20120326

Kirk Marshall


Over Milk Wood:
a story of verse as retold in snatches of remembering


               I’M OVER MILK WOOD. It was our favourite book. Some relationships are strengthened through a mutual discourse, a shared experience that provides you with an emblem for the mettle of your union, something that is ephemeral and everlasting, something that helps you to remember, eternal, why she’s with you, and why you’re with her. Couples share a favourite song, a best and undying memory, a transitory expression exchanged between each other, transcendental and encapsulating, the moment she made you cum, the first time you asked her to marry you, the last time you saw her. She and I had a book. I know, with this endeavour towards romanticising a love that is now lost, with this attempt to frame everything between she and I as though it could be valorised as peaches and puppies, it becomes an increasing inevitability that I’ll start employing use of saccharine language, flashbacks to remembrances that logistically could never have occurred as they seem to have done in my head, cathartic rants pinpointing silly things like how I felt, exactly, when she broke my heart, or how she looked when my eyes stumbled onto her own, haunted and woolly. To do it professionally, accurately, as a perennial chronicler of this type of meditative and burning reminiscence, you need to demonstrate that you have an empathetic knowledge of all the requisite conventions, and to then subsequently illustrate throughout just how you can use them to punchy effect. See, with this sort of shit, a reader doesn’t want some fucked-up sack of shit crying incoherence, a reader doesn’t want real, a reader wants humanity, a reader wants incongruous objective observation, a reader wants wisdom dredged with diligence straight from the mountain, a reader wants someone who now has foresight, and so can industriously enlighten the past with the flaming brazier of retrospect and healing. A reader does not want someone who is yet to deal with what happened. A reader does not knowingly seek the erratic words of someone who is more lost than they are. A reader wants clarity, and I harbour my head of white noise in a cloak of unbeatable fog. If you’re expecting this, then, to make any sense, or to satisfy the inherent obligations of the craft, for me to show my greater powers of shaping fact for the purposes of accessibility and durability, you are going to feel sorry for reading any of this, and sorry for giving me the benefit of some dumb mythological doubt. All I can tell you here, right here, before my head begins to unravel like the fabric of an interrupted dream, is that I’m over Dylan Thomas, whose work once made me feel a cultivated member of the gentry, possessive of a heart of extensive passion; I’m over it all, because when I sit down and stare at that poetical prophesising, I only see bits of sand on the page, and sand gets caught in wind, and sand doesn’t stop shit. I am a pillar of words, a structure of sand, and I will fall into myself soon. These are the initial thoughts of a drowning man: she never shared her ice-cream. If that’s the extent of it, I’d be fortuitous if they’re also my last.

*

               THE SORRY BASTARD in front of the mirror casts no reflection. His mouth foams the soda-white detritus of toothpaste backwash and unvoiced multitudes of satanic verse. He is in a hateful sable mood. His eyes are screaming. This early in the morning, and his eyes are already screaming. The man with the wounded and abominable gaze regards the open and fanned palm of his hand. Why is there no blood on these hands? He does not understand. He is a billion miles of interminable cordon-fibre anger, shit aborted landscapes, and erectile dysfunction, and his hands give nothing back, unapologetic, fatigue endemic, dark precarious sleep soaked into the sinew of his flesh like stink, alcohol and diseased love gone fallow, gone to rot.
               Rusty Cardigan is this man’s name.
               Jane. Jane was his wife.
               Agonies rile his numb, frost-alien heart like tears pricking the corners of his tired, butchered stare.
               Was. She was his wife. Words make everything more real than he can tolerate.
               Rusty Cardigan tries to square his gaze and unaverringly look at the sad little wraith standing there, encased in light and glass. He can’t. So he squares up his stance and pounds the mirror with whitening tempestuous fists until there is glass splintering down the contours of his chest and now, graciously, now, thankfully, there is blood on his hands.
               He draws a bath. He tries not to think. Jane is the thing he tries not to think about with retrospective longing and reverential eye for detail. He does not think about the way she smelled, the way she would place her left hand beneath his elbow whilst facing away from him, the way she smiled like the sun submerging into the sea, the tiny breaths she rationed to tell him her labyrinthine, infected secrets, the shape of her breasts, the arc of her body as she remained hanged from their ceiling, her toes digging furrows into the surface of their carpet.
               He tries not to think about any of it, and when he does not think about the way she kissed him before she committed the act, Rusty Cardigan howls and animals steal into the shadows to take up vigil and cry chorus to his tears.

