The Great God Pan is (not) Dead

Last night I dreamed I was turning into a goat. It was quite interesting, watching my arm grow a pelt of thick whitish hair, my fingers claw into a cloven hoof. I wasn't perturbed because I knew (in the dream) that this had happened before. The woman next to me, who in some respects resembled my dead sister (our birthdays are in January, a week apart), and who I thought perhaps was ill, admitted she too was undergoing the same metamorphosis ... we fell upon each other with a lust that was, well, goatish. Until my son, who was on the bed with us, asked us to stop because we were interrupting his TV watching. The bedroom was in an annex of the vast terminal of an airport. I went out into the concourse, I had no visa for onward travel ... and where, anyway, does a goat keep his passport? Then I was in a bathroom, hearing my name called in tannoy-speak ... I woke up. All day I have been looking, at odd moments, speculatively, at my right arm. As if awaiting the resumption of that impossible transformation ...


Sumer Hil


Only in certain lights is it possible to see that the spire of the church of St Andrews carries a cladding of clay tablets upon which there is cuneiform writing. I myself have seen it only twice: once after a night on the town, when I was sitting out on my tiny deck drinking a last cold beer before bed, the violent sun rising behind me struck the steeple with its rays and revealed those outlandish and enigmatic markings. I could not really believe what my eyes told me they had seen, and dismissed the apparition as an hallucination consequent upon the long drinking session. That is, until the other night. Once again I had been out, once again I had been drinking, but not to the extent of the previous occasion. In fact, if I had not had, in quick succession, two glasses of absinthe - the real kind, with wormwood in it - just before I left my hosts, I would have said I was more or less sober. The absinthe afflicted me with a strange clarity. Things seen and heard came as if from far away, yet seemed very close. I started to talk and suddenly the whole room was listening. I read a passage from Kenneth Patchen's The Journal of Albion Moonlight and the entire book, which I used to own, came to mind. I said goodbye to everyone and went to return home: as I drove across town, it was green lights all the way. The phone was ringing as I came in and my friend D and I were overtaken by hilarity. It was while I was talking to him that I strayed out onto the deck and saw again, in the violence of the indigo twilight, those equivocal markings. D is, as they used to say, a gentleman and a scholar; he also lives nearby and as soon as I said: they're back! and explained to him what I meant, he decided to come over and bring his camera. He saw them too, he photographed them; and now he has shown his photographs to some Fellow he knows in the Bureau of Lost Languages at Sydney University. This is how I can tell you something of what those tiles mean.


D used a telephoto lens, just as I had, on that other occasion, looked at the steeple through powerful binoculars; still, the writing wasn't clear. The most the Fellow could say was that they appeared to be from a version of the Descent into the House of Dust, but whether it was the famous account of Inanna's going down or another, perhaps Enkidu's when he went to retrieve the bat and ball his master Bilgames had lost into a crack in the earth, he could not say. Therefore I have had recourse to ancient documents for this redaction: Kur is above Apsu, the abyssal waters. Those who take that path can never come back. The clawed hand of the demon Humut-tabal drags the reluctant down the Road of No Return and opens the door to the House of Dust. Scorpion men, tall as the sky, guard the way into Ganzir, the seven-gated palace. Here sheep grow no wool, here the inside bolt is covered with dust, because it is never used, because that door never opens again. Belet-seri marks off your name in the Book of the Dead. At each Gate you lose something: hat, coat, belt, shirt, stick, wristwatch, shoes so you arrive naked and bent in the room where the dead sit at long tables eating clay for bread and drinking muddy water instead of beer. They see no light, they dwell in darkness. They are clothed like birds, with feathers, and their wings are bound about them. Everything else is dust. Here is the domain of Ereshkigal and her silent consort Nergal. She tears out her hair like leeks, her face is livid like a cut tamarisk, her lips are dark as the rim of a kuninu-vessel. She has to weep for young men who have abandoned their sweethearts. She has to weep for girls wrenched from their lover's laps. For the infant child, expelled before its time, she has to weep. For her son Ninazu, she weeps eternally. When her sister Inanna came down here Ereshkigal sent out against her sixty diseases: Disease of the eyes to her eyes; Disease of the arms to her arms; Disease of the feet to her feet; Disease of the heart to her heart; Disease of the head to her head ... if you can get past Ereshkigal you may meet the Judge of the Dead. If you have made offerings he may remember you. If you have gifts he will accept them. If your children continue to make offerings you may eat and drink; but you will never cease to hear the sobbing of Ereshkigal as she lies down in the dust of the floor, ripping her long nails down her alabaster breasts, tearing her hair out like leeks.


