Scavengers are very smart birds, the vagabond says to himself, noticing an anomalous crow on the beach. A different kind of smart from migratory birds. He remembers a science bulletin years ago which described how some scavenger species was herding migrating birds to their death among North American skyscrapers. How would you know that, he muses, remembering the spectacle of seagulls in the updraft of the incandescent spire of the Melbourne Arts Centre wheeling in turn to swoop on insects with the studied delight of dancers. Nobody else had believed that. And the London crow, or raven or whatever, which dropped nuts onto a pedestrian crossing for the traffic to crush, and then hopped out to retrieve them when the light turned red. And the Perth restaurant which put its sumptuous garbage bins in a peculiar place only he knew, from tracking compactor trucks.
Just one thing, he rehearses, sloshing in a sudden flat phosphorescent sigh. It may be my only opportunity to say, that ‘being there’ means only to be attentive; ‘being there for someone’ does not mean to feel compassion, or help someone to deal with their problems, but to attend to someone, to enjoy someone. That alone is ‘presence’ and ‘loving-kindness’. I know I should keep my trap shut, he mutters, but it feels like something which has never been said, the ancestor of common-sense, the moist soil of a Garden of Eden … and another thing …
We’re all vagabonds, in our pursuit of a journey of indeterminate duration and destination. This is especially so for those knights errant who pursue love, or good, or truth. The destination is never reached. Evasion of someone else’s idea of these gives us direction, but brings us no closer to ours. And what happens when there is nobody left to evade? One by one our accusers face the gallows.
What is a vagabond doing on Eighty Mile Beach near midnight? Easy to imagine how he got there: dysfunction, rejection, confusion, rectitude, dissociation, addiction. But where on Earth is he heading? Towards Broome it appears, where–unless I’m mistaken–he started school in 1954. But he’s gazing lugubriously at the Moon, which is headed over the Indian Ocean, the other way. Familiar with the night sky from decades of sleeping out and a thousand municipal libraries, he may be walking towards a particular star, which might explain his continual veering towards the ocean, or is he drunk? We’ll never know; neither will the crow.
Perhaps he is headed beyond Broome, to the person gazing at the Moon in his direction right now, thinking of him. Thinking what, I wonder, and is she the person he thinks she is? Dulcinea or Aldonza? An acquaintance’s deserted wife, a schooldays friend, distant family? Haughty teenager promised to the elder he met in gaol who died there of an overdose on her Facebook? His own clever daughter perhaps, willing his connection to mean something? How does he want to be remembered? she might wonder, and well might she, with the most inane question in all of Errantry!
He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ship of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he sat and sang, and furbished up,
and burnished up his panoply. (Tolkien)
I am haunted by a story written by my father about the Eighty Mile Beach, or rather a man stranded in its sandhills in the pitch dark. My memory has attributed to it the most evocative description I have ever read of the three- or four-dimensional experience of the galaxy in a dark sky, where you can see the vast distances of the solar system with the naked eye, and looking up feels like falling. This was my projection, dispelled by recent rereading: Dad’s character couldn’t see even his body, so lay down and slept until light, as though the stars weren’t there. But my Dad loved the Kimberleys, worked there during my early schooling–a daguerreotype experience of post-colonialism before its infiltration by the concept of ‘self as other’–and as he was dying completed the self-publication of a novel about “black and white love in the Kimberleys”, The Binding Chain. I am still wandering on his beach.
And so is the vagabond I guess, while his eponymous namesake heads out to sea, but I seem to have lost him, and can only see where moonlight slicks upon the heavy fluttering of a large black bird on a mound a long way up the beach.
The Moon, together with the voices of our ancestors in the self we call the world, is doubtless the harbinger of the god who dies and is reborn. Certainly the Vagabond will return tomorrow night and, possibly beyond the lifespan of humanity, repeat the sequence every year: recite a pagan god’s name backwards, S-E-R-A-T-N-A, outsmart seven sisters, quit the manger-cave of the Bull and Aldebaran (the archangel Michael), bathe in the sacred hormones of Saiph, cross the Lethe, sashay in a tutu onto a midsummer night’s dream, wake up in the mind, invent an astrology. It does seem strange that some people can’t love him until they turn him into a woman, but there you are.
Grandchildren, if you come to vacation at the Eighty Mile Beach Luxury Eco Resort, taking advantage of the pre-Christmas off-season rates, make the most of the floodlit sky of the social beach-volleyball, for you’ll soon be migrated to an eighty-storey condominium in Hobart. Broome and Halls Creek will be ghost-towns, and the saga of Eighty Mile Beach will be the improbable tale of a couple of old men, of a woman in the Moon never there, and a soliloquy interrupted, always wrong, long-elided.
