Monday, November 10, 2008

Five Tales from a Fish in Western Australia


The sun is at my back as I look towards the horizon: so strange, like afternoon, and yet it isn’t.
Despite the evening atmosphere, it's morning, and I am on the other side of the world, where the sun sets into the sea, rather than rising from it.
The Indian Ocean is turquoise and the sand almost ultraviolet in its whiteness. Small branches of flowery seaweed lie in bouquets on the shoreline.

I swim out and along, the currents are at odds with one another. On the surface the sea rolls in, underneath it pulls outwards to the deep, rolling and tossing.

It’s a different colour, this water, and softer.
Strange pale rock platforms rise from beneath as I pass over. I’m swimming northerly, when suddenly the swell lifts me and deposits me gently upon a rock shelf.

I swear, I can hear the watery laughter: I find myself standing in the sea, ankle deep. It's shallow, and I am forced to pick my way back out to the deep.

Fish swim in hollow circles as the fronds of weed whip this way, then that. The light is beautiful. When I returm to the south end I catch a wave all the way in, belly first on the sand. I leave the indian ocean in my hair and finger the tips when it dries: the salt seems soft.

Back home when I return, the sea wears its sparkling morning mantle, and Is perfumed like my dreams. As I gaze, the sea tells me:

That was me, you know. Tossing you like that, that was the other me, in all watery places. It was the other side of me.

The waves hissed to my feet.

And the other side of you, too.


You know it’s not quite ready: there is editing to do, and a run once through.
You receive a text message:

Can you present your paper on Wednesday instead of Thursday ?

You know it’s not a question.
You reach your hotel at 3am Sydney time, having finished a full day of lectures and packing and leaving clean clothes for the children not to mention food, flown through a time zone and half a day,

And you arrive and listen in a bit of a fug and wonder if you will be able to see the words on the page your eyes are so tired.

At lunchtime in a sudden moment of clarity,
You edit your paper, drawing arrows, running lines here and there. Quieting yourself in parts with the slash of a pen.

It’s like the last sprint to the finish.

Unusually, lots of people come.
You smile to yourself and begin,
falling into the storytelling zone, watching your words float around the lecture theatre, settling on peoples shoulders, into their ears.

You don’t miss a beat. Not a scratch not an arrow not a crooked paragraph. Leaping over newmade ditches from one side to the other: The words have made a web now.

As you speak you look at each and every person, into their eyes. Try not to miss anyone, except your friend, who may cause you to smile too broadly.

Questions. Much attention and compliments, a marine biologist rushes up: we have to talk, pushes her card into your hand
A poetess comes and touches your arm and smiles.
A person says, matter of fact:
I am not being sycophantic, but that is the best thing I have heard all day.
A singer says: 
you have a lovely voice.

And if you weren’t so tired you would run outside and dance, because this is all so unexpected, and you so happy.
The best thing is, it goes on for days.

The best thing is, you were pleased with yourself.


In Fremantle, I have a very important assignation: the finding of the Red Hen.
Don't worry, I'll recognise her straight away, I whisper to my friend.
She has red hair, and flowers around her neck

Lucky for me, she spotted me first: her hair was not at all red, but there were flowers around her neck.
What a delight to meet a friend, a lovely girl.
There being no cake, we ate Thai prawns instead.
I'm afraid I was in a state of lunacy
and laughed all my makeup off.
I'd like to say, Red Hen, I'm not usually like that
only that I am.


The boat finds me, in a way. Then I fall into it.

I no longer dream of boats: this is far longer than a dream. I sit with it inside my head, and allow myself to be transported.

I take this space and make things in it and listen to the words of the people who share this space.

The boat rocks eternally, ploughing through an endless sea. I need to close my eyes several times: hundreds of years and millions of tides sweep past.

I make pictures. I share them.
The boat sleeps on.


I travel from the edges of the known universe, past names which are unfamiliar and yet known, the sand in the scrub is from some forgotten childhood. Banksias along the road proffer startling candles.delightful.

Fremantle, Pinjarra, Bunbury, Mandurah.

A snake dashes across the hot highway like a squiggle of black lightening.
We talk  kilometres away in the landcruiser, looking at bright sea and endless landscapes. Our words wind around and out the windows, over the lit paddocks and beyond.

