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JOHN KINSELLA - APRIL 2000 FEATURE  

The Cortland Review

FEATURE

Charles Bernstein
Charles Bernstein recites some of his finest poems. David Lehman interviews the poet--all in RealAudio.

Robert Kendall
A Study in Shades - A new interactive poem in hypertext.

David Rigsbee
An elegy for poet Edgar Bowers

John Kinsella
Random Memories: What I Remember - The latest in John Kinsella's autobiography series.

John Kinsella

John Kinsella is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, most recently The Hunt and Poems 1980-1994. His work has appeared in Poetry and The Paris Review, among many others. As well, he is the editor of Salt. Currently, he teaches at Cambridge University in England.
Random Memories - What I Remember

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Yes, the Easybeats are backyards in Australian suburbs drinking beer straight from the longneck bottle and smoking dope. Of those moments of comfort that taken collectively add up to AA meetings and the serenity prayer. Peter D coming in and saying who'll come with me to Bindoon to pick up the Kombi van, marooned after the Bindoon Rock Festival but protected by Coffin Cheaters. Jack Daniels and acid. Some guy had a sheet in his back pocket and went into the creek with them. He was so pissed off he tore it up and swallowed the lot. He tripped for days and ended up having his nipples pierced with bull rings. He assaulted his sister and was thrown out of the family home.

At the night club in North Perth you convince the doorman to let you into the game going on upstairs. It's being run by one of Perth's crime families. You watch, but don't play. You recall AN's Rolls Royce pulling up out front of the Equator Club and selling Goths smack. You recall sitting in a hostel with a guy dying of AIDS trying to get a needle into his dead veins, telling you of his years in the Philippines. Just down the road the M brothers are doing a deal with submachine guns at hand. Perth isn't big on submachine guns. Or the guy from the Chelsea Pub, who has just murdered someone, reading your poetry in the Beaufort Street early opener. These memories don't amount to much. It's a different life, but you can't help the random memories dropping into the field of your living days.

At His Lordship's Larder your partner is asking you to come home. A guy yells across the bar—my girlfriend IS the tits 'n bum show! David drops a "big" into the corner pocket. Come on Brother, it's your shot. Yeah, yeah—I'll be home later. Across the road, just down from the old fire station, Karl is dripping enamel paint onto a pedestal, creating another layer of paint-text. This is his working space. It is work and he is comfortable working. He is investigating. You've scrounged thirty bucks and are racing out down to the chemist to pick up a fitpack. In on a packet with one of the guys you're playing pool with. You can hear "Sweet Child of Mine" playing in the background, it's that kind of place. But it's also got some Celibate Rifles and you've been playing that to the point of violence. The speed is low quality—mixed with ephedrine. You whack it at the back table and nobody cares. A few days later someone will care and beat the crap out of you. Some guy is asking you to visit a doctor to get a script for codeine tablets—a homebake scheme. You whiz out of the conversation and into the darkening streets of Fremantle. You visit everyone. Michael, who is Elijah, is smoking with his young friends, discussing meteorite trains and righteousness. You open a conversation that goes for most of the night. He throws you out in the end, denouncing all but the sacred weed, herb given by God which he'll swap Michelle for a headjob, while denouncing sex outside of marriage as sinful. Ah, such is Fremantle.

You get a reputation. I could always get things—that was mine. I could borrow money, work out ways of getting credit, convincing people. This would later be turned against me. Is still being used against me. Banks would give me credit cards when I didn't have collateral, hock-shops would give me hundreds of dollars for a two-volume (with magnifying glass) Complete Oxford Dictionary. I'd hock answering machines that were on rental, and switch things around—something in, something out—to stay "legit". My mother went to Europe one year, and I hocked the contents of her house—getting most of it back before she stepped back through the door. I always repaid my debts and was known as "honest". I didn't deal, and supported my habits with a complex series of transactions and relationships. I convinced a doctor to give me ampoules of valium on one occasion. Rhetoric was the true science. I still think rhetoric should be taught at school—it helps you see and get through most things. The best relationships were those where the money went in a few weeks and we both operated on an equal footing. People gave me credit because they knew I'd come up with the money. It dug my grave. Three times clinically dead, the last time they rang my partner to say I was said and done for. I don't talk about it much now. That was years ago. I haven't smoked a cigarette, had a drink, or even a cup of tea in over five years. Last year I bought my wife a new flute—to replace the one I'd hocked and lost at the beginning of our marriage. As a teenager I'd hated body fluids and dirt and loss of control. I then devoted a dozen years to overcoming these phobias. That's one way of looking at it. Andrew Burke turned up with Tracy at my flat in South Perth near the river. I was pretty far gone. I said something about fucking Tracy and Andrew was disgusted. When I did, or maybe I already had, I burnt the curried vegetables and shaved the hair from around her cunt. She'd written a poem called "Hair" which I'd published in Salt long before I knew her. It went:

The length
of my body is an odd
nudity, what is it
doing there, how
did the hair
get pared down
to just
these patches
we cultivate
like fetishes
meant to excite
when we want
to play animal
or we control
to stress and make
the difference between sexes
as if otherwise
we couldn't find
ourselves.
I can't force
what once was
to grow now
in a strange season.
I'm caught
between
the dream of befores
that paralyses
and the need
of my own nakedness
which is there,
which is there.

The reasons for my action—our action—lie in this poem. There is nothing else to say. Tracy would also become a vegan like myself. She was already vegetarian—her movement to veganism coincided with our eventual cohabitation but happened independently. The hair I removed from her I wrapped in a piece of newspaper and dropped beside my bed. Some weeks later my brother was cleaning up after me and found it. You're fucking weird, mate, fucking weird. He was always there for me. And still is.

Andrew was pretty good to me. He'd been there and knew how not to feed the monster, but not to belittle. Phil Salom also came through at an important time. Anthony Lawrence will tell his own stories while John Forbes used to calm me down via the phone when anger and depression had me ready to burst—in a sad sarcastic way that spoke of his own pain which wasn't cool to mention, per se, in front of his mates. Eventually most people cut me off. But not all. Tracy and I didn't see each other for a year or so. We married five months after I moved in with her from the cesspit that was Coralie Court state housing in Armadale‚ the furnitureless and curtainless flat I retreated to after escaping the Globe Hotel in central Perth. The witnesses to our marriage were Helen and Ray from Fremantle. Always there. I remember little from this period, on heavy medication having just emerged from the Central Drug Unit where Tracy's daily offerings of vegan lentils and vegetable stew were assumed to have been smoke screens for smuggling drugs in to me. Nothing could have been less likely. But then, they didn't know Tracy....

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