*

               CRYING OVER LOST ONES is like trying to catch something that you can’t ever best. You can do it for hours and end up more weak and less fulfilled than when you began. It’s a task which requires athleticism, rage and suicidal compulsions, all of which compound to render the sufferer into a creature a little less alive than Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space. I’ve tried to let myself go, commit to catatonic and cacophonous catharsis, but you never win. That’s the trouble with grief. It doesn’t disappear. It dissipates, and yet still pervades. No-one wins when you allow yourself to weep. Tears aren’t the mettle and ice to make victories.
               I remember encompassing her lolling head between the vice of my hands, watching it hang lucidly, with simpering purposeful lips, limp like my penis when I was stretched languorously over her hot, breathing, avian body, she dead now and draped from the cupola centrepoint of the ceiling like some fucked-up abyssal light fixture, her fingers occasionally making the susurrus tinkling whisper of chandelier glass twittering in the breeze. I’ve got to get this light repaired, I think, not understanding, like a black bear with a spear protruding from its abdomen. Blood escapes from her mouth through the clenched ivory canvas of her marimba teeth. Music stains my shoes, red velour and syrupy.
               Jane won’t like this, I think, not understanding, a kid from Sudan secreted in the rushes as the women are gathered and ordered into lines like items in a catalogue.
               Jane better be home soon.
               Jane won’t have forgotten to purchase those torch batteries.
               Jane’ll need pellucid lilting laughter and arms to draw the breath from bone when she stumbles in across the threshold.
               Jane has such hungry, bestial disappointed eyes.
               Look at them. They’re as blue as the cool agate tusks of Ganesh. She died with a head full of frost. Like a fish, a trout, preserved in the throes of a perpetuitous agony as the tundra enters the gills and stiffens its organs.
               And then the duality hits me.
               Jane can’t be dead and alive at the same time.
               I hear Spanish birds, free and like the smoke signals of a Native American semaphore, burst into throaty renditions of songs that stink of monkeybar grease and hopscotch slate, I remember reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn underneath the family tablecloth when I was nine, my chuckles escaping like adders and ladders from a mouth made illuminable by mandarine light, I sense that I, now, at the most aborted juncture of existence, have a calamitous and kingly erection, and I smell strawberries, fistfuls of strawberries, before succumbing to puke and caterwauling and tears, tears, drinking the fount from destroyed gaze like a night downing beers.
               And who would have guessed that losing your mind smelled like a fistful of strawberries?
               This is where the story intrudes and starts. If you keep a perceptive peeper on the segues of the narrative, you might be capable of divining the temporal transition between one reel of happenstance finishing, and one reel of madness throbbing white noise and inacquiescent glare into the stare of a reader made unaware. I’ll give you a headstart. The next image will be one of me with a crocodile biting my face.

*

               LOTUS LILIES RISE like the feats of historical legerdemain all about me, and the magpie geese shuffle on the ash of a dead fire of geographical wonder, once stoked by the river stone and flint of a mass hippy fervour; shuffle across the wetland marshes like weathered expatriates of an industrialised ghetto, making noise that should be pretty, here, in Territorian paradise, but nevertheless sounds akin to a fat man shrieking laughter from a closed telephone booth. There are mosquitoes and sandflies and dragonflies and beetles I can’t place swimming backstroke in water as unadulterated as abandoned pasture, and there’s nowhere I can turn, three-sixty, that doesn’t smell of cinnamon and cigarettes and greenery ripe with the poetry and fruit of Keats and Brautigan, and Jesus, baby, I miss you Janey sweety, I miss you like aspen trees miss conversations with caribou, and where the fuck am I but perdition, lost and lonelier than an albatross lording over a polar world. Kakadu sprawls before me like an origami story unfolded. And an estuarine crocodile surges from the brackish depths to ascend like chimpanzees in space rockets to snap its jaws onto my nose.
               Ah. A tableau of man and nature grappling for breath in a cultivated realm of evolutionary justice. But Christ does interspecial union sting when you have to demonstrate it with a reptile hanging from your snout. Blood rushes to my face, flushed, as though storm water fluming through an irregularly-pinched pipe. It sounds like behemoth digesting the corroded armour of one thousand dead knights, it smells like antediluvian breakfast and carcasses of mutton sweating in a butcher shop and the loftiest lavender heather at the foot-slopes of Heaven’s Gate, it looks like cavern walls and swallowed spoonfuls of unending dark, but what the inside of a crocodile is best verisimilitudinous to, is the inside of a crocodile: like extending a welcome hand to shake the talons of prehistory.

