Heaven, Bruny Island

1 August 2015

,… like the Mets I’m coming up to bat
in the bottom of the 9th, or maybe the 8th, if I’m lucky
but far behind in the game—
and the music seems to have stopped to listen.

—Tony Towle listening to the radio, in ‘Digression, 5/10/03


Our first whole day on the island:
coffee at the shop, then drive to the beach
at Cloudy Bay & walk it—half an hour, more,
keeping to the liminal line on the sand
where the water has just dried.
Vast clouds of Pacific Ocean gulls
rise as we approach, mill in the air, like tea-leaves stirred
in a clear cup.
White underneath, glimpses of white flash
as they bank, circle, & spiral away.
Successive
waves of them do this—till the beach is cleared.
The sea is on our right
as we walk—southwards, I guess—a long gentle arc.
Just us. The air clear, as if recently washed—as we advance slowly
upon the distance. Dome of sky overhead.
The scale is a little vast for photographing.
Eventually I take a series of photos—that I will glue where they
overlap—
mountains that, as the eye moves left, become
the heads,
& then open water—& heads again. At two points
I take some vertical shots—one capturing
white cloud towering above,
above darker blue-black cloud at its base—
in the foreground showing the brass-coloured
sand
where water an inch deep slides back to the sea,
glazed momentarily, showing
the sky & cloud—immense—reflected there
a mirror image. It looks great: Ireland, New Zealand, I think.
A little light for either—
but they’ll like that, surely. Further left
I do this again: sky above, clear—& unbroken horizon
where sky meets sea—& Cath, knee deep, out
beyond the second
line of waves—her white top & green pants—where she appears
a second time, upside down, reflected, closer to—
where she stands,
admiring New Zealand, or the South Pole,
where they stand, in the distance. Stand notionally.
It is Macquarie Island I think Cath thinks is
next stop/last stop. Along with White Rock, Pedra Blanca—
And then the Pole.

As I walk —we turn finally & set out
back to the car— I seem to be addressing
my Dublin friends, & Michael Fitzjames.
The Dubliners, Tony Curtis particularly, I always think of
on Bruny.
Tony travels & would like this—the one bit of Australia
he hasn’t seen. I think because we bought this place
soon after I met them. Michael’s Di came down
with Cath on her last trip—Coogee friends—Sydney.
He’s got my email address now—rang Cath requesting it—
having decided
to move a step closer to the present—the late part
of the 20th century, the early part of this. Or has he been
emailing people for years—others, not me?
I mostly want to tell him
how much less I can see as my eyes deteriorate—
though actually
seeing is what I do best, what keeps my mind
happy, busiest—the constant noting of detail
& of composition, relationship—
but in fewer kinds of light
(as the mind thinks
in its own disordered way
—about history, some line
of logic or rhetoric or argument
—’memes’, are they?—
sorted, shuffled,
recorded. Confirmed.
Stirred like the tea-leaf birds …
for some furthering remark or for
launching off with
—(the article I came across
that I do not want to write
opening it in my
notebook
‘Necessary Fictions’—
something ‘on spec’
for a ditzy, high-paying editor
who might not take it
who says she wants something ‘philosophical’
yike,
you gibbering idiot
—something philosophic, & apropos of nothing—
you write it!)
As an artist
there is much here he could paint
& I am conscious, driving from the beach, of the shades of
olive & of lighter green—
the silver-grey tree trunks, & the ‘black’—
the clouds
of every shade
from palest silver & shale
to blue & blue-grey-black,
the telegraph poles—at long, country intervals—the same
regular grey-white, solemn, dramatic contrast
with the spinach-green behind (I saw one once,
recently limed, a startling mint or menthol stripe
like
the green on the face of Mme Matisse—but it has faded.
I see that pole again this trip
& it is the regulation neutral silver-grey)
… the tan
—& tan-mixed-with-coffee grounds
(of burnt wood & wet leaves, ti-tree)—
that shades the blond sand, that swathes &
firms & darkens
around knolls & depressions. Is it water-courses,
or the wind in the sand? A Siamese cat’s
colouring.

