm potential in the air ...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Essential oils

Aussie and Irish have lots of stubbie holders, those neoprene cups that slide over a can of beer to keep the beer cold and your hands from the chill of the fridge. This afternoon Aussie handed Spencer a cold can in a stubbie holder with a picture depicting some policemen standing around a heap of marijuana. "Come to Denmark where the grass is greener."

It is a limited edition stubbie holder that one. I think there may have been a hundred or so printed and Aussie reckons she bought it from the Denmark police station which makes the story behind it all the more beautiful.

About twenty years ago the Denmark police came across someone's crop of bush weed, ripped it out of the ground, booked the growers and took the evidence to the local tip to dispose of it. They piled up all of the plants into a mountain of green, poured kerosene and diesel over the top, flicked in a match and left.

At that stage Denmark was a little hamlet peopled with hippies, whole earthers and the remnants of mill town and farming families living in the deep south of Western Australia. Within about, oh, fifteen minutes of the cops leaving, some kind soul alerted his mate to the pile of dope at the tip that had failed to burn.
His mate told someone else and on it went.

The word filtered through to where I lived about fifty kilometres away. I reckon it took an hour in an age without mobile phones. Suddenly everyone I knew with a car was heading to the Denmark rubbish dump. It turned into a massive free-for-all-supermarket-of-dope. There was so much dope that a new economy formed. It wasn't reciprocal or redistributive, it wasn't even a market economy. It was something new. The police state had created an amazing resource with their moment of lunch break super slackness; this prohibited substance in the days of prohibition was going free thanks to a pyro-technical glitch.

We smoked so much hash oil that year. Folk handed it around in caps with a kind a reverence. "This is the shit from the Denmark tip, man."
But the oil wasn't that great. We always knew where it came from when we tasted the kerosene and diesel. It was all leaf anyway, apparently. The free munch and a sense of occasion made it attractive. I never got how historic that stack of unburnt pot was, until much later, until today when Aussie showed the stubbie holder to me.