This is my summons of a dream, my dream of a summons. To the other side of the mountains you must go. There, Joseph Conrad waits. The town is flat, dusty, brown. A dusty inland town in the wastes of Gondwanaland. The address is wrong. One hundred and ten El Camino Real . . . there’s no such place. I walk down the street parallel. Dark pigment stains the adobe red, green, black. Murals on the walls of all the houses. Through a door I see in the ochre light these paintings the colours of earth. A woman turns, smiling. Her body is a deer pierced by arrows. Through the arcade and back to El Camino. A friend joins me, together we search. A woman approaches, the same one older or another, I do not know. She takes my friend’s hand and draws her into the cool dark. Joseph Conrad lies back on the big bed, his head monumental, his expression grave. He tells my friend: I have met the Irish every place I’ve been. Welcome, I am glad you came. She sits on a wooden chest against the wall. The woman stands on the other side of the bed, before a draped window; perhaps she is two women. In the swell of whitish light it is hard to tell. Joseph Conrad is lighting a cigar. I look at my feet. Cracked shoes, yellow painted boards. Why have I come? I belong to another century, a later one. Now I am here there is nothing to say. He lies back on the pillows smoking his cigar. The head, monumental, the expression, grave. Perhaps it was not Joseph Conrad but someone else? No, this man was neither blind nor a librarian. He was a retired sea captain.
There was something I was trying to recall. A newspaper article about a hulk in Tasmania, once under the command of Joseph Conrad. Money was being sought to restore it. The Otago . . . I began. He shook his head. No questions, he said. The details of my life are gathered like the shards of a great mirror in which destiny will be revealed. It is not so. Nothing is revealed. The cigar fumes were making my friend uncomfortable. She said to the woman: Could I have a glass of water please? The women took a hand each. Come with us, they said. I was alone with Joseph Conrad. He drew on his cigar. Blue smoke layered the air, drifting toward the white window. The translucent drapes belled. Oceans of paper, he said. Voyaging on. I lived at a time when kings were dying. We saw the ends of the earth. Contracted to a sphere. It was necessary to reinvent infinity. I had not thought him contemporary with Einstein, Apollinaire. C’est vrai. He wrote letters in French, books in English. In what language did he think? The man with the piano, I said. On the dock at Circular Quay. An Englishman. You spoke together for an hour. You were a young officer on a darkened deck. You never saw his face. His name was Senior. The great head inclined forward once, acknowledging—what? That he had heard? Remembered? We return to every place we ever were, he said. Oceans of paper, voyaging on. It is necessary to invoke eternity.
The globe is small. It stands on three plastic legs, on the dresser before the dusty window. Outside, paint peels from a yellow wall. The sky is radiant, blue as ink. This is where we wake up. Sometimes it is dark, sometimes there are small brown stars we cannot name. Bats screeching in the avocado tree. Cats squalling in the laneway. Here blood threads our flesh with longing. Here is where we leave from on our inland journeys. We go together, or alone. It has happened that we set out for different places, only to find each other there. Other times we go nowhere. Comatose. Sunk in our bodies as into dank earth. Choking on flints, mumbling over bones, thirsting. Then water rises and we overflow, running into each other like underground rivers, sourceless springs. How do I know this is you beside me? How do I know it is me? There is no chest here, only the dresser, the mirror, the racks of clothes. The bed where we lie dreaming or awake, mingled or apart. The globe. I ask that the two women come forward as witnesses. In the works of Joseph Conrad you will not find them written, nor any mention of my friend, myself. Only Mr Senior is real. Leaning on a crate in the half-dark at semi-circular quay he smokes a cigar and converses with a man he cannot see. Wide-ranging, far-reaching, their words drift out towards the stars. We turn and turn. Sometimes we are one, sometimes two, sometimes many. Each night is an ocean. Waking, we find a shore, ochre and blue. We set out, maps in the palms of our hands.
from : Waimarino County (& other excursions) (AUP, 2007)