Edge Music

24 July 2007

So, Yes, she said – because, you see,
I had been walking along Maroubra Beach
with my T-shirt off
in the late morning of a windy day, with flat
lazy surf in dribbles and splashes
and my need to do something with myself
ever since the moment my wife had said, Go to hell,
and life became possible again
with empty spaces in time that I could look forward to,
that excited me
because of what they might have become.
Life was no longer a simple irony of waking up late
with the sun in my eyes, wandering
out to the living room and dropping
onto a bean bag, calling Angela
to find out what time she'd be home, my head
in a hand and the sun burning my legs
while she whined about IT procedures
and I stared at a biography of Rodin on the floor,
thinking of the way she always told me
that I could really write, then going back to my bed
with the exhaustion of it all, thinking of how
I would live the day, as a writer.

Then, a day of me gone with some words on a page
and an ochre sunset on Coogee brick
life was no longer calling her again
to find out why she was late,
and when she finally arrived home with the Pacific stretched
blue-mauve through the room,
life was no longer me on the couch, Angela disaffected,
dropping her handbag in the hall and then
turning up the stereo, complaining
about something or other, then our arguing about it,
then me shouting at her with some Ray
Charles record plodding along in the other room,
the old crooner with his black glasses
and Georgias and pianos and all of this on my mind
on that sunny late morning at Maroubra Beach
as I neared its southern basin.

Down in the shallows I saw a man, flabby around the waist,
who was playing with two children, giggling and
splashing at them over and over
and closer to me, up on the sand, was a woman in a brilliant
white bikini lying on a towel
with a large novel held in both of her hands,
though she wasn't really reading it, I could tell,
by the way her wrists had fallen limp and the nose
of the book had crashed into the sand.
As I neared her she looked up
and I looked away, though
there was still that instant in which she saw me, in
which I caught her pale-pupiled glance.
I walked past
while her deep brown skin shone in the sun
and I thought of her legs as the stained
keys of a piano and the way sex
became anathema to my wife, whose legs
were lumpy, really, and never shown off
under short skirts or in tight jeans, and
how in bed she would lie there, crouched up
like a foetus with her back towards me, so that
the sheets couldn't rest on my chest
and I was left to feel cold on cool nights, and
then on warm nights, rather alone.
But now the sun was burning me black
and I wondered if the brown on my shoulders
wasn't too red, if the time would come, soon,
to put my T-shirt back on.

Dense, green shrubs always bulged
from the sandy topsoil on the headlands of
Southern Maroubra, their colour
fragmented by red thorns and stubborn wildflowers
no matter how vicious the drought, so
it was here as I walked along Australia's cliff
that I thanked the rain for refusing to fall,
that I smiled at the dried up grasses and dead weeds
with their spoilt sensibilities
and inability to handle the times
when they got tough.
A snake stopped me; it lay dozing across the trail.
I smiled at it, then turned to the ocean
to let it have its peace.
The water was calm, though it left
a frilly-white drool around the boulders
clustered at the bottom of the cliff.
Are these the moments, I wondered, when I should be entranced
by the gentle howl of the wind over shrubs,
looking at the piece of moon in the cobalt sky
and in awe of the experience of it all? Like
waking up each morning with my heart full
and dull with my wife
and walking out to the lounge room only
to slump onto the couch and think about
some old piece of music, or some fragment of poetry,
and how it used to move me to tears. Oh, fuck it!
Are you finished? I demanded of the snake.
But its long, shining blackness was like a heavy paste
still drying in the sand, so
I turned back to the ocean
but this time a head was floating over the scrub, a head
and then a chest, bobbing up and down
with the contours of the headland, floating up
from the Pacific and coming towards me. Now her
black sunglasses and thin mouth. Now
her breasts and stomach slick with sweat, her
nipples protruding through white
fabric, veiled
like buds, her hair sifting
the wind to reveal a small, difficult ear, although
I thought it obvious
she would listen and my toes
shifted in the sand and got pricked
by the skeletal remains of fauna. As she approached
she looked down at herself
and I couldn't look away, and she grew bolder,
more colourful, and wasn't it all
so magnificent and unlike anything
Ray Charles had seen – I mean, well,
wasn't it unlike anything he may have imagined
of Georgia, of some wet, flat Atlanta sprawl?

It's a beautiful day, she said to my stomach – a stomach which,
I will add, was quite well toned
and I thought, You too? Are
you also here to admire the things that you believe
you have forgotten about? So
she said, Yes, and, you see,
I know it was only because she had found me
on the edge, between
the heat and sweat of life on one side, and the mindless,
wrinkled heaving of the other,
but I wasn't looking at it that way at the time, as she
approached me with calves a little too thin,
and I noted she had a nose like Angela's
as we made awkward love on the contours
of a sand stone ledge
that imprinted a collage of fossils
on the soft skin around her spine.
So, she said,
tying her bikini back on and me sitting there, wondering
why, after all this time, this had never
happened to me before, So, she said, there's still
something to be said for being a man.
And it's funny, you know, because right at that
moment I wanted to hit her, smack her
with the back of my hand across her face,
but instead I let a snicker slip out,
then a chuckle, a little convulsion from deep
inside my chest, and then another and
another, and soon I was giggling like a child,
laughing, laughing louder, and she had started laughing
too, you know how it goes, the two of us
were lost in laughter and my eyes
were closed, my hands held my hard stomach, I was rocking
backwards and forwards with roars of laughter
so that tears were streaming down my cheeks
and I was mouthing her name, the name of my wife,
Angela, Angela, over and over, her glorious name,
calling for her and crying like a lost little boy, my head shaking
between my legs, my skin on the sandstone
in a crumpled heap of loose flakes
like a faint sketch of myself.

When I looked
up she had gone,
and the wind was whining
through shrubs
like a hollow Ray Charles moan. It was
with his black voice leaping gently
from seed pod
to bottle brush to heavy
succulent leaf that I began to think of music,
and of the way a note
can have two meanings: one
a tiny seed of divisiveness, a separate musicality on its own,
the other an epiphany of the sounds before
and after it,
like the tear and
its place in the soft, wet region
behind the eye, emerging
after only the slightest
tremor in a moment,
trailing down a dry cheek like the scar
left by a snake
as it shifts
through hot, prickly sand.
But by this time I was walking away,
away from the ocean and the things that had grown out of it,
and I had put my T-shirt back on
for the heat of the sun.

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