DN: Grief forms a palimpsest. We are always writing or superimposing each new pain on top of that first deep knowledge of loss. To return to your earlier reference to Nick Cave and how he has written about his grief for his son, Arthur and this circling of catastrophe, Cave’s first great catastrophe was the death of his father in a car accident. Cave expounds on this in his 1999 lecture The secret life of the love song. He refers in the lecture to Federico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and play of the duende, this sense of darkness, of open wounds. When Cave delivered this lecture, he believed that the tragedy that had struck his life – this one great blow that he felt he had anticipated, I mean – was perhaps the limit and destination of his despair. He could not have imagined what other terrible events might befall his family in later years. When I think about this, I think again of grief’s overwriting of itself (this dark scribbled mass of text upon text) but in addition, I think of the sense of duende as a component to the construction of art in its different forms. That sense of or knowledge of grief and darkness is not a quality you can replicate without lived experience, but it’s no gift to have this kind of knowledge imbued in your writing, either.
You mentioned to me a workshop you attended run by Tony Birch and the idea he discussed of being able to write about the same subject over and over, how that is possible. I think that the necessarily interwoven nature of our respective writings about this one event that has doubtless changed the whole trajectory of our lifes’ writings, forms also, as you describe, a strophe.
IP: Every piece we write is a new telling of our profound loss, even if given subject matter may appear to concern something other than the loss and its refrains. We keep telling this story because we must. As sisters who are writers, this is a shared dream-space. A conversation in words and wordlessness.
When you moved to the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales early in our timescale of grieving, I also moved closer to the sea. We began to write letters to one another. Others around us had fallen silent. We would mention the names of those we had lost, and a lull of quiet would follow the sounds of their names. But you and I kept speaking the names. We grieved through our letters. You started making paper and writing your letters on it. We’ve both published writing about that papermaking. In your letters, you described the process, and I pictured you drawing the wooden frame out of your vessel of water, pressing each sheet of compressed pulp onto a cloth and then pegging it out to dry on your clothesline with the estuary below, sharks fishing where the river flowed into the sea. I saw you bending over and holding the wooden frame like lifting an infant from the water. That act of drawing from water brings to mind a moment from our childhoods in the Mallee. In the midst of a mouse plague, many households made use of a bottle trap, involving a glass bottle with a greased neck poised over a wide bucket of water. In the mornings, the bucket would be filled with many drowned mice. Once in the early hours, a quiet sound woke me and I walked in my bare feet to the kitchen. Grant was crouched beside the trap, his hands in the water, scooping out one frantically swimming mouse at a time and setting it on the floor to scurry away, leaving miniature puddles that shone through the night.
DN: There are those analogous movements there, between letter writing, and our little places by the sea in the years immediately afterwards, and yes, this fluidity of limbs working in water. We thought we might never be able to enjoy the movement, the feeling of water again. Yet that was, that enjoyment and affinity with water was one of the first things we each wrote about, respectively. Not long after the accident, it must have been your first birthday without our father and brother, I bought you a round wooden box with a lid inlaid with agate and filled with different crystals. Your first published writing about grief and the accident was a story called ‘Crystals’ and it took its name from this gift. In this piece, you write about the deep blue of the agate, as imagining it being a series of lakes that you could dive in to, waters that no one could drown within.
I wrote a poem once about the last moments/movements of our father
under the surface, as captured or frozen in amber/ that colour of his eyes and yours and mine.
In the poem he realises the water he is drowning within is the eyes of his ancestors, and he
swims back through to his fate.