IP: I think of Nick Cave, writing in the book Stranger Than Kindness about how for all his life he had a feeling that he was circling a profound catastrophe that was yet to happen. When his son, Arthur, died at the age of fifteen, falling over a cliff to the sea below, Nick Cave recognised his catastrophe at last. For me, and, I believe, for you, the songs he writes fall into a type of salvatory.
A place where things are preserved. Saved.
Recently you told me how our brother was listening to the album The Good Son on a taped cassette in his car as he drove towards what would be the hour of his drowning that afternoon. The songs on the album were the last he would hear. You typed the words of that news to me, but in my mind, I transpose them into your delicate, feathery handwriting. I wish I could hold the tape in my hands and read its handwritten label if it had one. I cannot, as the tape has been lost in time, but still you have reached out and given it to me to hold.
DN: It’s funny to think of that ‘taped’ tape. Our brother gave it to me in the kitchen of the house I still lived in with our parents and my twin brother. It did have a handwritten label, but it wasn’t our brother, Grant’s writing. I suppose he gave it to me from this feeling of guilt arising from his being ‘on the door’ at The Palace in St Kilda to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, when it had been me who was supposed to have gone with our cousin the night before.
And I remember Grant being indulgent in letting me play it in the car on the day of the drownings, on the journey from Melbourne and throughout the dwindling hours of his life. I have a very distinct memory of it playing as we crossed one of those little bridges as you enter that town, perhaps Waranga Creek, that in most, dry years has no water beneath it.
Later, the little dog, Polly that I bought for our mother weeks after the deaths destroyed this tape, so I recall the sight of the mangled brown ribbon, broken in that unsalvageable analogue way. It made me cry – because every link then was so tenuous.
The sight of that breakage sits like an injured bird in our mother’s hand, a found poem. And an iteration of presence and absence; first our brother and later our mother stand in the same space in front of the kitchen table, holding out the tape to me. To communicate such fragile remembrances has worked over time as salves for our collective griefs. This ‘always-there’ dialogue between us grants entry to hitherto closed apertures, I mean –
to believe we might refuse to give up the dead in an elegiac sense,
but also to a continual sense of healing through writing.
IP: One day I was visiting our mother at one of the homes she lived in after the drownings, drifting from place to place in a way that is unlike her, as she is someone who likes to be grounded in her home. I was about to leave, standing and saying goodbye to Mum on the stony verge of the road beside the car, when Polly the dog ran through a left-open gate and straight under a passing heavy vehicle. I heard our mother’s choked cry from behind me. Pleading inside, I went to Polly, turning her over, and when I saw blood spreading across the stones near her mouth, I knew she would not live. I touched one paw as it traced a footstep in the air, reminiscent of another dog, the one I had soothed on the night of the storm, the first night they were gone. Later in the car, driving towards the Mallee to visit my parents-in-law, tracing the flow of the irrigation channel between the places we had once lived as a family, I wept, listening to her cry playing out inside me. All the weeping I had heard from her since the drownings was low and soft in tone, deep-underwater sounds, fathomless. But as she witnessed the death of the dog you had given her, the surface broke.
Her cry is a strophe without points of beginning or end. It too is a bird and the bird a poem. A waterbird diving too deep and losing bearings, and then breaking through, heavy, ragged