Gargoyle 15/16cover photo (The Immeasurable) by Haig Shekerjianpublication date 1/27/1981
We were sitting on the verandah with our feet up on the rail when Klip
and Sky-High brought along a couple of visitors who were going back to
‘Tell them about the falcon,’ said Sky-High.
The dust settled back down on the track and the pigeons flew up and plummeted
down through the air, the wind sighing metallically through their wings.
‘What happened with the falcon,’ they said, ‘was we couldn’t take it back
to the city, how would it get fresh meat, and we couldn’t just leave it,
it kept flying after us, so we got a stick of gelignite and strapped it
to the falcon’s leg and lit the fuse and threw the falcon up into the air
and it circled and circled round and then it started making smaller and
smaller circles and landed on the roof of the house. It was just a cabin,
really, a couple of rooms in a clearing in the bush.’
An old shack in between the high trees, and just a big enough clearing
to catch the sunlight.
‘Shoo,’ they said, ‘shoo.’
And a few dope plants and a compost heap and a big water tank.
They waited beside their backpacks, which they had put on the ground so
they could stand with holy reverence at the death of their falcon. But
the falcon just cocked an eye in their direction at the edge of the clearing
as if saying it couldn’t hear them, come closer.
But no fucking way were they going any closer.
They threw rocks and stones and twigs but most of them didn’t even reach
the house and none of them disturbed the falcon, except for the mental
disturbance of wondering why they’d suddenly turned against it and were
throwing rocks and stones and twigs.
And then the falcon and the house all blew up, bits of timber and feather
and china and books and feather mattresses and old newspapers and glass
and walls and floorboards and ceilings.
We made them tea and scones while we heard their story, sitting out on
the verandah looking at the dusty road. And scratched the dusty ground
with the heels of our boots, and we nodded our heads sagely; and then we
gave them a gift to see them on their way.
When Thomas de Quincey was living up on the cold cold moors of northern
England and getting his habit under control, down to a thousand drops of
laudanum a day, a Malay knocked on his door. The Malay spoke in Malay and
de Quincey replied with a few lines from the Iliad ‘considering
that, of such languages as I possessed, the Greek, in point of longitude,
came geographically nearest to an oriental one. He worshipped me in a devout
manner, and replied in what I suppose to have been Malay. In this way I
saved my reputation as a linguist with my neighbors; for the Malay had
no means of betraying the secret. He lay down upon the floor for about
an hour, and then pursued his journey. On his departure, I presented him,
inter alia, with a piece of opium. To him, as a native of the East, I could
have no doubt that opium was not less familiar than his daily bread; and
the expression of his face convinced me that it was. Nevertheless, I was
struck with some little consternation when I saw him suddenly raise his
hand to his mouth, and bolt the whole, divided into three pieces, at one
mouthful. The quantity was enough to kill some half-dozen dragoons, together
with their horses, supposing neither bipeds nor quadrupeds to be regularly
trained opium-eaters. I felt some alarm for the poor creature; but what
could be done? I had given him the opium in pure compassion for his solitary
life, since, if he had traveled on foot from London, it must be nearly
three weeks since he could have exchanged a thought with any human being.
Ought I to have violated the laws of hospitality by having him seized and
drenched with an emetic, thus frightening him into a notion that we were
going to sacrifice him to some English idol? No: there was clearly no help
for it. The mischief, if any, was done. He took his leave, and for some
days I felt anxious; but as I never heard of any Malay, or of any man in
a turban, being found dead on any part of the very slenderly peopled road
between Grasmere and Whitehaven, I became satisfied that he was familiar
with opium, and that I must doubtless have done him the service I designed,
by giving him one night of respite from the pains of wandering.’
‘We don’t have room to put them up,’ I said.
‘You could put them on the verandah,’ said Sky-High.
‘Why don’t you put them up?’ I said.
‘We don’t even have a verandah.’
We waited for the kettle to boil.
‘You could at least give them something for their journey said Sky-High.
‘We’re giving them scones, cream and wild raspberry jam" I said.
‘What about giving them some mushrooms,’ said Sky-High.
‘Sure, if you want to go and pick some,’ I said.
‘You can’t take mushrooms to the city,’ Lily said. ‘You’ve got to eat
them where you pick them.’
We took the tea and scones and cream and jam out to the verandah.
‘You guys like some mushrooms,’ said Sky-High.
‘Sure would,’ they said.
‘Tell you what,’ I said, ‘I’ll put some water in the wagon and empty out
the back while you look for them, then I can drive you across to the highway
and you can hitch a lift down.’
‘That’s cool,’ they said.
‘The wagon?’ said Lily, ‘what wagon?’
‘The station wagon,’ I said.
‘Oh, the Falcon,’ she said.
‘I was trying to avoid mentioning its name,’ I said.
‘Ooh Wah,’ said Lily.
But they were already out in the paddock.
‘May 1818.–The Malay has been a fearful enemy for months. Every
night, through his means, I have been transported into Asiatic scenery.
I was stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by monkeys, by paroquets,
by cockatoos. I ran into pagodas, and was fixed for centuries at the summit,
or in secret rooms; I was the idol; I was the priest; I was worshipped;
I was sacrificed. I fled from the wrath of Brama through all the forests
of Asia; Vishnu hated me. Seeva lay in wait for me. I came suddenly upon
Isis and Osiris; I had done a deed, they said, which the Ibis and the crocodile
trembled at. Thousands of years I lived and was buried in stone coffins,
with mummies and sphinxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of eternal pyramids.
I was kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles, and was laid, confounded
with all unutterable abortions, amongst reeds and Nilotic mud.’