Although our City is only a few hundred years old, it has encoded into its built environment many survivals from antiquity, some as explicit as the Egyptian Needle on the borders of Hyde Park at the end of Bathhurst Street, or the Camperdown Velodrome made after the pattern of the Coliseum; others, such as this I am writing about now, are so deeply encrypted in the texture of things they resist discovery over many years and, even when scryed, continue suggestive, as if their seeming presence were an illusion, as if they are only to be revealed to the delusional. Well, I am used to that, I am always only half in, or half out, of the world, its true face is often shown to me as illusive, its elusiveness often turns to show a true face. Of more concern to me now is an anomaly that I have become preternaturally aware of since viewing D's photographs and hearing what the Fellow at the Bureau of Lost Languages had to say about the script: for as long as I have been here I have wondered about the upper reaches of Hawthorne Canal, where it disappears in a black O under the Railway Bridge, Longport Street and the Mungo Scott Flour Mill. What is beyond that looming darkness, some strange passage to a netherworld? I do not imagine it is an entrance into Kur and why, anyway, would I want to go there? No, what I am remembering is that other occult our City is built across, the dreaming place that never was extinguished, never expunged, never quite forgotten. Sometimes in the evening, when a currawong sits on a television aerial before the lavender sky and carols across the rooftops I almost glimpse a survival of it. Or in the very early dawn when that unknown bird cries out its eerie hoop-hoop-hoop-hoop-hoop ... This lost land is really nothing to me, or at least no more than that dread place figured across the tiles of the steeple. But, equally, since there is no doubt that I will at last, at no cost but that of living, enter the House of Dust or equivalent, why should I not, while I am still living, attempt entry into this other country once called, with what authority I do not know, Alcheringa? It may take me some time to do it, it may take years, but one day I think I will climb down into the graffiti haunted canal and take the way south, under the remains of the old iron whipple truss bridge, under Longport Street, under the Flour Mill and climb up through that dark O towards the source.


Christmas is for the Birds

Day begins in darkness with the outlandish hooping of a bird I can't identify, perhaps a channel-billed cuckoo, aka the Orgasm Bird; later its kawk ... awk-awk-awk echoes past the steeple where a sombre bell is tolling. It's the largest parasitic bird in the world and comes down here every spring from New Guinea to lay its eggs in the nests of magpies or currawongs or crows, whose young it will exponentially outgrow. The red-whiskered bulbuls are nesting, taking dried bits of a dead frond of the palm beside the balcony back around the side of the building somewhere. With their black upstanding crests, red dot under each eye, orange rump, they are innately cheerful, even humorous; their cry always sounds to me like: See three pee-oh, see three pee-oh, as if they were aficionados of Star Wars. They're an Asian bird, introduced around the turn of last century. For the Turks the bulbul is an exemplar of a poet but perhaps that's a different bird - the word, from the Persian, seems to mean nightingale. As I drink my morning coffee I watch a willy wagtail, beating its wings, almost stationary, plucking some quite large insect from in amongst the leaves of the gum tree out the front; while three ibis cross the western sky heading inscrutably south. They always look prehistoric to me, like pterodactyls, and they are indeed an ancient bird. And then I recall hearing on the radio the other day about a facility some kind of corvine bird in North America has for lying: to distract other birds from their favourite food they will give forth their characteristic predator warning cry, scattering their rivals and allowing them to feed undisturbed. There are Indian minas patrolling the orange tiles of the roof of the building next door, with their military strut and insouciant eye for the main chance, whatever it may be. I remember an iridescence of lorikeets yesterday amongst the green leaves of the eucalypt next door, and the shy and beautiful spotted doves that graze the carpark out the back when everyone has gone to work. Also the pair of black-faced cuckoo shrikes, slender and elegant, that perch sometimes on the wires, their blue-grey plumage the colour of an overcast sky, threatening rain. These grey days make all the colours shine; and it's strange to think that our festivals have no meaning for the birds except this: it's so quiet today, the streets deserted, the air and atmos peaceful for once after the clamour and hysteria of the last week, that perhaps it represents an opportunity to make this world more theirs than it usually is, to make themselves more at home. Although it's hard to imagine how more at home they could be, since even the migratory among them are always at home; so maybe what I mean is they have no other home than this and in that way resemble us all, indiscriminately, the homed, the homing, the homesick, the home away from home and the homeless.



