Cemetery Road

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There was a guy on the train with a GPS turned up loud, giving him directions to places he could never go. As we came through Hawkesbury River the voice said: At the next roundabout, take the third exit and proceed 300 metres . . . which would have taken him straight out into the deep water off Scotland Island. Maundy Thursday. I was giving a guest lecture to the Sevenies at their college in Coorongbong before going on to Broadmeadow to meet Maggie and travel via CountryLink, First Class, to Casino, and then by bus in the wee small hours down to Byron Bay. The old couple next to us spent the interminable train journey alternately eating and sleeping, she was constantly rustling packets and giving him their contents in a manner that reminded me of when I used to have to feed the chooks. The way his skinny neck kept stretching out for more. Mish met us at dawn at the bus station and drove us up to the house in Cemetery Road; we collapsed into bed and slept until mid-morning. On the bald amputated stem of a staghorn attached to a small tree overlooking the table where we sat outside to smoke and drink, a dragonfly perched, watching us with its big compound eyes. Every now and then it would make a quick, up and sideways motion of his head, as if re-configuring the scene so that its parameters would be complete in whatever data base he was sending the information to. We went out to the festival in the afternoon where, after the disappointment of Ben Harper, in a tent full of people with their faces wet with tears, we sang along to Jimmy Cliff and his band of young Africans who, for this number, all played drums:  So let the words of our mouth / And the dedication of our hearts / Be acceptable in thy sight / O Far I. After this you’d think the Steve Miller band doing Abracadabra, in the same tent, would be an anti-climax but in fact it was as near to perfect as I can imagine a live version of that song being: Abracadabra  . . . I want to reach out and grab you. When we went back to the other tent to hear Rodriguez it was, to say the least, a disappointment. But not the Robert Cray Band, about whom I can say nothing except that they chewed up the minutes in a way that used to be called sublime. With all this and the rain, it was no wonder that afterwards we could not find the car and had to trudge by phone-light through the wet fields past rows and rows of identical looking vehicles until, at last, we found ours far away from where we thought we’d parked it; and then had to return down the muddy track to get Charlie who, at a certain point, refused to move further in any direction. He was right—for him. Next morning the dragonfly bot was still at his station, gathering data, turning his head rapidly this way and that in a resonantly insectivorous manner. After breakfast we walked down Cemetery Road, which really does have a graveyard at one end and, at the other, joins the main road just after passing over a derelict railway line which curves mysteriously away into the lush coastal vegetation as if attempting to arrive at a destination not of this world. Maggie took a photo of it and later super-imposed upon it another image she’d taken, at a festival in the Blue Mountains, of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, with guitar, looking somehow coeval with Blind Lemon Jefferson or maybe I mean Blind Willie McTell. In cyanotype. We crossed Old Bangalow Road and climbed up a short dead end street and found a track through to the beach beyond; there was a taste of salt on the air and the subdued mutter of waves upon the as yet unseen shore. The track came out at a wide lagoon of black water where hidden water birds called from among the pale green reeds and, on the further shore, a dirty and dishevelled young man was performing some ritual with a stick that he moved hieratically through the air. Clearly he was either mad or drugged but probably harmless. We walked on through the dunes and out onto the delirious sweep of Tallow Beach, running away north to the lighthouse and south as far as the eye could see through sea-spume and salt-haze and light dazzling off the waves. Maggie pursued with her camera a blue heron through the branches of a dead tree lying fallen onto the sand while I took off all my clothes and ran into the choppy, violent, broken surf, catching a series of waves that pummelled me shoreward as if under the wrenching hands of a sadistic masseuse. So there were mornings on Tallow Beach, days of surveillance at Cemetery Road, nights under the rainy canvases at the Festival, listening to Betty La Vette and Mavis Staples and Taj Mahal but not Tony Joe White and not Iggy Pop and not Wilco; because however good the acts might be you can only do so much in three days. And after all this we found out, just before I took a Greyhound bus south and left the rest of them to it, that surveillance was not what the dragonfly bot was about, it was romance: late on the last morning he joined his skinny wrinkled blue abdomen to that of a plump young greeny female and, in the rain sweeping over the palms from the sea, they flew away together into the bliss that was promised at the end of the disused railway line running at right angles across Cemetery Road and away into forever.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Cemetery Road

  1. me

    Thanks Richard – & for American music. Quality of playing at BB was superb.

  2. absolutely and utterly beautiful writing. three cheers for the love of dragonflies!

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