Sunday, April 29, 2012

Khe Sanh & The DMZ

The next day we bought onto a day long DMZ tour. As is often the case with such tourist packages it was poorly conducted from the beginning. The inclusive breakfast was pretty ordinary but worse still it was served in a terrible room. A long, narrow and dirty space with no windows that seemed to be housed within a former hospital ward…or a prison. Our guides were trying very hard to pretend that it was a restaurant. I tried to order a coffee and they didn’t have any apparently so I tried to order a coke. First I was given a warm can of some local weirdo soda, which I declined. I am all about exploring the wondrous mysteries of Vietnam cuisine, but I draw the line at exploring their bad interpretations of crappy Western confections. I was pretty grumpy about the whole situation. I explained to the guide that I could not understand why we had to eat such poor food in a country where there was superb food everywhere you went. You can get amazing local food whilst standing on a corner huddled under a tent or sidled up in a large crevasse in a wall section of some crumbly building. There wasn’t much she could do but look embarrassed. We both knew she was just doing her job. Somebody much higher up was responsible for this con-job tourist trap.

The main reason I signed on for this tour was so that I could go and see the former US Marine and later Air Cav base, Khe Sanh. It made its way into Vietnam War era consciousness because it was an isolated base like something from a Western movie. A frontier fort surrounded by thick jungle and the NVA. A siege unfolded as intelligence came back that one elite NVA division after another were staging in the surrounding jungle for an attack. LBJ made his chiefs of staff promise that they would hold Khe any cost. A base manned by a generation of marines so full of pride in their own institutionalised toughness that they didn’t even dig in properly. Most of their bunkers couldn't withstand a mortar round. I had read Michael Herr's 'Dispatches' in the weeks leading up to my visiting Khe Sanh. Herr starts the third chapter of his book with an in-depth section on Khe Sanh so I had the place and its war history richly drawn in my imagination. Visually it was a bit of an anti-climax when we actually got there after two & a half hours of slow climb through the Central Highlands. When the US forces finally abandoned the base they destroyed anything significant that might be used as propaganda by the NVA.

The remains of the old airstrip are fenced off to protect silly tourists like me from getting blown up by mines or unexploded bombs. Our guide told us that on average 50 Vietnamese people a month are killed or injured by mines and other live ordnance. After all these years the Vietnam war is still raging away for many people.

The most remarkable thing about the Khe Sanh site for me was the quiet. I guess one imagines that the ghostly reverb of past battles might still echo on the wind...and in fact I'm now going to go in a different direction to which I intended when I commenced this sentence, because I realise now there was a presence. In the quiet breeze rustling through the underbrush and tall grasses in the centre of the old base: the faint echo of all the fear and fighting...the immeasurable violence mixed with human traits— little displays of emotion by humans bound together in times of extreme adversity. But it's dominated by death...just death and its long painful memory drawn out on the wind like a wire or a bow drawn to breaking...quivering like that for years afterwards...all that energy and tension — all the lost dreams and lives flashed out of being. It was still there. I understand it now. Sad and lonely...something lost and confused walking mournful circles in the red soil beneath the clay filled mountainside.

Inside the Khe Sanh museum the walls are covered with childish propaganda displays. Photographs of Marines doing different things: climbing aboard a helicopter "US Marines panic to flee vicious death", digging latrine trenches "US Marines try to desperate escape futility of battle", on patrol in the DMZ "US Marines fall away in blind surrender at their panic stations" and on and on like that. I guess somehow I thought it would be like the Diggers and Johnny Turk. Telling each other that they were brave and noble even when they were doing unspeakable things. I re-read what I just wrote and it is merely a different brand of absurdity.

I found myself getting strangely annoyed at the propaganda. But why should I care if they lie to their people about what actually happened? If they glossed over a few facts here and there to tell the Great Story better. Do Australians do any different? All my Diggers are sun drenched warrior-poets falling over themselves to kill their enemies quickly and with respect. Frank and curious eyes full of love with hands of flaming steel. This mythologising is not a Vietnamese trait or an Australian, US or English trait. It is just a human trait.

The DMZ looks different today but it is all still out there...on an alternative frequency...humming away... madness.

