empty of future, renew the sign: lucent paradox, ineluctable trace ...


ludwig & the death masque of shagspear

Marie Antoinette walks under trees, across brown dry curled up autumn leaves, towards the Palace of Versailles. We don't know what year it is, only that it was before 1793. It's not her fault, any more than her Hapsburg nose; but when we go close on the leaves we find they are actually dry curled up bodies of men & women incinerated in some historical catastrophe or other. We don't know what year it was, only that it is after 1793. Exactly 54 years later an indigent painter, having given up his job at the court of the archduke in order to nurse his sick half brother, Karl, buys in a second hand shop in Mainz a picture of a poet on his death bed, wearing laurels, with a tall thin candle burning by the bedstead. The small painting, oil on linen, is in a kind of fold-up wallet & bears the caption: Shakespeare. And a date, 1637. The painter, distraught at the languishing of his brother, from typhoid, becomes obsessed with the painting; he believes it is after an earlier work with the same subject, or perhaps even from a death mask. When he learns that there was, in the same collection that the painting came from, a plaster head, he begins a search for it in the antique & second hand shops of Mainz. Two years later, in the shop of man named Wilz, he finds it, buried under rags and other surplus stuff, & very dirty. He believes this to be the death mask of Shakespeare, as well as the inspiration for the painting. There is a date on the back, 1616. He thinks it will make his fortune. He takes the cast to England, where another half brother, Ernst, has been appointed the intimate companion & secretary to Prince Albert. The death mask of Shakespeare is celebrated in London, it is even exhibited at the British Museum; but since no-one can work out how it came to be in Germany in the first place, it is not authenticated & no-one, not even the Museum, will pay the 5000 pounds he wants for it. The painter, also a naturalist, attends a scientific conference in Edinburgh & travels in the Highlands. Later, his friend & patron, the zoologist Kaup, lends him the money to go to the Antipodes. He sails via Rio de Janeiro to Van Diemens Land, where he is valued for his skills at conversation & his expertise in the arts & sciences. After the gold rush he goes to Victoria, prospecting on the Bendigo fields & finding there enough gold to repay Kaup. Later he joins high society in Melbourne, & later still is appointed official artist on an Expedition of Discovery into the Interior, during which, persecuted by the Irish policeman who leads the party, he dies, aged fifty-two; though not before executing some luminous watercolours that still seem to tell of a world hithertofore unapprehended. In December the same year (1861) Prince Albert also dies & the indigent painter's half brother Ernst, lacking employment, returns to Germany, as does Shakespeare's death mask. It will be another hundred and fifty years before anyone dares authenticate it & even then there will be skeptics; by which time it will be known that the small oil painting shows, not Shakespeare, but Ben Jonson on his death bed. Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette moves slowly towards the palace, her delicate shoes crunching over the corpses of leaves, unconcerned, indeed oblivious, as to whether she is walking into or out of history.


The (Un)Imaginable Future

for SKR

1. Baboon, we have travelled far ...

Look closely at a human embryo within a womb & you will find a cloud of retroviruses swarming the placenta, the remnants of an ancient infection. Without viruses, we might still be laying eggs. For protection, a single layer of an embryo's cells merges into a continuous barrier, a syncytium. Where embryologists spotted spheroid retroviruses budding from cells in a baboon placenta, 30 years ago. A viral gene was making a protein, syncytin, that caused human placental cells to fuse. An artificial molecule, a morpholino, prevented embryos from making the cell fusing proteins. Most inherited viruses are muffled versions of the original infectious forms. The missing viruses vanished when the inherited forms prevented reproduction within the host. HIV may finally be conquered by ancient biological means. It could even lead to a new human species. These few nonprogressors could go on to form the new species. We have the capacity to prevent it being an evolutionary event for the first time.