Hours later the farm swings into view: corrugated iron, as silver as the moon.
There are roses, which smell so edible I wish I could eat them, growing near the eucalypts.

Who is waiting for me here?


I love her.
Her tiny fingernail hooves, her pointed pixie ears.
Her curly hair makes me think
Of tough samoan boys with their Mohawk hairstyles in Sydney streets.
Her legs mere twigs.

At the secret signal,
Sarah and Iona run, and transform into the most noble and beautiful pair, sprinting like arabs with their tails up high, a queen and princess.

Back up the paddock, Iona gallops fastest,
Past her mother in an impossible burst of speed.

She is twenty-eight-days-old.


little red hen said...

Glad to hear that you are always 'like that' and that little baby is delightful, glad to see they were not terrorised by the grass cutting fellow.

ganching said...

Another piece of beautiful writing...glad your talk went so well.

handmaiden said...

Your blog is like a breathe of fresh salty air this morning.

I must go to the beach.

Molly said...

Lovely Fifi, just lovely! So thrilled your lectures were so well received---Wish we could all have been there to hear them, instead of only hearing about them! All those lucky people.....Love your little friend Iona!

Frogdancer said...

Always good to leave a job knowing that you absolutely nailed it! I'm really pleased for you.

When I was in Thailand I made sure I swam in the Andaman sea... there's something magical about a different ocean.

Isabelle said...

Goodness goodness goodness haven't you been busy and doing such exciting things? I have been cooking and cleaning and marking in a little northern country. Hmm. So glad your lecture went well. One of us is a star, at any rate!

one little acorn said...

What a great collection of tales. I did not want to leave the sea and then I was sitting there in the lecture theatre with you, then meeting a fellow blogger... then in awe at the foal.
Lovely inspiration.

Bryan said...

Beautiful. Made my day so much better.

meggie said...

O Fifi, words fail me.
Your words are so beautiful.

meli said...

how wonderful! well done! and thank you for sharing so many tales of sunshine and spring creatures.

is there a written-down version of this talk? it sounds like there needs to be.

and thank you thank you thank you for your encouraging words, btw - the best thing to wake up to.

Kirti said...

How wonderful that your paper was such a success, I'm so pleased for you Fifi! Love it that you got to meet Ms Hen, and those words and images of I miss it so.

Regulus said...

Beautiful entry, as ever. And a happy journey. (And think how worried you were before it!) I hope you don't mind -- I posted the beach picture from near Perth in my current entry.

Anonymous said...

Yes, your words are beautiful! And so are you!

It was lovely for me in particular to see this and to hear you speak names that will shortly become familiar to me - Fremantle et al.

I am so glad your paper was well-received. It gives such an ego boost when that happens, doesn't it? Wonderful.

You sound happy. I am really glad about that.

fifi said...

Thanks, hen. I was worried about the mowing man but I am a all went well. It was so nice that we were able to get together!
Ganching: thanks. You're very kind to say that.
Handmaided: i am glad to share my air!
Molly, it would have been great to have all my friends there, except I would have giggled.
Frogdancer, it really was a different sea, its strange when you think about it, in a way. I have never swum in Thailand.
Isabelle, I would love to be in a little northern country more often. I too have been doing nasty boring things, but I try not to mention them, even to myself. My house currently looks like a war zone.
Welcome, little acorn, thank you for reading.
Bryan and meggie, thank you both, I am flattered.

Meli, when I attend to the rush-edit I enacted upon it and properly attend to the footnoting, there will be some published version somewhere. I am always very critical of anything I do, and worry things aren't correct, so I obsess a bit. I also am cognisant of the fact that noone cares what kind of angst you had to endure to even BE there, let alone write something, and I am always driven right down to the line on most things, which is really stressing. In an ideal world, there would be more time, space and encouragement for my writings and painting etc, but since there isn't, I just do my best.

Kirti. I seem to feel that where you are is a very good place to be...looks lovely...

REg: no probs...

RB, well, I am happy. Just sometimes.....i have a moment or two.... ;-)
Hope you can make it to Sydney too!

travistee said...

Gosh Fifi, you always leave me gasping. You have the most wonderful way with the words in the entire internet.

alice c said...

Your words delight me. I feel that I too have swum in the soft ocean. Thank you.