I'm a gonna go ...


Two Unknown Alphabets


The last light of March 8, 1914, a Sunday, in Lisbon; a thread of spittle expelled by the Sibyl of the Troad during one of her transports; a grain of sand scuffed up by the shoes of Jan Bockelson of Leyden as he ran through the streets of Munster trying to escape his death by torture in June of 1535; whispers passed into the air near Lake Alice Hospital for the Criminally Insane on January 9, 1954; the electrical path of a willy willy crossing the border between two inchoate territories of New Holland in the epochal year of 1769; a lost verse from the Gospel of St Luke; a flash from the helm of a knight in the army of Saladin, that Kurd from Tikrit, outside of Jerusalem in 1187; fragments of pigment abraded from the painted backdrop of a Punch and Judy Show during a performance on a London street in 1823; a drop of ink that fell from Li Po’s brush after he finished writing Drinking with a Friend in the Mountains in whatever year of the T’ang Dynasty it was; an unidentifiable stain dried off Samuel Pepys’ trewsers not long before the Great Fire; khol that was used as eye shadow by a woman of the zenana of the Last Mogul Emperor, Delhi, 1857; salt from sweat that pearled on Sappho’s breasts; a mote from a sunbeam that shone through a window in Rio de Janeiro, August 24, 1899; a residue of Shakespeare’s unshed tears; amino acids contained in a meteor that fell from Mars; the final babushka in a Russian doll; a portion of Mohamed’s mitochondrial DNA; iridescence of a scarab’s wing from the XIV Dynasty; memories of antediluvian moths; spume from the wake of da Gama’s ships; a mosquito borne virus from New Guinea’s north coast, vectored into the Pacific by the Lapita people; Mondrian’s thought; detritus of every sailor’s tattoo; something (but what?) from the Burgess Shale; trajectory of a cartridge fired from Wm Antrim’s Winchester rifle during the Lincoln County War; the grains of paradise.


The name Ligeia; serum from an iron nail hammered into the wood of a fetish from Benin; a hair from the beard of the Great Khan; a yet to be invented Intel chip, infinitesimally small; the closing moments of the year 2012; a morsel from the jaws of one of the gold-gathering ants Herodotus said inhabited the Dansar Plain; a breath of air from out the valley of Shangri La; an e-ticket to the Lost Museum of Atlantis; the egotistical sublime; the dust that closed Helen’s eye; an incisor tooth from the Missing Link; the barb of a feather from the Korotangi; the notation of a fragment of the melody of a love song of the Alma; the McGuffin; Les Fleurs Du Mal; shards of silica from the Pink and White Terraces; a scale shed from the skin of the snake that tempted Eve; the Gordian Knot; ambrosia; the Compleat Angler; the piece of clay from Babylon inscribed An Bar that foretells the conflagration that will end the world; smoke from Einstein’s trains; the anti-twilight; the mask of tragedy; fugitives from the Peruvian zodiac; the profile of a woman glimpsed under streetlights as she turned a corner in the Zeedijk of Amsterdam on the night of September 24, 1979 … which I will remember always and never again see.


Still I was unable to escape suffering in solitude. It is so difficult to achieve that distinction of spirit permitting one to be isolated in repose without anxiety.

Fernando Pessoa : Lucid Diary


I think I have no other home than this

R.A.K. Mason, the ur poet of New Zealand modernism, lives in my street. He has the long head, the unruly hair, the old-fashioned clothes, familiar from the photographs. He wears shoes with heel and toe plates that rasp against the pavement when he goes to the wine shop with his khaki canvas knapsack on his back to buy two bottles of cheap red for $11.00 the pair. Or down to St. Vinnies to look through the second hand books for something to read. I met him the other day opposite the dim hallway of his building, at the Red Door Gallery, where a young woman friend was putting him down on the mailing list; that's how I know he goes by the name of Alan these days. He has Parkinson's disease; when he parcels up a manuscript to send off somewhere, he has to stop someone in the street so that they can address it for him, since his hands shake too badly to inscribe any more. I don't know what kind of machine he uses to write with, we haven't yet discussed technical matters. It may be that he has a dictaphone, and that the young woman is his amanuensis. Sometimes when he has been drinking he looks truly frightening: the stumbling abrasive walk, the lumpy flesh, the staring eyes, the impression of wild and inconsolable grief on his face. As if the news that god has died had only just reached this obscure Pontus.