2. Refugia

Europe is off the hook. The North Atlantic Ocean system ferrying warm water northwards from the tropics is not about to shut down. The warm interglacial period that began when the Ice Age started to wane 17,000 years ago is nearly at an end. Plant & animal species can survive trying times by retreating to safe havens or refugia—places as small as a sheltered valley or a mountain top. Phylogeographers work from both ends—past & present—to determine what species might do in the future. Refugia were the source of colonisation by plants & animals after the Ice Age. The world’s deserts, from Africa & Asia to Australia, have been virtually ignored. In the wet tropics, the climatic & biological requirements of many different species have been determined, & where they held out in the past. The secret is to combine paleo data with genetic information about living species.

3. The Return of the Trees

Forests are increasing across the world after centuries of being destroyed. The increase is most rapid in Spain & the Ukraine, the decrease quickest in Nigeria & the Philippines. The great gains are in China & the United States. Brazil & Indonesia are losing the most. This great reversal could stop the styling of Skinhead Earth & by 2050, expand global forests by 10% or 300 million hectares, the area of India. Where forest coverage is stable. Forests expanded in Europe after the Black Death & diminished again in the Age of Exploration. French forestry records dating back to the Middle Ages show an arboreal renaissance unaffected by population increases. Wealth is an indicator in reversing deforestation. All countries with a GDP per capita higher than Chile’s ($US4600.00) have increased their forest cover since 1990. Replanting in China offsets Brazil’s annual loss of 3.1 million hectares. Indonesia felled a vast area of forest but harvested less timber than the US, which gained growing stock. The main danger to forests is fast-growing, poor populations who burn wood to cook, sell timber for cash & fell trees to plant crops. Harvesting biomass for fuel forestalls the restoration of land to nature.

4. Archaeology of the Brain

Above ground testing of nuclear bombs between 1955 & 1963 led to a big increase of radioactive carbon-14 in the atmosphere around the globe. Levels have since tapered off as the carbon-14 was absorbed by the oceans, plants & animals. A person born in 1963 has twice as much carbon-14 in their system as someone born in 1999. This carbon-14 bomb spike provides a unique opportunity to date human tissue. Carbon-14 levels in the DNA of cells reflect atmospheric levels at the time the cells were born. Levels in the neurons from all areas of the cerebral cortex are as high as the atmospheric levels at the time of each individual’s birth. Neurons of the cerebral cortex are thus the ones you were born with. We don’t make new neurons in this decision making region of the brain. Having a permanent population of cells that store information about language, maths & logic over a lifetime may be better than growing new naïve cells that have not been exposed to years of experience, as is the case with fish & frogs. Human muscle cells are fifteen years old, bone, ten years, liver, two, red blood cells, 120 days, outer skin layer, two weeks, gut lining cells, five days; unlike your hippocampus, which regenerates, your front brain is the same age as you are.

Baboon ... adapted from: The Australian, 1.11.06;

Refugia adapted from: The Australian, 8.11.06;

The Return of the Trees adapted from: The Australian, 22.11.06;

Archaeology of the Brain adapted from: The Sydney Morning Herald, 14.12.06.


every cloud ...

Just heard from AUP that they will publish a collection of shorter pieces of mine, under the title Waimarino County, in May next year. This is the image I'd like to see on the cover:

It's maybe not clear, but that's a photo taken from one stage coach of another, further on down the Tohunga Road on the south-western slopes of Ruapehu, the mountain you can see above the bushline ahead. I grew up not far away from here, to the left of the picture as you look at it, in the 1950s ... but this image is from the early 1900s, about a century ago from now.



the fire, the long ice.
Antic clashing among the shadowy rocks. At the beginning, before what would be. After the ice, water. Abracadabras of flannel flowers, doves erupting from the sleeve of god. Apples of Sodom. Arrival of the always that went everywhere. Après le déluge … a forgetting, a wandering wondering where are the true states of mind. Among the myriad that we pass through, or that pass through us, each minute, hour, day, which are real? Areal?

forgetting is remembering. Before remembering, mind. Before mind … god? Bruised beyond redemption, broken in pity, biblical. Besotted, fearful, today you remember everything. Bountiful memory! Bright lie! Begin at the beginning and go all the way to the end that has not yet come. Bolder than bold, blacker than black, botched or not, the whole kit and caboodle stretches out before and behind you. Both the track and the tears; both landscape and inscape.