Monday, April 23, 2012

In the Evening of the Flesh

In the evening of the flesh and all that sorrow that is swept alongside it and sad first times of doubt and recognition of life’s passing and traveling with no hands on the wheel and the seed of doubt that grows a tree of your own demise — following around in all our backyards, glinting in the moonlight to be known — but we ignore it  as it rises up above the yard above the house, towers above the death of childhood essence and before you know it you are old and see it reflected in the faces of the youth who look upon you as if you had been born this way, as if they were the first to know youngness — that there is only youngness and no real grasp of what lies in wait for them
Fill me with forgiveness because it was only yesterday kind sir that I too wondered how long I had been young and tree glowering in the sweltering summer sun breathes its sad refrain all over us a-woosha-a-woosha and this too shall pass and all must be turned again to swirl and mirl —
Irrevocable spin into tomorrow; we search out tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow—
Thinking that days end and that days don’t end — that there is only today and all days and no days and that’s no matter because your light is off in space and I suppose that atomic ray is a type of immortality as it slow beats its boat out into forever.

Apologies to: Shelton Lea, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Enid Blyton.

Listening to: Crisis - UK 79

Monday, April 16, 2012

Titanic 100 Years.

I was always fascinated by the Titanic. At about five years of age I realised my birthday was on the same date that the Titanic sank. I felt a special connection with the story which was heightened at the time by the fact that nobody knew where the wreck lay. It seemed to a child's imagination that the great ship had simply dissapeared from the world. Things that vanished without a trace held a special place in the pantheon of my childhood imaginings. When I wanted to impress the adults gathered at my Mum and Dad's house I would ask them if they wanted to hear about the Titanic. I would reel off all the facts that I had memorised until my Mum rescued her guests from me. People searched for the wreck but their primitive vessels imploded before they could descend to the ocean floor nearly four kilometers down. I was obsessed with seeing her found so I designed a submarine that would be filled with water, opperated by adventurers in scuba gear and could, to my non-existent grasp of physics, withstand the enormous pressure at that depth.

Yesterday it was 100 years ago that the great ship sank beneath the chilling dark waters of the North Atlantic ocean. It was a special birthday for me anyway. I got lots of love from all over the place, watched an amazing Titanic doco on Discovery channel and had a date with a beautiful woman. But it felt extra special because of the centenary and a reconnection with my childhood passion.

It saddens me that rich white folk who really ought to know better have salvaged a section of the Titanic's hull and then auctioned it off or housed it in a casino in Las Vegas. So much of the Titanic has been raised over the years. I heard it suggested that the salvage (Or should that be theft?) numbers over 7000 pieces. Maybe it's just me but it seems a bit ghastly. I concede that I might need to evaluate my feelings on this in a deeper way. But hey, there you go.
PS- There is a nice bit of video here from which the screen cap/still on the left comes.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Recollections of a Hooked Fish Frying.

The darkness of life first becomes known to adolescence like a surrealist depiction of pre-cognitive lightning. And so it was thus that I was struck on the chest a full blow. My old man on an interventionist mission of marital redemption — Dressed himself up seven ways from Sunday. Spruce, paced out steps, penitent steps in his head, his hair combed back and organised in the mirror of Aunt Eddy’s bathroom — scrubbed forward false dentures, waxed shoes, buffed soul, flowers bought at noon.

— At the back gate strode through high with built up confidence, ring of marriage and ring of pride. To face his wife again with flowers and a fistful of passion owed in arrears....for him it was the dawning of a new day — Yawning out over plans and planned loves once confused and lost. Now found again and polished up, carried up the path to the family heart.
Unfortunately Mum’s day had begun earlier.
Under the fragile pink sky draping life in its post stormatic cape, and though she knew he was coming, she could not trust him in her space yet, and left urgently; space intact but heart like weary punch drunk circus pugilist. A heart as big as Phar Laps and ready to relent and give way to peace love and contemplation. Too far past however the black stump of no return....she wept fleeing or fled weeping, I can’t remember which....
When I saw him stroll through the back gate my heart burst into flames. Danced before my eyes like mirror shades of the trance — Caught a glimpse of the game in a way I couldn’t fully comprehend...but felt it...the import-gravitas of such — Surge to sway giddy in the horror of my juvenile naivety,  rotor-bladed like so much talked about roses, in the twilight of a furiously burning millennium close. Fearful Fuckin’ Reckoning...Titanic shirt front of the soul...
 And his pain must have been so much worse than my own...
I might as well have been blind. Darkness so thick ya couldna see ya hand before ye face...
Further still I might now spare you the detailed portrait of the colour of hope seeping through soles of his best feet forward. Draining colour from his face —

Last ember bright but only a moment hence, blink out....

bearing straits roaring out to sea,
sinking surely stone,
liquid jungle of bone,
immeasurably depthy greatness of dark great beast,
fantastic fucking dark shark of life ocean jungle.......