Bernardo Soares, formerly assistant bookkeeper in the city of Lisbon, also lives here but I am unsure exactly where, only that it's further up past Alan's place. He is much attenuated from the long journey, much reduced: so thin as to be almost insubstantial. A shadow of the wind. He has no companions and I do not even know what name he goes by now. I see him pass sometimes in the late afternoon, walking with that peculiar gait of his, swayed back from the hips, hunched forward at the shoulders, his neck extended as a counterbalance to the hands thrust deep into the back pockets of his jeans. He will eat alone at one of the cheaper restaurants in the village, drink a half bottle of wine, and walk superstitiously back home on the other side of the street from the one he came down. There isn't much work for a retired assistant bookkeeper in today's world, but Bernardo has always lived half in a dream, so perhaps his lack of occupation doesn't worry him unduly. He too must spend the long solitary evenings writing in his room. When it rains, and the drops gather on the small round glasses he wears, he seems to see a grey throng of people moving up from or down to the ghost ships that pass constantly on the river. And then, and blessedly, it is as if he had never left the Rua dos Douradores, that dim street along the way to eternity.



Many years ago, when I lived on the shores of Blackwattle Bay, a big triangular tapestry moth appeared one day in my apartment. It settled on the glass of a print, in the white between frame and image, and seemed to have chosen this spot deliberately to augment that austere work with its damascene opulence. When I looked more closely however, I could see its wings were frayed at the tips and edges, that the dust of its camouflage was thinning, falling. The moth disappeared as silently, invisibly, as it appeared; but in each subsequent place I lived for the next twenty years—I can think of eight apparitions—another tapestry moth would unpredictably appear then disappear just as this one did, every one with its wings thinned to a whisper; so that I came to think that each must also leave behind the spore of the next somewhere amongst my small collection of things. This came to an end, or so I thought, five years ago. I went overseas, returned, moved again, abandoning almost all of my possessions, along with the moth and the moth’s memory. And yet ... the other day when I went out my front door in the morning, there was a tapestry moth fluttering in the stairwell. It had been settled, my opening door disturbed it. I watched its agitation for some time, waiting for it to come to rest; it seemed particularly attracted to the bland dark brown wood of my front door but could not, in that superstitious way moths have, bring itself to alight there. I looked for it when I returned but it was not to be found. Then, yesterday, happening to glance up as I went into my study, I saw a tapestry moth on the cream-pink wall above the door, with its intricately patterned wings, its red false eyes, its feathered antennae, its miraculous dust. It too was thinned and frayed, it too was just a whisper in the face of invisibility. Today it was gone as if it had never been, leaving only a trace of Keats—deep-damask'd wings—on the air. And, though this may be both fanciful and entomologically incorrect, the spore of its heir somewhere among my books.

a compleat solar cycle

from Astronomy Today


a visitation

My kids were up this weekend. Jesse, the older boy, was telling me how he got in trouble with the bus driver - they catch the bus to school, it visits their village and Patonga, the next one down, before winding back over the hill to Umina. One of the things the kids have been doing is gathering flowers by the roadside and decorating the windows of the bus with them. Hibiscus, mostly, from what I could tell. The driver tolerates this but one day some of these flowers were left strewn on the ground and he became annoyed. I don't think it was serious.

Anyway, I was asking Jesse about this and he was telling me where and how they pick the flowers, when his eyes took on a faraway look and his expression became a bit otherworldly. There were these white flowers, he said. Too high up for me to pick. They were whiter than the whitest white and when I looked at them I had a feeling like some god was near.

He couldn't say what kind of flower they were but later, when we were out walking, Liamh, the younger one, pointed out some that were like those other ones. I asked Jesse again about what he meant: Did you say God was there? I asked. No, he said, it was like a god was near.