Jules I also think of, at work, & the others—
Mel,
Michael, Teri.
We have known each other so long,
have worked together—Julie & I—over twenty years.
Watching each other die—or
“move towards the end of our lives”.
More considerate as we get older.

It is weird to be somewhere they don’t know.

They’d like it. The New Zealanders
would like it
—it’s ‘McCahon’ enough (tho does it lack the
required ‘punitive gloom’?)—
the peaked, volcanic-looking hills
around the harbours,
the peninsulas that recede one behind the other
into a uniform powdery blue—
& Michael, painter Michael, (so many
Michaels in this)—
to whom it won’t be strange
—having done his Tasmanian time
decades ago—
but Bruny is different, distinct somehow,
material for his eye.
(Di liked it.)

Laurie, another distant friend, walks a less trackless landscape—
in the footsteps of countless, commentating
British, Normans & Saxons,
walking where Mathew Arnold walked,
or Wells. Here, people
in a different headspace
walked before me of course.
Cath walks here now.
She says, from the bedroom —(as I
wash the dishes)—
they are Kelp Gulls, about the same size as Pacific Gulls
& a bit darker on top,
gathering in groups of a couple of hundred
about now, on
“islands south of Hobart”.
Not quite the span.
Called Dominicans because of their black & white,
their span just a little less

The big number makes it likely. We always see Pacific Gulls
in ones or twos, or small quantities. Ordinary
seagulls, by comparison, look tiny when we see them
back in Adelaide. These are large,
ocean-going birds.

I break some kindling for next day’s fires
take a photo, out the window, of the three trees
I love—three vast simple lines stemming
from the same place in the scrub
& spreading apart just slightly as they soar—like
planes at an air show,
about to peal off dramatically though they never do,
three tense splayed fingers passing up
through blue & cloud
& blue.
One has dropped a branch in this year of drought.

I love the island very much. Tho I do not know it as well as Cath.
It takes a while to settle in.
I love the places closer to us—the field opposite, ‘behind’ us—so
French & open & yellow,
against banks of trees along its furthest edge—
where the eagle appears most summer nights at sunset,
patrols for food, something
whose movement will betray it in the open field.
Wooreddy Rd—the view up to it,
the view to the right now they’ve cut down the trees.
Which I at first regretted. Regret still, though the view
of green, against the odd black trunk,
is magical—if less majestic
than the effect of trees on both sides of the avenue—a road
that dips down
then climbs, crests & disappears,
about halfway up the mountain.
Best—though it’s too good to be true—the view
back, from that first Wooreddy crest, down, across the field,
thru framing branches & stark verticals:
a field of yellow, distantly bounded by a copse of trees,
by trees following
a water course, & beyond that a bay of astonishing blue
with an island in it. It all comes out
of Modersohn-Becker,
Kandinsky, Jawlensky, Gabriele Munter.
Michael would look at it & see the cliché it suggests.
What to do with it?
For some reason I want him to see it. For the reason
that I won’t be able to see it myself for much longer—
perhaps? Tho this turns out
not to be true.

The view from the pub is different so many times,
& mysterious—near & far
so intermingle, & on one day register
as firmly-plaited, woven—of air & moisture—a skein
of softened white & blue.
(We’re so far south—
tho I guess we’re facing Dover. Dover, Tasmania—
not Laurie’s & Arnold’s Dover.)
Cloud like woven bread,
moist,
stretched between the heads either side of the harbour—
& above,
or in front of, the island’s shallow peak: Satellite Island,
that sits mid harbour dank & receding,
while the cloud
is low & cool & restful—a white rope of cloud-bread,
that lies over it.
And on another day—different.

New Blundstone boots—just broken in, but about new—$10.
Cath spied them. He’s had his
ten years, still going, Michael says—
a different Michael. Lorraine’s brother, Michael. Might
see me out
, I say. “Lord, take these boots
off of me. I can’t use them anymore”. Tho in fact I’m
not about to die—& my eyes are holding out…

Music is on the radio, quietly, as I write this.
It seems to have stopped to listen.

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