*

               SHE STOLE THE CIGARETTE, astrolabe illuminating the cold soundless plane of an unending and eternal midnight, from my puckered, wind-scoured lips. There were pines in the dark, arching low and solemn, shedding a funereal confetti of black bracken spores, and it often flickers compulsively through my mind in reminiscence that some moments are colossal in their sorrow without there ever being a discernible rationale as to why. So spreads the wingspan of this dragon malaise. Fucking relationships, sanctified bounty. She was laughing at me with her eyes, colour and darkness-spun mirth as vivid and monstering as words and jaw slaps. I watched her exhale constellations as big as unripened cherries, stinking with an olfactory asphyxia of men in hounds-tooth suits working in crematoriums. I wanted desperately. I needed to fuck her.
               A cane toad entered into reverberences of song, deep bass ragtime notes from within the cavernous throats of gospel choristers, like a plank of ply being applied with arrhythmic percussion against the pearlescent thorax of a water drum. The toad’s nefarious gaze asked me moist persecuting questions.
               ‘What are you doing with a lady like her?’ resounded the toad’s gaze.
               ‘What are you pretending to yourself: that she could recognise a lubricious respectability in your sunken, dreamless career as art gallery assistant? Does she appear to enjoy your little joke that the elderly man in the right corner of Moholy-Nagy’s Kinetic Construction is your gay uncle Cerise, or that Frida Kahlo excavated the contents of your refrigerator to entertain the inspiration for her Viva la vida? Rusty Cardigan, do you think you might get to smell this nymph’s sweetened loins?’
               ‘Do you delude yourself that this ethereal thing of fey summer would ask for you to sketch her in gouache and oils?’
               ‘You wretch; you urchin; you pugnacious half-wit.’
               ‘Rusty Cardigan: you are a significantly terrifying error of creation.’
               I lit up and threw the stub at the toad. It swallowed the cigarette. Then it died with theatrical presence and a discordant noise.

*

               WHEN I SAW HER, hanged and quite without the necessary inspired humour represented through a quiver in her soundless face to inform the image of her suicide with sardonic non-serious ululating laughter, to reify that it was all but a show, a gaffe, a late-afternoon relic of domestic theatre, I drew myself a bath, aquaplaned into the crenellated basin in clothes, screamed into the water so that seismic activity was recorded in the low-lying echelons of Tuvalu’s butterscotch coastline, said, “Jane!”, said “Fuck!”, said “Fuck you!”, said, “No, no, Jane, no, fuck, no, no, no, Jesus, fuck, Jesus shit Jesus shit shit Jane you fucking no no no.” It was in the bath, though, so I doubt it was as eloquent or decipherable. I left in my malice-red ute, making bestial extraterrestrial dialogue, talking to Jane as she became hard and cold in my living room whilst the freeway flickered flavourlessly, vacuously, black charcoal in non-idiomatic scrawls, asphalt abandonment, road, constant, mathematic impermanence, magmatic rock lain yards by yards in the humanist triumph machine’s efforts to civilise the wilds we lock away in our garages and refrigerators and hearts and diaries and sexual convergences and demised childhood glee and backyard graves for murdered goldfish, deceased cockatiels, ineluctably unutterably beautiful Labrador corpses, the dead, the gone, the helix of birth and grief, rising up, rising up, rising up to uproot our Hill’s Hoist, our household foundations, our aspirations for marriage and photo albums and arguments about plugholes, arbitrary bullshit, watering the houseplant indoors, dividing work expenses on TV dinners. I kept talking to her, and by midnight I’d hit New South Wales, and by the next night Pottsville or Broomshead or some place with a single convenience store, a payphone (out of order ’til next Saturday), a copse of lantana like an infection of chickenpox agitating the surface to penetrate the rest. I had finished forty-three cigarettes, thirteen packets of PK sugarless gum, a rotten forgotten kiwi fruit extruded from between the contours of the driving seat and the handbrake, seventeen pages of my interstate referdex, sixty dollars worth of diesel, my thirst for distance, my resolve to suppress the cataclysm of being tiny and stupid, the regenerative tonic of sun-warped windscreen and unabating company of winds, the seemingly unadventurous forays of night’s entertainment, the wish to do anything. I drove off the embankment and into the convenience store shopfront and watched the display rack of Chupa-Chup lollipops oscillate about the Copernican satellite of the car like the spokes of a flaming and gorgeous Ferris Wheel. Jane was hanging there, too. Her neck twined by electrical cord, dangling from the convenience store ceiling, the craziest customer this shop had ever weathered.

