Blue Moon

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We were staying at the Moon River motel in Kempsey. It was the Tuesday before Easter and we had driven for most of the day and ended up here, on the banks of the Macleay River, a wide grey stream with a low further shore where white birds gathered in the shadow of green willows that leaned down over the water there. A spur-winged plover patrolled the grass on the near side, listening intently for bugs in the ground. There was going to be a blood moon but it was cloudy so we didn’t even go outside to look. Moon river, I sang, wider than the sky  but that’s a mondogreen, actually it’s wider than a mile. My version is better but what can you do? I’m sure Sinatra wouldn’t agree. Or maybe he would. Anyway the Macleay wasn’t that broad, it was about a hundred metres across as it shifted silently east towards the Pacific Ocean. All night long I was punching buttons on a key-pad, looking for the wi-fi password to some universal provider. Richard Ford paused briefly in the dream, inclining his head and repeating what he told me once before about how, at a certain point in his parents’ nightly colloquy with each other and the bottle, the tone of their conversation would change, becoming shrill. That was in the Mississippi swamps a long time ago but we were on the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. Next morning I realised that what I thought was a detached fragment of carpet under the table where we ate our breakfast was in fact a dried up curl of duck shit. They must come in sometimes when the door is left open. Nevertheless, in reception, paying, I couldn’t help breaking into song again. She was German, stout, kindly. That’s why I’m here, she said, describing the way moonlight shattered into prismatic golden shards upon the river. We drove away listening to Jimmy Cliff singing Keep Your Eyes On The Sparrow and watching the white egrets comb-searching the backs of cattle for mites, ticks, salt and so forth. In Yamba in the early afternoon we checked into the Pegasus motel. We had been talking about the Guf and the way sparrows carry new born souls and that made me remember Hamlet and the special providence there is in the fall of one; so we looked up Matthew 10:29-30 in Gideon’s Bible and it turned out to be the same passage where it says, in Bob Dylan’s version, every hair is numbered / like every grain of sand. Down the road at Angourie was a place called Spooky Beach so we went there for a swim. Spooky’s Beach, the hand painted sign said. Beware of rips. It was the first ever National Surfing Reserve, proclaimed in 2007. Some kind of stubby palm grew among the banksias just above tide line. I wanted to say pandanus and that is in fact what they were. With a thing like a pineapple that resembles, but is not, breadfruit. The beach was covered with thousands of small round bubbles of sand made by tiny transparent crabs, dotillidae, which filter the grains for morsels of food and leave these extruded pellets behind. There was pumice everywhere, remnants of a 10,000 square mile raft cast up after an undersea eruption on the Havre Seamount near the Kermadecs in July, 2012. Halfway along the beach we came across a driftwood shelter built among the palms. It was square and roofed and open to the sea and there were stone steps leading up to it and a kind of throne within. When I sat upon it I saw that there was a coconut on either hand, their brown matting still wet from the sea; also, in the grass to one side, what looked like human excrement blackening the green around about it. There was no smell but I didn’t want to stay there after that. I went for a cleansing swim instead. They were right about the rips. I kept remembering lines I wrote years ago now, after a body surf at Piha: The rip rips south along the shore / like memory of a death. In the same way the pumice made me think of Lake Taupo. And the throne? Perhaps it was the seat of some hairy sea-god and his delectable mermaid consort. Or the intermittent shelter of some wastrel of the sands. Or the veritable home of Spooky, the surf deity of Angourie, whose goddess is the moon. We saw her the next evening, Maundy Thursday, scattering white light out of a Prussian blue sky over Tallow Beach.

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