it be so? Child of god, where do you wonder? Can you say or is it a conundrum without issue? Cordillera in the consciousness, cliffs of fall, concussive recitative … let us wander the shores of unknown seas. Cross into the beyond of yesterday, that future lost forever in the past. Criminal, coeval, conspiratorial, caught. Carelessly scattering the vowels and consonants that hithertofore we have clung to, or exchanged. Clouds of unknowing call us.

is the fate of those who abandon god. Does the same apply to we who have been abandoned by god? Do you know the answer to this riddle, strange traveller? Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori. Don’t forget: the last refuge of a scoundrel. Days and nights in the wilderness. Daguerreotypes of ghosts never before seen, never seen again. Down is the name of a country we cannot live in or leave. Delights of paradise whispered in the ears of the damned.

mass at the doors of perception. Endlessly suggestive of that which might have been, might yet be. Eidetic, erogenous, never less than weird. Except that … who can say what form a phantom or a spectre might take when seen from the other side of forever? Eye of god, inhuman, pitiless, empty of sentiment, stark as the last sunlight on Girdlestone peak … execrable. Exiting that gaze into the malign uncertainties of our own, they persuade us of the existence of angels.

there was nothing. Finally, nothing again. From then to now to when, what? Fandangos of god’s superlative elegance, or the finangling of demons? Fricassees of atomic moles, genetic soup, hollow cell membranes frozen inside meteors dropping into Canadian lakes. Fur flies in the north. Fivestones. Fissile material. From the far reaches, a murmur of voices, cosmic weeping at the margins of the black forest, the black ocean, the black sky. For what did we come? For why?

’s blood runs in your veins. God’s wounds are your wounds. God’s gonads too. Gnomon of the inarticulate sun, guide of the lost, globule of the death star. Given that these are your words, is this then your world? Going towards followed by coming away from. Ground of meaning turned over to an archaeology of exchange in which the other is always substituted for the one. Gloss of an expunged text, grisaille of infinity, cadaver of the perfected body.

is the absence of god. Here and now, you suffer all possible torments. Hush-a-bye baby on the tree top. Hoarstones trouble your sleep, the nightmare shrieks down the alleys of your mind. Hope there is in both hopeful and hopeless. Happiness cannot be pursued, not any longer. However it comes, that is how it will go. Higher than light, into the hypnagogia, that sphere beyond spheres, your haploid self ascends. Head in hand, hand to heart, heart in mouth, mouthing.

accused of unspeakable acts in the forum, sent into exile. Ithyphallic god of nomads at the edge of the Imperium. Isinglass, mica, finings, glue. In this wine we drown, by this ivy we are strangled, on this isthmus we shall forever stray. Irrefragable, the doom written in the irade: I do not wish ever to hear his name again. In that moment, a chorus of sighs rose from all around, the voices of stones saying over and over again the one impossible word, incunabula of his loss.

lives. Jesters unique as kings, one for each. Joking aside, there is no other way of understanding the loneliness of regency. Journeying, sharing the jeroboam, the fool and the monarch shudder to an alcoholic halt under jacinth skies. Jimson weed sends you blind. Jiving with Jesus sends you … just a closer walk with thee … through this world mysterious and vague … Juxtapose half of six billion with their other halves, what do you get? … juvenescence of the year/Came Christ the tiger.

was something he was always out of, in the same way that he was never kempt. Kissed the Blarney Stone, lying on his back and stretching out over the void to place his lips where god could not reach them. Knew that he would never be lost for words again. Keening. Killing him softly with their song. Kurdaitcha man came one night, stole a kidney, since then, the other has been working overtime. K.O. is O.K. backwards. Kilometres to go before we sleep.

