Realism. Four Preludes

By | 1 December 2009

The only realism in art is of the imagination.
It is only thus that the work escapes
plagiarism after nature and becomes a creation.
(William Carlos Williams)


I. Every convention is also a technique


1. sleepless thirty days:
place names loom up

and disappear. Apparitions
of grain bins erupting

in dull conflagration–
slaughter yards–the urine-

coloured eyes of dead
sheep leering from

irrigation ditches. We
slug it out on the roadside

for hours just to keep
the disagreement alive.

Each blow describes
the beginning of a story

told from its end: weighted
with its own nihilistic poetry.


2. sometimes drank until you were numb.
or sat there among sleepless

dust motes like a phoney buddha
high on ephedrine and mantra.

seeking direction from
x to y in the absence of any

recognisable landmark,
varying the dosage (degrees of relation

between what is and is not prescribed
according to the logic of adversity).

then turning north into sunsets
redolent with odalisque figures–

naked silos posed against fields
of yellow-flowered rape …

we are back were we began:
the flatness of a perspective scene

which recedes against
a merely conventional horizon,

Blaxland and Lawson-esque,
appearing inverted on the other side–

as if to rectify
a wrong way of seeing.


3. where to now? riding in
on the last breeze and hard up.

a hundred pages on
through plotless outcountry

we arrive again at the
flat edge of pacific breakers

in slow dissolve to urban
nostalgia, moral undertow

and nameless affect …
or backwashed in reverse cycle

as prodigal sons gone south
and no forwarding address.

We could've been the children
of Whitlam and Coca Cola,

jetlagged, having lost track of
history or currency denominations.


4. nothing to be gained here.
before, after. cash for scrap.

another 4:00 a.m. stupor
vomiting the dregs of last night's

mental arithmetic. dreams of a
recurring decimal

that stretches out cross-continent
without ever giving you a clue

to its reason for being there.
A punchline without a joke.

Dead-of-night towns on the
overland route. Miles gape,

evoke silent interlocutors
on the nod towards unfolding

catastrophe. A deus ex machina
lurches carbon-arced

out of bearing cases ground down
on the long haul from mount isa

to broken hill, dry-retched into
cataracts of bulldust. Spent fuel

lingering like cheap cloying perfume.
Cutting the black interstate line

to haul eastwards across
salt flats ridged by narrow

horizontal bands: on one side high
dunes littered with coarse vegetation

which when slightly decomposed
has a brown earthy appearance.


5. Daybreak under barbiturate cloud-
patterns. Ahead, the sky sends down

a dragline, describing a vertical front
ranged from on-high to the grey

volume of easterly pressure systems.
a mirror, held up to art: to reflect,

is not to change. traversing unfamiliar
regions of cross-sectional debris

our projections fly straight back at us–
bypassed on the long straight road,

thinking the scene ironic or insincere?
A procedure, to establish

first principles. Landscape with face
and hands turning on a dial.

an ambiguous terrain, its objectivity
is a thing of the mind, una cosa mentale.


II. A monument to something history plagiarised


‘dark revolving in silent activity.' Proximity
edges forward, an isolated and discarded
thing. strange shapes bred from this
forsaken wilderness–wheels of coal trains,
shunting of freight cars, loading the giant

conveyor belts. Long peninsulas jut against
sky blacked-out of nocturnal cartography,
awaiting castration. Rockdrill totems,
paleoflora. each stroke of the brush
of the hammer of the pen, to force the hand

against petrified inner space. Drastic
as the maternal body's death cycles and
purification. Hate becomes an efficient engine
scraping away at the coruscated vision,
made edgeless and in time the reasonable

ordination of events. Not to balk
from consigning what needs to scrap (‘ends
accomplished turn to means'). And with these
precautions, set out again westwards to
clear a path through the broken-headed tracts.
this obelisque erected in / macquarie
place / a.d. 1818 / to record that
all / public roads / leading
to the interior / of the colony / are
measured from it

III. The effect of travelling in distant places


1. Attention cones, outward from
light source and seasonal photographs

take motion in their grasp.
The prodigal's irrational return

through disorderly striations and
eerily neutral background noise:

the sound of an airport, of a
house collapsing, of a bridge

in rain. Perhaps some alien
brain there waiting to smother us.

