John Clare Writings

At 75 : The Mind Wanders

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When I dive on the reefs I seem to witness the same phenomenon: In apparently unceasing rhythm the one long universal cloud of small fish rises suddenly and surrounds me, then falls so unanimously they seem to leave a momentary void, a vortex into which I too might fall. In other words, I am now suspended in unsustaining absence. The water is for a moment invisible. Fortunately gravity has also been taken away. I do not fall. After a while you cease to feel this vertiginous motion physically. But it is there every time you think of it. All over the reef wherever you swim and glide they rise and fall, the fish. Why?

No one seems to know. Not that I have asked anybody. I no longer know any marine biologists and I have no idea what short question I might ask of Google. Rising/falling phenomenon of fishes? Fish rising/falling why? None of my remaining books on the sea refer to it. Why did I nor ask the marine biologists when I was on Lizard Island in the Coral Sea? Why did I not ask the girlfriend who was studying the subject and who asked mt to write one of her essays when she was buried in work? A miserable CREDIT. “So!” she declared, “You are not as good a writair as you thought.” This insult did not bite deeply. The writing had little to do with it. I had very little time in which to study the subject creatures and trump up an argument. I think my French accent back there was good enough for you to have realised that she was French indeed. From the south, quite dark her hair so black that she could have been Spanish or of a Gypsy strain.

She was arrogant, yes, but one of the four or five most beautiful women I ever slept with. Six or seven might be more accurate. Perhaps there were too many, but why no guilt? Almost all were good looking, my wife included of course. Those who are supposedly knowledgeable in this area maintain that Scorpios are the most libidinous. All three of us – my wife, French girlfriend and self were Scorpios. How ridiculous, but it may have been true. When the women are both Scorpio and Catholic it is very intense indeed. It seems. Well, I have just turned 75 and it is no longer very important. Discussing the area with a woman at The Herald, I remarked that I would not be distressed if told I would never have sex again. I think she assumed that I was impotent. No, but not that important to me one way or another.

The mirror tells me that I now look my age. Still, women smile at me yet, and if they come very close and stare and are very attractive I feel a warm suffusion, growing hotter, of desire, that reaches throughout my body. Yet I am relieved when we walk away from each other, that I do not have to get involved. Walking alone, sensuality still fills me so completely that a non-corporeal body seems to walk beside me that is full of, indeed composed of, the substance. Not sex, but colour and sound. The mauve or lilac of jacaranda. The carpet of their petals. The ice blue channels of sky through snow fields of cloud. The many greens of palms and figs and plane trees, tree ferns. The dappling of the road ahead as it goes under overarching trees. The many colours of inner city suburban houses: an ochre wall, a red one beyond – vermillion -and another of hard dark flat red. The cowling of corrugated iron with red or green vertical stripes against cream, curving over. Indeed more varied than many of the villages passed though by Le Tour de France where often enough everything is the colour stone, except perhaps the roofs.

And yet there is nothing better than passing through the countryside at the speed of a racing bike, the fascination of domesticity frozen. They stare in narrow front yards at the riders. Where the French countryside triumphs is in the mountains and in the castles and citadels and cathedrals.

The colours of sound are held at bay now because it is still too dark, oo early in the morning to play any music. To live to 75 was a goal I set myself for the want of another during my recent years of tribulation. The world is still there. I do not want to leave it. In the old place two of my neighbors were a Chilean father and daughter. They give me a bottle of excellent whisky every year because I am apparently a nice man. I have not told them that I scarcely drink. The whisky lasts a year even when I invite friends to share it. One tiny sip galvanises every cell. The taste is exactly the same as the sharp amber colour. Some catholic churches have windows of this shade. Jenny Chan who died upstairs at 84, to be replaced by the ghastly woman who is according to the police and fire brigade almost certainly the one who threw a flare into my flat while I was in Brisbane with my daughter. Jenny likewise told everyone I was a nice man. Her friends aked me to speak at her funeral.

One small sip because it is my birthday. It is still dark so the music waits. I read Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train for the first time in years. Good writing has a tonality. I read a couple of pages, then a page of my own, it absorbs that tonality briefly. Briefly my writing seems almost as good. It is the morning of the night when the wonderfully spiritual people of IS killed more than a hundred people. I read some pages of Proust, and now I think it is time. I play Debussy. On the TV they have just sung the Marsellaise. God, I had forgotten the middle section, so subtle before the triumpant return of the opening. That is the best anthem. Debussy died during the bombardment of Paris during World War I. He was very ill and dying. Nuages, Sirenes, La Mer et al fill the room with his mysterious nuances and his ecstatic outbursts thrill lthe air. Fetes, Sirenes, Jeaux.I am crying and unashamed. Actually it all begun for my generation when America and allies began trying to keep Vietnam under French control. I was one of many who marched in protest through the city. Guantanamo Bay followed. But that doesn’t make the current killing good. No Muslims are marching in protest. They would be shot. When an Imam offers a very slippery English version of the hate sermon he is accused of delivering, my Muslim friends translate it accurately for me.

I am for France right now. We do not recruit teenagers to kill.

I look now at some reproductions relevant to Paris in my favourite period. Georges Seurat, Van Gogh, Robert Delauney, Signac etc

When I hear that it was a death metal band that was playing when the murderers opened fire I avoid a spurious fetishistic coincidence frenzy. I do wonder what they will ply from now on. No more of that. Soon I will ride out through Burwood, Lakemba, Auburn etc. and sit in a Muslim cafe and eat and read the paper. I have done it often enough. Today is my birthday.

1 Comment

  1. Margaret Allan – 15 October 2018

    You are a fantastic writer, John! I am sitting in bed, coffee, unusually grey morning here in California, thinking I am writing to nowhere… I think of you as an ecstatic, owning your life so completely, being so perfectly you. I can’t imagine what we might ever say to each other, I was only ever entranced but overtaken by your massive immersion in the feel, the colour, The sounds of being alive. Happy birthday for all the past ones and future. Recently heard an interview with Leonard Cohen’s son, Adam, where he was querulous and skidded off in obtuse or perpendicular directions with Terri Gross. I am really reminded of you, Cohen and son interwoven, and I think too of the leaching ongoing sorrow of losing your boy, Mathew.
    Well, a few thoughts from an old friend,

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