Funny how the Full Moon transits in the middle of the night, huh? Funny that the middle of the night is rarely midnight. Funny how the Bull looks like a real bull, and Michael his eye. Funny that Papa talked about such things as though he had actually seen them. Funny about the Seven Sisters and how they had to be tricked into sharing …
I was wrong. I hurt you, and I’m sorry. I am sorry that the things I have always most wanted to say are offensive. Sorry that my actions, so full of misunderstanding, are never innocent. The world is full of suffering; the road to hell is paved with good intentions. My ignorant intention has merely been to live, to course with desire, to experiment, to explore. Life is so short. The world was so big, so full of difference and mystery, and is now so full of hurt.
We can’t forgive each other, because you’ve excused yourself. You’re aggrieved. Why is that? Is it because you see every action as a reaction? Your ego is threatened by blame? You never studied history? I deserved it? You deserved better? Do you deserve better than your own children? No doubt you don’t let yourself think that, but do they deserve a better mother? Is that the attitude you want to teach them? I think not, but sometimes your attitude seems like the unspoken voice of an unconscious god–“bad poetry disguised as science” (Jaynes)–with the trajectory of a dodgem car.
The essence of life is not design or narrative, unconscious or conscious, but error. If an opinion fits ‘the facts’ better, it is less wrong, not more right. We have to live among people who are not listening carefully enough, and therefore make unreasonable demands of our egoistic ignorance. Four solutions to this discomfort have been embraced historically, and they are all religious. The first was identification with primal forces in conflict: asserting our chosenness. The second was the skill of tuning out: letting go, learning silence. The third was the practice of forgiveness, by force if necessary: silencing resentment. And the last was agnostic obedience, admitting that it’s safer to go with the experts: approaching the font. None has eliminated error and its discomfort, and all are alive and well today.
When we don’t know what we don’t know, it’s very tempting to clamber onto the desert island of opinion and cling to it circled by the sharks of difference. It should come as no surprise that only the deluded want to join us.
Being wrong is in the eyes of the beholder, for whom being right looks like denial. There is a long-established place where rectitude may be permanently undisturbed, where a Big Bloke who knows everything rules uncontested, even supplying an undiminishing number of virgin-dolls to males who gave their lives for the ignorant opinions of slaves to a man from a cave and never questioned the economics of eternally intact flesh-and-blood hymens.
Hastings is a relatively new cemetery which just happens to lie at the appropriate longitude to illustrate the incongruity of conjunctions in ecliptic longitude of bodies which belong in different frames of reference. Its inhabitants began dying in 1856, putting them in the generation which not only abolished slavery, but also sent about 164,000 convicts to the British colonies of Australia, and encouraged them to make comfortable their exile by assuming ownership of Aboriginal song and country. Like the bones history has scattered all over the Earth, they don’t need to make sense, as we do.
The most recent immigrants to our cemeteries and crematoria are of my generation, a coalition of supremacists, stoics, martyrs and submissives which thought to dismantle the communist experiment, give us equal rights for women and people of all ethnicities, and establish a global economy. How are they working out for you? God knows why we’re even talking about rectitude. Nobody’s right, right? But how does that go down with your kids? I guess we’ll find out soon enough, unless denial is so ingrained that we project our guilt onto their cluelessness as what we didn’t deserve.
Hunt around on that desert island surrounded by danger and evil. Somewhere you’ll find a rock, and beneath it a cave. If you go down into it you’ll find yourself in an underground fissure that goes for kilometres. It links to the Hormones Aquifer which flows not only through my heart and beneath the shark-infested sea but under every waterhole, field, workplace and home on the continent. If you crawl and swim far enough and find a way out through the twisted roots of passion, obsession and betrayal, like countless previous shamans and prophets, you will be saved. Emerging from another cave, you will have qualified to announce the prohibitions necessary to keep hormones where they belong. You will be feted as a supernatural being. AI policepersons will be entrusted to exert total control, because being programmed with your rules, they will be immune to human frailty.
One winter night, when Libra is at transit, look south at the spearing of Lupus, imagining it as I do a sheep. You might then be able to agree that the Libran scales of injustice, or trooper’s boot, epitomize the tranquility and insecurity of law in this wide brown land.
…Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, three.
“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”
…Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong
“You’ll never catch me alive,” said he,
And his ghost may be heard, as you pass by that billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”… (Paterson/Macpherson)
Core of my heart, my country! (Mackellar)
Yes! It’s my country too!
I imagine your authority as the first, and perhaps last, voice of a new λóγος, of a world in which oxytocin comes in a bottle, where ‘self-help’ is a tautology and the ‘self’ in ‘self-knowledge’ is on the syllabus, where questions of eternity are settled by the ‘moment’, metaconsciousness has vanished into the graveyard, and the entire human race is corralled in latitudes greater than 40°, where one’s daemon is guaranteed to match what’s available in the marriage market, never lurking more than 30° from the horizon. Confirmation bias is a commodity, and your solipsistic submission is already before the Matrix Determination Committee. The future past is coming, because the truth is what we deserve.