It is the present. The stars are almost as they were, unnameable
constellations imperfectly identified as bears,
a Pontiac convertible, a celtic cross, a seagull
or an albatross by four friends gazing at attention
from the balcony of a holiday house on a nameless river
near the coast. It’s where they’ve come to stay after the wedding
of some other friends, “joining in early autumn light”
despite the summer heat. Temporary, fragile derricks
pump red oil from their uncovered limbs and then take off,
syrinxing around their ears. The Hunter Valley cabernet
is almost gone; whiffling up from the river, the therapeutic
sound of tiny waves shiatsuing the shore. Property
is the new religion, they are its breathless acolytes;
the cogwheels of their conversation, negatively geared
are running back towards the day’s quiet revolution, sleep.
Morning ploughs the living room through blinds.
They surface like pink bathyspheres and float around the house.
The birds zoom in and out of trees, cicadas fume noise.
Midriffs, thighs, creased earlobes, whiskered jowls: municipally pink.
Grey-timbered trees erupt in vivid, yellow-throated song.
Julie flexes, stretches studiously, sexually important.
Sounds without name move among the forest-floor leaves.
Tinkle of spoons on plates, the slamming fridge, the toaster ballista.
An osprey gathering up the day, lifting it higher, motionless.
After showers patinas of sweat keep on returning.
On stilts: the timber holiday house sounding
the steep escarpment down the morning river bank;
flavour walks through their midday meal,
a Julie special, she cannot judge the quantities;
Tony almost walks on water, sagging in the rivermud
as he attempts a circus crossing, a rehearsal
to impress the kids later on; their conversation —
they haven’t been together, in a group,
without children for quite some time.
So alcohol’s their lantern, over Pictionary®;
inspiration bulbs and dims, invigorates the old
alliances, the new conceits, the rediscovered myths.
The sky is in pieces. It must be something
a witchdoctor said. With nothing in between.
How do they know this? Because they remember
the fitting apart, the falling together
decades ago, which is another country.
Barry lifts the lid on past invention,
the masses’ stoichiometry, the city’s ravelled streets.
It sort of all coheres, as cold air gathers
underneath the fridge, although it leaks
and cobwebs billow slyly at its back.
He wonders how to sear a lentil:
is it like witnessing, unwittingly, an atomic flash
or more deliberately, like Dali’s scalpel
or a slow grinding of thumb-balls, as regret?
There’s a recipe for depression,
tailored just for him. How did they know?
His heart is in the right place, so they tell him,
it’s his eyes… cross-eyed and clueless
‘the people’ cheer him on! In an avocado suit
he braves the waves, thinking “what if
money were see-through? The emperor’s new notes?”
A thousand gulls are recrudescing on the beach.
Where will it end, the waves’ instinctive violence,
the sweep of galactic arms into nothingness?
Debbie lobsters lazily inside all afternoon:
is it super that she’s worried about or the complement
of what they do not have? Barry promised everything
and almost got there. Almost: that leaves out gravity,
against which she’s been waging war for years. Horizontally,
or lifted by a wave, she’s shackled by it and, what’s worse,
she knows she’s in the wrong, and it is right. That’s why she smokes,
she privately admits, that and monumental boredom.
Barry cannot read. He used to, but no longer. His brain
refuses, point-blank, like a mule. He’ll put it out to graze
on newsprint, novels, channel-surfing, traffic signs and menus
but it demurs, skips to the end, seeks out the passing cleavage.
He doesn’t even read his own reports, they’re fiction anyway,
and have a growing readership: he hates the demographic.
From time to time he’ll hover over the paper, skimming the stars.
Tony is technology, he sometimes thinks aloud,
in the third person. That’s why Julie’s carnal empire
interests him, he thinks of it as one long line of code:
SetConnect = Julie.CreateObject Connect.Open “IntimateConversation”
Intimate.Conversation.SetName = ‘Luscious Pie’
Query = “SELECT * FROM Luscious Pie”
Query = Query & “WHERE Mood = ‘concupiscent’ AND Light = ‘Candle’
Option Explicit On
Option Strict On
INSERT into ‘Luscious Pie’ VALUES ‘yes’ ‘more’ ‘please’ ‘again’
She cannot understand how they have suddenly grown old.
The Julie thing was its peak when pediments were pastel,
kumera was king, pesto its prince, sun-dried tomatoes
were almost obligatory, the currency of chic.
‘Postmodern’ was a seasoning she used to spice her works:
buildings the shade of eyeliner and blush; the neo-, pseudo-
classical porticoes, prodigal capitals, non-primary colours and plinths.
Now it’s all passé; the flavourings have changed, the money
is the same and she looks young, despite the fact she isn’t.
Design is a drug, it cures the future of banality:
that’s what she does; her ageing edifices keep her young,
and hungering after clean lines, she architects a world
where holidays are R&D, or so says her accountant.
Debbie lights another gold-tipped cigarette and lies
back on the foam mattress. It’s so hot, Barry dissolves
ice cubes in his beer. The sky is bubbling like a spoon
and there’s a war in the Gulf. Again. This time they’re not sure
whose side they’re on or even if there are sides. Tony says
his Volvo has a cold. Imagine that! Girl in Coma
Writes Novel, the radio seems to say, or maybe it’s
a line from a Latin American poet, with this proviso: American
subtitles run across the river, written by a ghostly finger
or something like that. Once they used to walk about naked
but an avalanche of flesh means that history now repeats
itself, like that blimp recurring through the palms, saying,
Mozart. Is that a liqueur, Julie wonders, or just a tropical
whatever, himself or cosmic radiation, she’s so out of touch.
Even here they are in the suburbs. Who cares about the wedding
cake or the religion hidden between the jokes? Like furry scabs,
flies encrust the drink-rings on the table and a periscope
impales the air. Is it Nemo on the verge of surfacing
or a swizzle-stick out of all perspective? Like tattered underwear,
too many questions hang limply in the air. Cornelius Toad
to Secret Squirrel, are you reading me, over? But Tony’s leaning
sideways as he slaloms around a bend and doesn’t hear
(Dirtbox Megadeath III, the Final Reckoning) and Barry’s off
on a tangent anyway, his chest hurts from reading far too much
about cigarettes or the sublime ‘again’ in Heidelberg
School light, or maybe it’s just Debbie giving him a hard time
about his deafness. When did everyone learn to speak Russian?
Poems lie around the room, stiff as ruined joints.
I was beautiful once, says Julie, and quite probably sane.
The river keeps rebooting. An empty crate rebels against
the tide. A yellow scum plaques the river’s banks and glides,
like a future thick with disappointment, downstream. The present
has been smoking for some time without any sign
of dissolving into flame. Photographs without colour
pulse on unctuous water. The question is not, ‘is it
art?’ but how much it is worth, so Barry reckons. An opal
irritated out of clouds, the moon drops into their drinks
and Julie, agape at the stars, starts to get quite sentimental
when she thinks how violently they burn, how long
they’ve blazed before they all were born and how, despite surviving
them for several billion years, even the stars will die.
Debbie, stalled above a chessboard in her fat bikini,
sarong and sandals, stoops to conquer Barry’s white — it’s mate.
While they go on waiting, Tony laments no antidote
for perfect beauty: the aliens have respawned. Like another
‘situation’ years ago, they’re younger than they think.
He coughs and a cloud begins to weep on Julie, on the deck
a shiny rash appears, becomes a beating film advancing
towards the double doors, and still the children haven’t called.