For years I've been carrying round in my wallet one of those little slips of paper you get inside fortune cookies:

A scholars ink lasts longer than a martyrs blood, it reads.

Now I've got another one: The pen is mightier than the (s)word.


dust devil

A dream of dust. It lies along the edges of all the bookshelves, on the tabletops in the study, the sitting room, the kitchen, it congeals on the ledges of the skirting boards and on the wainscotting, on the pelmets, everywhere. The glass-topped dresser. The windowsills. I run my forefinger along the flat wooden surfaces, pushing up cloudy skirls of grey and brown and letting them fall onto the dun-coloured carpet which, later, I think (in the dream) I will vacuum. The windows themselves are golden with grime that filters the late afternoon sun to revelations of dust and one day I will hang out of those that open and clean them too. Or inscribe them with sigla encoded perhaps with the secrets of time. The dream has a soundtrack, it is Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval's melancholy voice drifting in and out of the debris: I could possibly be fading / Or have something more to gain / I could feel myself growing colder / I could feel myself under your fate / Under your fate. Never knew until this actual moment that that was what she was singing. This moment of awakening, slipping across the purple sheets, rolling out from under the blue duvet, looking for those dust devils. And they're gone. Or rather, not here. It's just the ordinary familiar chaos of things. Feathers, stickers peeled off apples, sequins fallen from the kaleidescope, crumbs. Where has the dream dust gone? What is dust anyway? Planetary dust. Dust of light, dust of skin, dust of books. Curators are advised no longer to wear white gloves, the abrasion of cotton causes as much damage to paper surfaces as the oils in the whorls of fingertips. Dust of tears, what's left after the liquid evaporates and only the salt remains. The heart's dust. Or the galaxy's. It was you breathless and tall / I could feel my eyes turning into dust / And two strangers turning into dust / Turning into dust ...

images of dust devils on mars from wikipedia (worth looking at - the second is a moving picture)

lyrics from Into Dust, Mazzy Star, on the album So Tonight That I Might See


Don't ...

Once knew a woman who always said Don't. Meaning, don't say don't. To me. Because if you do, I will inevitably want to do the don't thing. This was true, particularly in regard to drugs and alcohol. Don't go out and score today meant going out to score. Don't have another drink meant having another drink. Or three. Didn't work for everything, eg sex. Don't make love to me ... what sort of a come-on is that? Used to wonder about the psychology of this. Was it Catholic? Something to do with sin, confession & forgiveness? If so, how? Or was it something else? Perhaps a notion that any attempt to establish authority over her would always be resisted. Funny logic though. She was Irish. Told her one time what Oscar Wilde said: I can resist anything except temptation. She laughed. But she could resist temptation, at least some of the time. What she couldn't resist was being told not to do something. Then she had to do it. For a long while I couldn't understand this state of mind. Now, quite suddenly, I do. Don't.


Warwick Roger

While I was in Auckland, up at the library with Michele going through various boxes of the Red Mole archive, I came across a clipping from Wellington's Dominion newspaper from, I think, 1976. It was a judgment by the Press Council upholding a complaint I'd made on behalf of the magazine Spleen against said newspaper. The Dominion was obliged to publish the judgment in full and so they had, even though it was highly critical of their conduct and in particular of the conduct of one of their journalists. Here's the story:

That year in Wellington film maker Richard Turner was preparing a documentary about Black Power, the gang, and as part of those preparations he'd recorded taped interviews with some of the gang members. He offered one of these tapes to Spleen, which regularly featured transcriptions of interviews with all sorts of people, from bus drivers to performance artists. I transcribed it myself and prepared the transcript for publication. It appeared in issue 6 under the title Yeah, we're bringing in the real shit. So far so good.

Subsequent to the interview, one of the interviewees was charged with being a party to a murder that happened in Wellington's Te Aro. A drunk had racially abused some Black Power members and they had beaten him to death. Horrible crime.

One Monday morning, before the case went to trial, the Dominion's billboard advertised a five part series of articles, to run every day for a week, that was called Anatomy of a Murderer. Each in the series was published beneath banner headlines on the editorial page of the paper. They carried the byline of a journalist called Warwick Roger. The bulk of the material in the articles was in fact lifted, holus bolus, without permission and without attribution, from Spleen.

Well you can imagine how we felt. Not just at the rip off, also at the flagrant disregard for the Black Power member's rights: he had been charged but not yet tried. Since he hadn't been found guilty, why was the Dominion calling him a murderer? The matter was sub judice and the articles surely in contempt of court.

The founding editor of Spleen, Alan Brunton, and I went in high dudgeon down to the Dominion's offices and bearded the editor of the paper in his den. I remember Alan, who could be fearsome when in full cry, telling the editor he was a casuist and then looking at the editor and realising that, while he knew he was being insulted, he didn't actually know what the word meant. We wanted the paper to withdraw the articles but they would not. We wanted to see the journalist in question but he didn't show. The most they would do was acknowledge the source of the material, which they did, grudgingly, on the Thursday I think it was.

We could of course have sued the Dominion and we would probably have won; but we didn't have the kind of money you need to hire lawyers. So we took the complaint to the Press Council instead.