late walking in the aisles of rain. Light of evening, Lissadell. Lissom, lubricious, licit … lost. Limbo of libido, Limpopo of lust exiled to the dead heart, limit of thought, god’s lying end. Landloper’s song fades past Tungsten Gate where Xanthe waits no more at the caravanserai. Loveless, lovelorn, lovesick, yet still you love. Lustra pass. Luteous years, tawny with longing. Later, after the rain and the tears and the night’s white sighs, you learn again how to listen.

paths, through coral, through mind, winding. My god, my god, why hast though forsaken me? Meaning does not inhere. Memory wastes. Materiality fades in the face of the monstrance. Moon, moraine, monosyncline, monsoon. Make of this what you can, for it is certain that you will (l)anguish without protection once god has died. Moreover, he dies again each time he is denied. Mons veneris, unclimbable. Mourning. Miracle is not to have been born at all.

reflect upon diplomatic slights, remembered for centuries. Nuncupate wills bequeath only resentment. No-one knows how to end the blood feud between god and the gods. Nor even God himself … not love that I’m running from, just the heartache I know will come. Nepenthes priced beyond your range, nates of loss, neuralgia of the wizened hand. Never again, never before, never more, never never. Nymph in thy orisons … Now anticipates next, next recalls last.

of the masses, law of the discarded middle, oxygen of love, orisons, torsions … O.K. means orl korrect (joc.). On the far side of the ocean, a chemical sea, washing the ferrous sand with its salts. Oleaginous life, clinging to the margins. O western wind, when wilt thou blow? Omphalos. Omit no time. Oligocene to now, epoch of the primates. Opus terminus of the god of all this … order. Or chaos, whichever you prefer. Orb and oblate of the orient. Enceinte.

of all England, a monkey in robes, wearing a mitre. Primordial delusion, priapic vanity, primum mobile. Perhaps it is time to leave the gods to their own devices, perhaps god’s away on business. Pulsars at the furthest edge of the universe engage his attention. Persuasion will do no good, prayer is useless, promises will not be kept. Puer aeternis in a gavotte with a senescent priest. Pinions engage the clockwork of creation. Plangent, placid, all but played out.

of the imaginary, quatorzain of love, quaternary delusion. Quite why we are here nobody really knows. Quantity or quality remains an incommensurable choice. Quavery voice of the aeons proclaims the eternal recurrence of all things. Questions without answers, answers without questions. Quandary: quarks quark, queers queer, quid or quiddity, who knows? Qur’an is god’s last book? Quiet of evening, stillness of water, faint braille of stars on black quilt of sky.

retreats of ice recall earlier epochs, a watery world. Radio love broadcasts on all frequencies, without ratiocination. Railways run to the end of the earth, a train leaves the last platform and climbs into the sky. Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascals … three, three the rivals. Rapturing in a ratskeller. Raucous birds calling from the future, the one god will not see. Reptiles wore feathers in the Jurassic, a rubefaction of time. Rehearsal for undermining, catastrophic reprise.

in the garden, saying: Ye shall not surely die. Seismic shift, shatter of bones, eyes opening on the unseen. Saying: Seek and ye shall find. Serein, falling from a cloudless sky, at evening. Saraband or serenade, swansdown of sublunary light, skin sere like old leather. Shofar sounds on the baked plains of Jericho, walls do not fall. Sheer drop, shot silk, satin and lace. Seductive world, how not to eat of god’s apple? Sea pink, sea kale, sea angel, sea horse. Silver and gold.

of gods, who shall we examine first? Take which fiction to task? Tragacanth for the holy spirit will come, by tumbrel, from the west. Twice told tales of fathers and sons. Tryst or triste? Tomb of reality, trapeze without net, machine without a ghost: this Universe. Tuberous spring, tubercular summer, tumult of autumn, winter of total war. Tessera to enter the Coliseum, where tranced men and beasts contend. Tertian fever. Trumpery of a tired theology.

dark. Understanding nothing but, yes, standing under the stars. Unreal City, the capital of Ultima Thule. Unmarked trams spark through the murk, rendezvousing with the Underground at Central. Until you have been unsexed you will not know god’s uttermost ecstasy. Utopia the last stop on the suburban line. Uvular speech. Usurious, uxorious, useless man. Undine spoke last of all, what she said made no sense to anyone not already a water nymph.