*

               THAT’S THE PRIMLY TRYING consideration to divine and interpolate about Brisbane: it’s a place where you can find your mother’s womb; your father’s compiled salmagundi of discoloured copies of The Big Issue from out of the archival depths of 1987; your older brother’s history of defamatory infamy as espoused by your own ex-high school teachers; your ex-girlfriend; the one before that; the two before her; your lacklustre and jibless, scintillant dreams; memories like cicadas waning rhapsodic in the mantle of today’s dark, each one interacting with each other in a synchronous orchestra of blameless fugues, where you never forget, where everything is always close enough to remember personal victories, vagaries, vanquished virtues, vicissitudes wherein the events bringing thunder and frogs down upon your cowled head do nought but invoke within you the need to flee. Brisbane is a population of proximities; if you’re well-equipped to evolve to this type of societal bush telegraph, then for all the communalistic electricity you conduct, I crow, more power to you. It is, after all, in assuaging syntactical ephemera, a small town, Brisbane; but more than that, a small town which simultaneously facilitates as a capital city. And like all small towns believing themselves to be capital cities, the discrepancy is fundamentally vast, of the same skein as a fox propositioning an elk to a battle of the death. I’m not one for ordinarily advocating vulpicide, which might be integral to the sticky rationale as to why Brisbane, for me, is perpetuitously ensnared in the throes of chasing its own vainglorious tail: in not understanding how to threaten anything inherently more potentially lethal than itself, the city, in a wheeling and photogenic fracas of crimson furore, dispatches its own appendages, maims itself, enables its citizens to only exist in an isolated state of stasis, to be forever met with by an individual’s entire existence’s successes and failings, and it doesn’t ever afford you the distance to break free. As Joyce’s Messenger would attest, or perhaps Marvel Comic’s Kent, to sunder all parameters and fly. Like the fox, Brisbane is the highwayman tilting at green marigolds, skulking along the path to one’s alternative passage, clipping your heels eternal to intimate to you that leaving ain’t an option without sacrificing all familiar artefacts.
               For me, getting the fuck outta dodge was the singular, consolidating, breath-giving aspiration in allowing me to storm down the freeway in my kelp-red ute. I couldn’t swallow the notion any longer that wherever I roamed, so would pursue Jane’s ghost, my limp prick, Brisbane’s diminished demimonde of angel-headed hipsters, my inaccurately-assembled family with open arms that spoke alien songs of affected, unaffecting soothing. Sometimes you have to leave to forget why you stayed.
               And up came the daisies as my brute vehicle blasted out, mean and sure, scarlet as the seaweed tresses of rock-borne mermaids.
               This much, I grunt through a coagulant wad of doughy chewing gum, I get.
               This much, Janey, is why men need quests. There needs to be a place to leave for there to be a place to return to, in burnished armaments and with slain chimera in tow.
               To defeat something, darling thing, other than yourself.

*

               THE CROCODILE SMIRKED at me through its legend of serrated, spork-pointy draconian teeth, and I intermittently entertained a fancy of calling “Coo-ee!” into the reverberent canyon-pinch of its unending ebony gullet. Though I veracitously gleaned the acoustics would evince marvellous new wonders of aural avant garde non pareil, it expediently came to be apparent that, what with head in beast’s maw and so on, the present time did not constitute the best window of opportunity to exercise an edgy musical interlude. What I did do, I feel sound in reifying in the slippery whispery trajectories of mind, was equably as illuminating, however: I shit my pants.
               And then, with much instinct and an invariable privation of good sense, sobriety, or an ends toward life-sustainability, I bit the crocodile back. I bit the motherfucker hard.
               This is something I needn’t recommend twice, but the repulsive leviathan tongue lay before the assembled legion of my aching, castigating teeth like a triangular fillet of salmon, and as though an asinine celebration to a reptilian valentine, I sealed the kiss with all the hatred I could muster. There were thorns in that fucked, gargantua intimacy. Unsurprisingly, it very nearly felt like love.
               And like Icarean wings, the crocodile fell from periphery to its elemental, watery infinity, leaving concentric circles to ripple across the tumult of these murderous marshes. My nose streaming dark viscid blood, my countenance bristling with victory and yes, me, lunatic, positively beaming. Positively beaming.