At no stage in this imbroglio did we meet or otherwise communicate with the journalist, Warwick Roger. Not for the want of trying however. He clearly avoided us and, in my own case, has avoided me down all the years since. He has, however, just reviewed one of my books, Waimarino County, for a magazine called North & South. The review is short, contains some glaring inaccuracies (he says the book is in two parts; it's actually in four) and, after some rather fulsome praise of the first section, dismisses the rest of the book as perhaps cathartic for me but pretentious and largely incomprehensible to him. He doesn't mention the three essays on Alan Brunton's life and work that are contained therein. Well, why would he? He probably didn't read them. Mr Roger's review emboldened another NZ reviewer, Sue Edmonds at the Waikato Times, to say that she too found much of the book consisted of pretentious intellectualism.

It would be drawing a long bow to suggest that those far off events in 1976 had any influence on this review, more than 30 years later; anyway it doesn't matter. One thing I will say: to be found largely incomprehensible by a man of Roger's stature, with his peculiar understanding of journalistic ethics, is perhaps no bad thing.


the b-b-b-big b-bang ... whimpers

have always been a BB skeptic, if not an apostate.


The White Lady

Yesterday I sold my car. To a guy who lives round the corner. She's still parked where I left her, outside the building next door ... but she's not mine any more. I haven't quite understood this yet. I bought her in 1991 with some money I got for a film that was going into production. So, what's that? Sixteen years ago? Always meant to restore her to original condition, never did. She was a sort of talisman that decayed into a relic. I thought she would be hard to sell. She wasn't. I thought that, once she was sold, I would never see her again. Not so. Curiously, the fellow who bought her is a film person. Has directed a feature called Roseberry 7470. That's the final of all the postcodes in Australia. Down in Tassie somewhere. He also runs the Sydney Underground Film Festival. This car has appeared in a feature film, called Violet's Visit. Perhaps her career in film is not over. She always took me where I was going, mostly up and down the east coast of Australia; she also gave me many sleepless nights as I shunted helplessly between the ideal and the real. One more sleepless night last night and perhaps that's the end of it. Or ... not ...

photo by C. Garth Thompson


returned mail

The frenzy passes, leaving a silvery trail, like longing, in which are glints of lapis. The scent of blue hyacinths. Mail continues to come back, read or unread, I can't remember. I could work it out but why? They are like fragments of some old conversation, drifting out towards the stars, forever whispered and forever unheard ... unless some unimaginably delicate sensor in the Andromeda Nebula picks up the transmission: You are so perceptive ... it hears and then cancels the thought. Wrong. And after all it isn't as if I haven't been here before. Examine the dark interior for signs of shame. Minimal. Regret? Yes, but isn't that a constant? A sweet sadness that isn't always there, for what might have been, for what shimmered delusively into view for an hour or a day then fell into starry dust. Recall a friend telling me how, as soon as she leaves work, the characters in her head begin again their long extrapolation of the possibilities. One of them will be herself. Or a version thereof. Others will be unreal, or thus far unreal. Still others will be ... real but not as they are in the world. I am myself perhaps sometimes among them; though not as I am. Nothing is ever lost but much passes away unheard, unseen. Unthought? The un thoughts gather at the margins of sense, a great hissing cloud like the dead. The unborn. What might have been. What could yet be. What was. Is.


... that bird again, calling three times at my window, in the early dawn, summoning. It's a currawong, I'm sure; that is, if it is a bird of this world at all.


For a while now I've been wanting to write about the flour mill. Called Mungo Scott. I used to see its sign from the train when I came into town from the Central Coast to write a film script that would never be made. It was called Blue Fields but the flour mill sign was ambiguous, a C or a G? It still is: Munco or Mungo? When I was younger I had a dog called Mungo, after Mungo Park the Scots explorer. Some kind of retriever though I never hunted him. I did fabricate a pedigree, said he was a Lord Park Hound. Some of my classmates thought it was so and that was the first time I knew the quandary of a liar believed. Have re-sought the experience, never without trepidation, always with the wariness deliberate ambiguity breeds. Yesterday when I paused on the bridge I could smell the wheat smell on the damp air. Was reminded of when we used to feed the chooks, throwing them handfuls of the grain. Many pigeons on the wires and a train on the line, stopped, a red light on the last truck. The red light was my baby, the blue light was my mind. Or should that be the other way round. There was no blue light, but I paused anyway, thinking the train might pull out of the siding and go but it didn't. The ambiguity I live in now is not deliberate but no less confusing for that. I know I will never know the truth. Once I was on the bridge thinking about birds on wires as musical notes, Ezra Pound via Leonard Cohen if such a thing can be. Well of course it can. Another time, a Sunday, the pigeons were feeding on wheat thrown down on bare ground outside for them. There were spotted doves too but they are shy. Where is this going? The flour mill is painted cream, it is large, with well-tended gardens, functioning security but here and there, as in all industrial complexes, there are strangely neglected parts, sheds and things: I am particularly drawn to those corrugated iron structures that cling to the high and far off roofs of the silos, what are they for? Who works, or lives, in them? Sometimes at night there are lights burning there. If I went out now, would I smell the wheat smell, see the grain swelling in the wet air, the bursting of the seed, the radical and the plumule? Is it my heart that goes like that, whether I am at the bridge over the flour mill or here, now, writing? Swollen, I mean, bursting, sending a root down one way and a green shoot up the other? And how could it be otherwise? You cannot live by bread alone.