John Clare Writings

His last bow (for now)

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Just over there in the city, where from my perspective it first gathers on the hillside across the park, the low sun glitters in the tinted glass of a curtain wall building – perhaps the only one from that period of modernism built down here. I am walking on my side toward the viaduct where it becomes a bridge crossing over the concrete road to the bushy shoulder beside my flat. Here the light rail passes to and fro, breaking up the TV image. In that dark glass over there the sun is not gold but silver. Nor does it sit on the surface but moves like a luminous fish within the building. One more step – one minor change of angle – and it is positively blinding. Another step and it has gone. The park has come back. The park is so flat because it is land reclaimed from the harbour.  Sydney’s first sandstone quarry was diagonally back across the park where Quarry Street itself now rises steeply.

The truth is that the city first started to assemble on a very small scale  right over the hill and down toward the harbour where the ferry wharves are ranked: Manly, Cremorne, Mosman, Kirribilli, Neutral Bay, North Sydney and so on. Those wharves are as real to me in historical time as the convicts, bushrangers, entrepreneurial military men, explorers, squatters, gold prospectors-invaders all. The Tank Stream was down there and we soon fouled it. But that was not me.

I have just had a stroke. My grandfather used to live in North Sydney when it was largely trees and scrub. He had a horse which coyly hid from him each morning behind a tree. It thought that Pop could not see it because it could not see Pop. Pop wandered blindly for a while, looking here and there, seeing nothing. Until the excited horse snickered  and gave itself away. Did it know Pop knew here it was? Hiding behind the same tree every morning.  Pop spoke to animals and even trees as if they were humans. That great good man: Robert Hercules Doyle.

This is Sydney. Despite the sad claims of my childhood it is nothing like San Francisco. But it has its own feeling. Right now it is not real. My focus is very slow. If I look at something even close by, then tighten my focus on the tree beside me there is a delay. In that delay I am nowhere. I am in another dimension. I am on the edge of death. My brain is still possibly bleeding and I am certainly going blind. Almost certainly. I hope to die before that happens.It would be good to die quickly after saturating my soul in these rushing torrents of music. Duke Ellington. Or floating in calm streams of music. Duke Ellington also. It is all there, in Ellington, someone said. I heard the late 1940s recordings first. ‘The Clothed Woman’, ‘Hiya Sue’, ‘Lady Of The Lavender Mist’, ‘New York City Blues’. Now here is something I had relegated to another time, though it is at least ten years later than the 1940s: go Dexter Gordon. How good it is. Though  he ranges freely, the core of harmony, the chords are invoked. They are as much part of the momentum as his unmistakable tenor saxophone. I love also the Tamla Motown tracks revived along halls toward the toilets and heard over the murmur of shopping in the Broadway Centre. The effort to find the last sentence I wrote and continue moves me closer to death. Sickness rises around me, the optical nerves being connected to the stomach. Today I heard Roy Orbison singing ‘Mystery Girl!’ My head is booming and I am sick And yet the disorienting delay turns all scenes into paintings.. Sunlight on grass has never been so lyrical. My failing eyesight makes me feel like James Joyce. With about one quarter of the talent (if that).  Allan Browne will understand.

Right now Thelonious Monk’s arpeggios, floating runs, bumping chords, and those that chime and clang, deliberations and  silences, are mingling out there with the soccer,  through the glass and the steel grille, under lights, interacting agreeably with with the tricky dribbling, the fanning clusters of players, the falls and cannon shots delivered, appropriately it seems, from a reclining position. The excited voices, the referee’s whistle like a chirping insect. The sounds of community. If you live in Melbourne you will know what I mean.

If you ever feel as close as I do to death I recommend this: Coltrane’s Africa Brass. Also Schubert’s string quartet in G Major.  The separation of sound from my new stereo system is  brilliantly articulated . In one speaker the drums of Tony Williams thunder like the anger of god. He is trying to push Miles Davis in the other speaker further ahead on the beat . He will not budge. The tension is sensational Miles is blazing,his time is rock solid.It seems that everything is vibration, dense and rarefied. Coltrane’s Africa brass is so powerful it would make a dead man stand upright. I also recommend Anthony Braxton: New York Fall with… aha, stroke… I can’t remember the trumpeter but actually it just appeared – Kenny Wheeler.

Last time I had a stroke I lost a quadrant of peripheral vision and strove each day to retrieve it (it returned,most likely of its own accord). I am now resolved to retrieve judgement of time and space and write fluently again. Thank you for indulging me. I will not publish further efforts until the knack is regained.

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