*

               I CAN’T DEFINE with linguistic lucidity why it is that movement, the physical, visceral and veracitous act of achieving a zenith of momentum, of achieving perpetuitous wind-borne zeal, is the elixir by which my woeful, unquenched spiritual thirst is sated, but that appears the logarithmic surety pertaining to my passage through this muddlesome, responsible, egregiously serious little world. I need to have terrain sloping off in seraphine surf, I need to see it diminished and dwindling, the wash and coastal kick and wall of sound and pyre of the sun floating aloft in funereal blazes of naphtha fire, the lay of the land turning, turning, tumbling like the glistening hypnotic chain of varying speed-gears in the spokes of a whizzing, fizzing marathon bicycle. I need to hear the cavernous, rapturous, onomatopoeic mellow of train carriages cluttering-stuttering against each other, pocket of indiscernible air between them birthing acoustical rumblings, forlorn and blue as Mississippi slate, like bassoons honking in reverie. I need to run down vertiginous hillsides with grass as velveteen green as fingers of summer probing the undersurface of a labyrinthine coral forest, and I need to feel the soles of my feet hardening to a toughness witnessed singularly in the impact of balled fist with ear, and I need to espy the virulent-splendid shades of late afternoon macaws occluding the silhouettes of dianthus blooms as day breaks to dark, the cosmic bifurcation darkening the canopy of the monkeypuzzle trees. I need to have legs numb from ambulation, from pumping hot plasmic geysers of cardinal-red blood, up and down my hunched speeding body, I need to feel so much of a vacuum of quietude in the gaspy, raspy vessel of my chest that I become weightless, I become photon, I become pollen, I become soundwave and predetermined memory and days fluorescing like cigarettes in reverse, so that I become feeling itself – and though it never stays, though it never remains, and though to explain it without divisive significance I must be moving anyway, those bottled-lightning minutes where the unsuppressible authenticity of human existence is able to be swallowed in the liminal fjords of pure narcotic velocity, those bottled-lightning minutes are fruit stole from some forbidden grove, and I can’t get enough of this juice colouring my tongue, my teeth and fingertips.
               My family was never like this. Jane was never like this. I can’t really divine a prudent demarcation of what happened so that Rusty Cardigan grew to be a lone, gothic, spiralling star craving a sky’s azure wallpaper forever in order to push away the knowledge of gravity for a freewheeling singular moment, I can’t tell you why, or where, or what the fuck made me so darn, dastardly nuts. What persuaded my insides to churn restless and longing. All I can elocute and make astute is that I must be this messed-up man with motorcycle lungs and vagrant eyes for a purpose, or why would life taste so sublime sometimes, or look so pretty when you regard the infinite exterior snaking beyond your window, or know a woman who was movement enough for you to stop, place hand on the contour of hipbone, and know that in a place like this, a place like her arms, that, yeah, I could see myself wising up and settling down.
               There’s a purpose for seeking impermanence. There’s a reason for needing freedom. There’s a method in a madman. There’s gotta be, or I might just surrender my recovery and so join Jane in her loveless, bitter act.
               Tomorrow when the police have perused and verified my statutory declaration, and the hospital has released me from voluntary surveillance, I’m jumping on a plane and absolving this heavy head of misery to a couple of weeks breathing different possibility.
               Tomorrow, if I can ever find sleep to transport me there.