Sunsets wrecking the blanked-
out cellophane happiness.

After the nightsea crossing–
retracing, step by un-

countable step, the sinewed track
(‘irruminated meat').

Autumn leaves and excrement,
like haunting reciprocations.

the sick man groans,
dragging his sack of instruments

on into the immeasurable–
beckoned by its fool's glimmer …


2. balshazzar's ghost, draining
into grey, too slow and too final,

and what's written there–
some strange irregularity of man

blazoned in the sky's zero.
the dance around the golden calf–

a common instinct towards religion
in monetaried vehemence.

in each outcrop, a hieroglyph
of dionysian ecstasy, sloughed off

from the eye that beholds it.
It's morbid death-watch begins.

perhaps we are waiting
to be told that man is not born free

or good, but is only the backwards
description of what he underestimates.


3. the eye, too, is a product
of history. Contemplating

desiccation and evitable
lines of regress, water to salt.

Clumps of skeleton weed
standing alone in the midst

of alchemical counter-proofs
miming ecology. The vast

signatura rerum crossed-out
by seams of alkaline.

A noise like machined-
grist hammering a borehole

and brackish effluent spat out.
What it feeds does not equal

that tract of uncultivated land,
sketched into the background

piero della francesca-like
as a scaffold on which

a foreground hangs. Being
so much dreck and signage.


4. dry wind undresses ground
naked under heat-tremor.

Buckled sheets of plate glass.
Irregular emissions fill the air,

mimeographed in reflex cutaneously
programmed. A very present

physics of the senses stripped-out
of genital wilderness, lymphatics

and distort-teratology. The end-stop
lying there and coming apart

into a gap that knowingly desires us.
As red ground, cut across with blue

in post-ketamine let-down, emanates
from cracks in the opaque residue.


IV. reprise


not at all as you had pictured it–
out on the broken edge

‘liquid mountains float in the air' …
outcropping from thorn bush,

slates of bloodstone placed there
according to the laws of chance–

the idea, the motive, immured in its
vault like a fossil awaiting excavation.

We reached the next turning point
and came to a standstill:

from centre dead up against periphery
(no things but in relations). The old

illusion of inward left bare
in the first false dawn. A bridge to the

promised land in perpetual
strip-tease slung above the 100,000

expiring light bulbs of luna p rk.
Undressing the blacked-out scar of

decommissioned navy yards, dry
docks … Our hungers for elsewhere

were free to enlarge, conscripted
to the Big Idea–not by ballot but by

lottery–free too from the necessity
to prove anything. In the shadow

of America everything was neon,
sex and no come-down.

A plush hollywood blonde
all glass and electric switches

radiating from a single point
like a finial on a skyscraper.

It rises up from the compendium
that constitutes its centre:

an ever-exploding movement
watched over again on replay

and then reversed, jump-cutting
at zero altitude from interchange to

nightroads across flat out-country …
Difficul to remember the

purpose and reason for continuing.
Already, apparitions of distance

reveal the end of the line–
vertical and pin-point luminous

as conducting rods and storm fronts
ranging west to east.

the rainslashed glare of
articulated lorries as unreal

as visitants from outer worlds.
Earth tremor and juggernaut

cut sideways in the wake and counting
back to the moment the halo formed

around the analogue dial,
wandjina-like, and electric as

spirit medium shot at high speed.
Thinking to out-run the dry

resounding emptiness head-on.
Escape was a sad parody of a film

that's been running for a century.
blue shadows flicker across

defaced warning signs–a surface
of night stretched thin across

unbidden secrets of dead lake beds,
diesel and methedrine. Or two

exxed-out roadmaps overlapping
in the rearview, testing the stringency

of what it means to be invisible–
though drawing no conclusion from it.

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