inspection of Earth discloses conditions inimical to life as they know it. Verglas clogs in their lungs. Viruses insinuate themselves into their DNA, visiting the future by proxy. Vaster than empires and more slow. Voluptuous time, veridical miracle. Vomer broken by a blow to the face. Vulgarity of blood on god’s lips. Vatic speech interrupted in the forum by an irruption of Goths, Huns, Vandals. Vulcanized rubber on wheels of carts trundling towards eternity.

glazed with yellow light on god’s last afternoon in the world. Worth every minute, it was. Wandered into the Wendy house, looking for laughter. Wasn’t there. When, when and whenever death closes our eyelids … We cannot say why, nor can we stop asking. Wolfram mined in dark valleys, welded to make the adamantine gates, out in the autonomous zone. Whirled beyond the stars, wreathed in sorrow, wrecked. Wraiths at his wittering lips, awaiting the end.

heartless, unfaithful, beautiful, where did you go? Xoanon of some mysterious god, fallen from heaven, worshipped by barbarians, why? X marks the spot where I wept for you, the yellow acids of the earth staining my skin. Xenophobes gather under the portico, announcing my exile. X rays of my heart show a blackened core, drier than dust. Xeroxs of you proliferate everywhere I go, copies of copies of copies, each generation a little more blurred than the last.

yare, good Iras; quick.
Ytterbium or yttrium? You cannot say where in the lanthanides this silvery or greyish metal occurs. Years later, we come again to the yarborough where no number over nine is admitted. Yardbirds rehearse their back and forth, endlessly. Youth is wasted on the young; yet how could it be otherwise? Yawing of a yacht from its course; yaws, passed venereally, colouring the skin red. Yes, anticipate the godly light. Y chromosome, yearning for an X.

tanner, a sixpence for her shoe ... Zener cards prove that intuition exists, zig-zagging through consciousness like an unused road. Zenith of possibility, zen of nullity, immured in the zenana. Zodiacal light in the east, tall triangle, after sunset. Zircon nights we danced heedlessly away, in another time, before we lost each other unaccountably and forever. Zygote of the single flight, zeroth of love, gamin inexistent and desired as god, unzip my chest and so remove my heart.



Sometimes in dreams you meet people who seem to all intents and purposes, real. And I'm not talking about succubi, not this time. It was up in Paddington, I was working a shift, but had for some reason taken a break. At the bar of a hotel in Oxford Street, ordering a (soft) drink. She came up beside me, smiled and suggested I ask her out sometime. To a movie or a dance. So I did.

She was slender and small, though not tiny. Later that same evening we were walking together in another part of Oxford Street, holding hands. Her hands were different from each other, the left was littler and a bit wizened, the right fuller and smoother. A close friend of mine was with us, I knew she was looking at us holding hands and wondering what it meant.

Later still, back at the cab, which was in fact my own car, parked under dark trees near the Paddington Town Hall, I said, yes, I'll take you back to Elurea. This meant somehow fitting her pushbike into the boot of the car, but we managed it. And off we went. The final image of the dream was a map reference, Elurea, far to the south of the City, north facing, on the shores of the Georges or the Hacking River. I woke with a strong sense of the sweetness of person of this nameless woman. Wanting to see her again. Absurd as that sounds.

So I went to my Sydway for a look in the south ... the suburb that corresponds to the map in the dream is Illawong, somewhere I've never been, a place I was only vaguely aware of, on the south bank of the Georges River. Yesterday, it's true, I was looking at Sydney's outer suburbs, but I was looking in the north: at Glossodia, Ebenezer, Sackville, Maroota and Fiddlertown.

Then, I googled the dream name, trying various spellings: both Illuria and Eluria are places with established, if fictive, existences, so I settled on the spelling above, even though, in the dream, I thought it was probably Illuria we were going to.

How now will I find my way back to Elurea? And, when I do, will she be waiting there for me? By the wharves, perhaps, at the end of Letter Box Lane?