*

               I AWAKEN TO A PAIR of intrusive, confessional and swarthy hands pulling down my pyjama bottoms. My arsehole stings for a peremptory, unvoiced interim, like an elasticised band attached to the brackets of your dental retainer pulling taut and then snapping free, and suddenly I can feel fingers that do not belong to anyone I’ve prior shaken hands with fossicking about in my orifice. ‘What the fuck you doing!?’ Interrobangs graffiti the hospital wall with hues of verbal trauma. ‘That’s my ass! There’s nothing you want to find in there!’ Before I can definitively cogitate upon the inherent subtextual existential relationship of man’s anus in context to his search for meaning, the impromptu and unkindly investigation ceases with a sound reminiscent of three cherry bombs exploding in a high-school toilet during the throes of Guy Fawkes’ Day. I am overcome by an arresting feeling of having been debauched, damaged and disregarded simultaneously, the unforeseen monster whom elicited congress with my holiest of corporeal sanctums having become divested in something of greater stimulus and of more profound reward, now, like discarding of disposable surgeon’s gloves and plumping up the tenuously deflated pillows littering the hospital chamber.
               A thermometer of ill bestial odour is subsequently thrust upon my deviated, uncomprehending gaze. An elderly man of nondescript, coffee-speccled complexion in equally uninspiring hospital garb narrows a speculative eye, and then returns its myopic focus to the reading of the thermometer’s temperature gauge. He doth spaketh to me in beige rhyme.
               ‘Mr Cardigan, your passageway is quite clear. As was stipulated, there is nothing corresponding to internal haemorrhaging or diuresis that you should fear.’ I wheezed, and my nightmares reclaimed sovereignty of my mental landscape. There were thoughts, malformed and flagitious, stuttering and stultified, bruising the virgin flesh of my inner eyelids. I felt positively fucking violated, and it was just such an overriding emotion of indignity and uncoaxed adultery that made my larynx lose leverage in its easy capacity to function. Conversation had become such a defeating and complex business; I soundly imagine that must be what most victims of exploited physical ingress feel with staggering immediacy: a throat emptied of speech, and a large self-respect dashed to wreckage and kite-tails.
               I croaked, stumbling to snarl: ‘My passageway has always been clear.’
               The nurse arched a scathing Kevorkian eyebrow. ‘Pride yourself on it, Mr Cardigan, I trust.’ He rinsed his hands thoroughly. ‘Now ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.’
               The ward room’s doors maintained their schadenfreudist swing for a full thirty seconds. His heels made their squash-court squeak until the walls of the hall absorbed their every reverberence.

*

               THIS IS WHAT I READ, in a coda of typeface columns, within the butterfly-fragile folds of the CD’s album leaf:


She, The Red-Kneed Tarantula Kisses My Sleeping Brow, Blue Note mono recordings of The Esteemed Fennelbartholemew Chalk.

Fennelbartholemew “F.B.” Chalk’s favourite and estimably elemental ragtime musician was the Indianapolitan bop saxophonist Epsom Salts (1886 – 1952), who earned his freestyle jazz chops performing innovative mid-western sidelining with the late and great Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. Salts was a horn man, wont to be perceived in hip, gentrified circles as a smith of trademark bullet-piercing fretwork melody, incorporating a Down Beat 1930’s pre-funk cadence into his often unlikely, rose-morose thirteen-minute scat sketches. For Chalk, a then-young and enterprising cat of fifteen (and marked by youth to bear a head aloft with a furious, nouvelle moderne Afro), understanding Epsom Salts and the rhythms of his predecessors was the solitary pursuit during those hard-bitten hutment years wintering in Michigan which enabled F.B. to secure his footing in the difficult and disingenuous realm of experimental soloist jazz.
Chalk often cites She, The Red-Kneed Tarantula as being directly derivative of the inimitable brassy stylings of Epsom Salts’ pre-war saxophone anthology of collected Southern Gothic 78’s, The Music and


Gentleman Sounds of Sweet, Lowdown Epsom Salts (1927 – 1939; Digital Transfer mastered by transference of one-step analogy material, Lionsgate Records.) This, however, can only be appreciated as the self-deprecating byline of a soulful, generous artist by which respecting the evolution of instrumental bop’s craft constituted the only way F.B. believed it capable to know the possibilities of new music. Chalk was a glorified, though never glorious alcoholic and pugilist, and died to little genuine bereavement at the age of 28. His own music, however, for which She, The Red-Kneed Tarantula represents a hint of his brazen and stifled genius, instructs that you grieve the loss of such a formidable Blue Note experimentalist; for the red-kneed tarantula designs its silvering summer web the precise way Fennelbartholemew Chalk orchestrated these nine important, eleven-bar rhythms bristling with symmetry, mirroring back to us the prisms of dewdrops on an open blossom.

© The Esteemed Fennelbartholemew Chalk Appreciators’ Estate & Subsidies, 1996.”

               I put the music into my Discman, headphones clamouring at the crescents of my ears, as the plane spurned the runway and committed itself to the throes of thoughtless, zealous emancipation. To Darwin: where rocks make clocks in the midday sun. With jazz massaging my mind, and Jane only a coffin paid for with someone else’s aggregated savings. Someone else; in some other life; in some other time and timezone; in some other romancing, bedroom-dancing long ago.