...but I didn’t get that far then.

Enough that I was on the drunken steps to the set of someone else’s urban stage production —
And the act rolled on; Me lying on my bed as the old man poured petrol round our house. He’d “Fuckin’ show her now!”

I told him I’d burn with our beloved old house, and the situation deflated beyond anger’s vorpal-bladedness — Could not cut a sweet swathe thru the Black Sea and could not set a man free...
Anger is usually the last bastion of a man determined to wrought his will on the ugly mug of reality — If he’d been a solipsist he could of written it all off as a bad dream or a dream that’d gone bad. Like an apple forsaken in its bowl; decompose to earthy brown; fade to black...

Deconstruct it all to black?

And alas-alack he believed most strongly in the preciousness of Her & the ‘wholeness’ of Us, Family —
Perhaps he had a vision of himself that led him out onto the Great Australian Night trail lit up by MimMim light; An Australian man on the trail of his life, with a map of where he meant to travel and a beleaguered sense of its own divergence into fields of the past. Recognised now, only as points upon the map….Upon Horizon Treasure Map. Pots, rainbows and the gilt edged frost bitten lakes at the end of them. Glancing back then forward, a few pauses on this otherwise frenetic trail. Too hard to read the map whilst keeping the lodestone on the road. Damned shortcuts and cul-de-sacs that cost the sort of time that never-a-moment-spent of could ever come again...set forth in new directions...
His teardrops exploded, rolled down the hill of his cheek and ignited the old map in his hands. He rubbed his eyes and found that he was still lost, swaying on the backyard footpath of our old house —  Limbo like old ghost haunting itself in its old house on its old hill overlooking great old vast wretched unknowable ocean of its future.

 He must have thought he’d die alone on such bluffs — Love crashing out in crescendos with breakers breaking forever breaking, forever breaking..........

She spared him such fates in the end—
Still, we all must reap what we’ve sown.
In a monumental act of selflessness, she forgave what had too-late-already-past and focused on the future that limped into itself, never quite the same. She remained and found freedom in the honour of remembering what she had loved in him. Fixed Focus on afore said, giddy future, limping into itself for eight more years till he died
For mine, the cigarette cancer had killed him off a decade or so a partial absence for the last few years. And maybe in his way, that I just impressionise for you now, he was still out there on his ‘trail’. Studying the ashes of his old map and trying to recollect where he’d digressed at, where he was hooked at, where he was frying.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

John Cooper Clarke @ The Northcote Social Club

My wonderful and canny friends Robbie & Tone surprised me with this gig. Like a shimmy sham down a time tunnel to a punkier time.
John Cooper Clarke
"The fucking cops are fucking keen to fucking keep it fucking clean the fucking chief's a fucking swine who fucking draws a fucking line at fucking fun and fucking games the fucking kids he fucking blames are nowehere to be fucking found anywhere in chicken town the fucking scene is fucking sad the fucking news is fucking bad the fucking weed is fucking turf the fucking speed is fucking surf the fucking folks are fucking daft don't make me fucking laugh it fucking hurts to look around everywhere in chicken town the fucking train is fucking late you fucking wait you fucking wait you're fucking lost and fucking found stuck in fucking chicken town the fucking view is fucking vile for fucking miles and fucking miles the fucking babies fucking cry the fucking flowers fucking die the fucking food is fucking muck the fucking drains are fucking fucked the colour scheme is fucking brown everywhere in chicken town the fucking pubs are fucking dull the fucking clubs are fucking full of fucking girls and fucking guys with fucking murder in their eyes a fucking bloke is fucking stabbed waiting for a fucking cab you fucking stay at fucking home the fucking neighbors fucking moan keep the fucking racket down this is fucking chicken town the fucking train is fucking late you fucking wait you fucking wait you're fucking lost and fucking found stuck in fucking chicken town the fucking pies are fucking old the fucking chips are fucking cold the fucking beer is fucking flat the fucking flats have fucking rats the fucking clocks are fucking wrong the fucking days are fucking long it fucking gets you fucking down evidently chicken town."