Monday, January 14, 2008

Jeffrey Harpeng: A KNIFE IN THE HEAD

From K Road to the wind-eddied Post Office square, Queen Street is strung like a flying fox cable. In Post Office square a mime is Falcon Scott advancing against a catabatic wind. Amundsen has already reached the pole and returned and caught the ferry home, across the Waitemata to a bungalow in Devonport.

The mime in Post Office square straightens with pneumatic smoothness, shifts gear and bows, elegant as a Musketeer. Children in the front row are tickled by the great feather in his hat. That exaggerated feather duster sweep is the on your mark to me, up on Karangahape Road. There I am reaching for the crossbar of the flying fox wheel that glides the cable’s sagging arc.

Before you get to glide you could get fronted outside a late night café. ‘Would you like to make a threesome?’

Just as the wheel gets up whirr on the theoretical rope, I pass the Theosophical Society and drop ballast from my diving belt. How easily I forgot I was wearing that. From then on I continue passing the Theosophical Society Hall, and don’t quite get past that Edwardian edifice. Did I just see Krishnamurti closing the door? If I let go I will not float, for I did not get past the first joke in the levity handbook. My heart is low on helium.

Theosophical Hall
lights out… its silences
locked in

Just recovered from a dizzy fall, the Fee Fi Fo Fum giant stands, groggily looking south. His feet are in the harbour behind the Custom House Ferry Terminus, across the road from Post Office square. His gaze is toward the crest of K Rd and beyond. Half a sprawling city south the ashes of the travel stop café crest the distant Bombay Hills. The view beyond is foreshortened in a squint. All the sleepy suburbs between have been switched off tonight and Manukau Harbour’s mudflatness is dark as an iris.

the moon clouds over
itself wrinkled
in the harbour

Gazing south, latitudes at a time, one blink to the mesmerised flow of the Waikato: a film of luminous clouds poured over a dark mirror. Huntley power plant, smoking black cigars, puts on a front of cubist indifference. A flutter further, the giant’s remote gazing views a great lake, then winks past a line of snow capped volcanoes pretending to be liner funnels steaming south through an ocean of fog. They struggle through geological time to reach a harbour city where the wind struggles to remember some ancient melody as it rushes tunelessly over hills and across the harbour. Whetukairangi*, wakeful at the harbour mouth, feels the giant’s gaze, and almost turns from the light tattoo of stars on the black skin of night. Then there is water and more hills and clouds.

The giant, back behind the Custom House, gazes and listens for a squawking goose. There are flickers of gold in the far off rivers, as far south as the Shotover where the goose pecked gravel for nuggets. There is not a sound from prospectors buried in rough graves or from all the Chinamen dug up and shipped home for a reburial where the immortals might whisper into their bony earhole and their dry bones be stirred by those sweet nothings. They soak sea water. They were lost at sea, shipwrecked off the Hokianga, far to the north.

mouths full of earth
the ancients

The giant is titanically pensive, attentive for the squawk of his golden goose. He hears only the useless honk of a lone moa among the primeval sprawl of beech forests. Somewhere in Arthurs Pass it seems to be, but his hearing isn’t what it used to be! Other than extinct moa he hears sweet nothing.

A couple of gargantuan paces out under the giant’s gaze the flying fox whirrs through ghostly traffic. Raise your eyes and you can see storm clouds gathering under the giants kilt, which hangs more awesome than any cinema curtain. P T Barnum would turn in his grave and raise himself to draw the curtain for that show.

Behind some door, along some off-street corridor, in a downstairs space, my left ear hears a projector’s clatter. Cinema buffs flicker, watching foreign flicks with characters that run into each other while out shopping, then merge with the shoppers outside on Friday night. Some wander down past Aotea Square where a band is playing anthems for the shaky isles. All the sheet glass around here is nervous, haunted by the ghost of riots past. Farmers enlisted for the occasion and police on horseback advance on watersiders. Tenuous as a few lines of history they get lost in the traffic.

Wind is whistling round my heart, coming down the chimney, between the timbers of this old house. I am not a house. There is a house, there are houses in me, large as life and small as memory. What does it mean, that there are untrue ways of saying true things. Somebody is knocking at the door.

I glide the flying fox cable, past the chemist shop built into the back of a palatial cinema constructed in an Art Nouveau cum Arcadian blend. Indian gods nap in alcoves in the foyer, Baghdad balconies are halfway to the starry ceiling above the stalls. When Bruno Ganz, on the silver screen, enters the building where he gets a knife in the head, he is entering the back room of the chemist shop to get his script filled: a knife in the head for the irritating memories, and a powder for the headache. For the rest of the film he’s trying to piece together what happened, and where his life was when he went. The chemist slipped a tincture of drama in Bruno’s script, a tincture of unknown danger, and a deep amnesia at the facts we’ve passed and haven’t arrived at yet.

after the movie
coffee steam drifts
to nirvana

Tributaries of streets and lanes feed down to Queen Street, a witching hour dry gulch prone, by day, to flash floods of traffic that wash memories and dreams away. Dipped headlights ride the gleaming tarmac.

Up Vulcan Lane a bluesman slide fingers a gleaming Dobro and chugs through ‘Jezuz is on thee main lion, tell him watch you want. My Jezuz is on the main lion, tell him watch you want. You can call him up and tell him watch you want.’

summer afternoon
in the pubs long shadow
we listen to the blues
drink shandies
drink coke on ice

There’s an archaeology, comatose below the bitumen and concrete floors, the wreck of a sunken shop, pylons of old wharves under a tide of landfill. An unsprung bell from over a haberdashery door is mute with mud. Unglazed bricks are leached by time’s runoff seeping down into the forgotten. Even with your feet firmly on the ground, the memory of that does not seep up into you.

Finally I glide to an exclamation mark in front of the Custom House. After that long glide, that migratory flight, my thoughts have lost their equilibrium. Nothing new there, but worse than that, now I want to squawk, to honk, to lay golden eggs. I need a word with Freud about all this.

Two great hands descend. One plucks me up, and places me in a pouch in the other hand. At that handy altitude I spy a glance of beanstalk at the giants back, then scan all the vertigo around.

post office
clock face and the moon
yellow with time

Swaying in the soft leather pouch I constantly pinch my nose, purse my lips and blow to depressurise, and struggle against the drug of memory, that other knife in the head.

a street mime
climbs a rope of air finds
there is no more

by Jeffrey Harpeng
Macgregor, Queensland, Australia
first published in Quarter Past Sometime (PostPressed), 2007

Note: Whetukairangi – Star Gazer

1 comment:

Owen Bullock said...

Hi Jeff,

I enjoyed this haibun. It seemed a little self-conscious at the beginning, but then it took off, gained in confidence. I find that the prose in haibun often doesn't hold my attention. Sometimes I long for a bit more colour - I suppose I like some drama in there. Your use of the imagination provides this.

I liked the expression 'shaky isles' and the anthropomorphism that comes next would normally lose me, but anything is possible in this piece of work, like the reference to Freud at the end. The moas didn't seem out of place either; I was happy to travel with you.

One thing I didn't quite get was this haiku:

mouths full of earth
the ancients

I suppose there should be an apostrophe at the end of 'ancients'. Another option might be to use the word 'opine' in the last line.

Owen Bullock