*

               PEOPLE IN DARWIN invest the aggregate preoccupations of an entire day walking down the street: they don’t exercise purpose of trajectory or traversal with any semblance or resemblance of succinct pay-off, because these equatorial beings with their hands of black indiarubber as though accursed with a corporeal stain by attempting to purloin Promethean flame, these Territorian wayfarers wish not to reach any especial or egregious country of repatriated milk, water and honey; people in Darwin just walk because it’s an easy choice, and the ideational theory is not extensive or academically, purgatorially woozy, it’s not about where you end up, it’s about forgetting that you could be doing anything other. So I spent my hours like a man will be spent by a rouge-stockinged whore, putting in everything for no particular satisfaction but an ephemeral one: I got to do it my way, and thus I walked through the city until it made just as much and proper valid reasoning to sit down and unsheathe a cigarette from the deck adhered to the insides of my Levi asspants.
               I once yelled at Jane. I don’t raise my voice in relationships because there are auspicious aural variances of anguish and language that ascend to octaves of a hurtful skein that break the skin on the wrist of romance which one must be wary of: a flying “fuck” is like a thorn in a paw, a fiery furnace-fuelled “hate” is a blade in the tea of early morning intimacy, a “You only ever consider yourself, Rusty, and that’s not consideration at all, that’s a daiquiri of capitulation, heroicising, and egotistical masturbation” is a sullen silverbeet in your chocolate croissant; a “Rusty, you can’t provide”, a “You’re an alcoholic and your poison is pride”, a “I think you’re getting uglier”, a “Why don’t we just incubate our disease with a child”, a “The doctor has diagnosed me as psychologically unfit for work,” – they all correspond with the high-water marks caused by pugilist fists trying to communicate intrinsic frustration on the lumber struts downstairs, bruising and brooding in a man’s dankest savage garage. This is why, basic now, yelling or exchanging damage ain’t my trick when I’m loving a tiny-hearted sparrow girl with elephant beetles for eyes. When I’m loving a venomous lush of avarice and malice, meanness and impeccable imbalance, I don’t find myself doing much else but sitting pained, glaring at the stained rain-pitterpatter-spattered shingle of my streetcar windshield, storming in starry grief, and after I’ve died by blubbering like buckshot from a blunderbuss, I return to house and call her “kitten stitches” and kiss her with dignity, again and again, like a conviction exercised to addiction. In the end, (I fan it flat here), see, love is a fiction, a conspiracy of distorted collusion, illusory illusion, truth intrusion, a cowl of vermillion vellum to robe the scowl of the timberwolf hiding the tooth and talon that’s so flagrant and freely his; love, I equate it, is a fort we build to tower TALL and MIGHTY, allowing us to flock about as though birds, laughing about how clever we must be to reach some thermal eternity, but forts in the end are things of mud and sand, and I said this before, sand’s blown away by listless winds, easy-peasy, such a piece of gothic gateaux: forts fall, birds can paralyse, love can be rent. So I don’t yell, I don’t rip out mad and morose, I keep it clean, because the whole fuckin’ enterprise is precarious enough. Who needs to usher in the black spectre; let the terrible fucker find his own seat in the dark.

*

               I ONCE YELLED AT JANE. I opened some antediluvian channel and the leviathan corrupted the cool of the quietude, erupted like high-response gunfire through the ripple in my sternum and out came the godless scourge, sentiments of macabre elaborate architecture, words that I’d stifled, staunched, stunted for heart-demolished lifetimes, words that raped the peasantry and defiled the holy artefacts, words that converged in the air shared between her and my distance like a hellmouth geyser, murder of ravens calling for their horrific king. Finally, finally, finally, I yelled:
               ‘Janey, I know all the fuckin’ mess informing this, your, your emotional destitution, I know you’re going through an unwell period in your life, okay, and I’ve always understood, always made good, but have you ever realised that our relationship commenced when you were already feeling like disaster? I care, so shit, I eased in with my warm open motherfuckin’ arms, and then I think, hold it, Boy Splendid, there’s never not eventuated a moment wherein she’s been well! Since you fucking knew her! The relationship, Janey, this, this love, it’s toxic, tarring goddamn puffins in the Caspian Sea, because I’m just feeding your symptoms of no agency, no inspiration, no desire to live, or desire to continue on living. Let’s live by rotting, kitten stitches, let’s greet each new day with a new, procured decay. In fact, I grasp no greater aspiration than to stay together like the parasite and the baleen whale, and I think I alarmingly realise without further re-issued Jules Verne paperback cover ideas, that I’m the sucker and you’re the host, here, Jane. I’ve been trawling ’round, and feasting on your depression, incivility and co-dependent seduction so long I make the Pollywaffle fish from some forgotten aeon look alive and thrashin’, and I’m giving this up. Show me why I should love you like I do, show me, because dogs don’t treat own scrotums this negligently.’
               She freefell into the biscuit-brown ottoman upholstery and choked up wracking, breathless teardrops that eclipsed her mascara lashes and bled henna tracks through the chinchilla of her stony glamour. She may have vomited. I couldn’t be sure of the angle of her response. I was standing magnolia-still, gaze surveying the haphazard arsenal of my refrigerator’s contents. My senses ventured abroad at the sight of a coelacanth laying comatose on a plate in the salad crisper.
               ‘What’s the beef, butterfly bell-bottoms, ain’t you never eyeballed a zombiefish before?’ It sobbed at me, like some awful zucchini oozing viscous violet fluid from between its dun-dull scales. ‘Hey, guy, you should purge the junk cluttering this wuthering-cold hellbox sometime, you dastard, I think the milk’s attempting to extrude legs and take to the trees. And gracious, you look as though you’ve been bottomfeeding with the zooplankton for a decade, come in on the high tide, and cleared a beach for resembling some primitive retard species from Jupiter. I instruct you to get better air into you, and cleaner water to wash your stink-pale, flailing woes.’
               I shut it up by shutting the seal of the door. Through the fabric touch of my shirt, I could feel my gills atrophying and crusting with enmity. Then I remembered it was lungs, lungs which I used, not anything beside, and these were burning, like Jane’s, maybe, when she took my ribbon of electrical tape and poisoned our polished floorboards with her kicking feet.
               I exited the room, walked away. Let her think about our options. Shepherded the want to hold her into the pads of my hands, and leavened these to my pockets.

*

               I SAT AND SMOKED. Somewhere, probably Peru, the red tarantula repaired its Fibonacci-precise gossamer cobweb as the rain glistened sadly in the veins of underbrush pandanus (and why not?). In Darwin, I removed my singlet, doused my back in the remaining dregs of bourbon bundled to me, and set myself alight with the sizzling dog-end whilst maintaining my lotus position. I sat and smoked, but my spine and shoulders did the work. Ineliminably nefarious, inestimably tenacious, cold cold flame flayed and curled the tender bread-white flesh of my back, until I could no longer sit but was circumambulating in agony, like the sickle of an apple-peeler half-deep in the fruit, turning and turning, shrieking and moaning and BURNING ALIVE, until I was snow-angel afloat in the mire of a public park fountain and the Darwin day cooled to foal-black nightmare. I lay on my back in this fountain, eyes locked wide in suffrage, out of my mind and city, tickled by the procession of a roadtrain fleet of shooting stars above me, one two three, and numb to further crucifying pains. I lay on my back, in water, clean and new, out of my mind and in my element.
               Later on I would give an Aboriginal child scuffing by the roadside-bench my jazz record, before continuing upon my pinched, shuddering, staggered progress to the hotel. Fish out of water, now a man glad to discover.
               The child would point to me and smile, only a half-smile, really, and size me up, head to tailbone, in brine-green venerable eyes.
               ‘I like your haircut, mister,’ the boy would say, all quizzical-kind.
               ‘It’s a mullet,’ I’d reply, with a bemused and taciturn grin, ’til the kid ducked off on golden feet, chattering in laughter, sweetest fluke my recent escape would yield today. And that’s how it ended, I’ll have to posit, no more, no less; it ended there, more or less. Down on the bay, the kid might comb for seashells in this crazy sand.

***



Kirk Marshall is a Melbourne-based writer and teacher of English Literature and Media (Film & T.V. Studies) at RMIT University. He is the author of The Signatory (2012; Skylight Press); Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories (2011; Black Rider Press); and A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953. He has written for more than sixty publications, both in Australia and overseas, and edits "Red Leaves", the English-language / Japanese bi-lingual literary journal.
 
 
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