ArdeaPaul Carter December 2009 Paul Cox Dossier, Special Dossiers Issue 53 Ardea cinerea is the scientific name of the Grey Heron found in Europe. In Human Touch (2004) a heron alights for a moment on a stone basin in the garden – an Australian species no doubt but when I observed the haunting effect to which it was put I thought of my childhood familiar. After thinking I would speak on this theme, I came in half-way through a screening of Paul’s film about Nijinsky: there, again, was the heron, taking off, sailing behind the tracery of bare trees. In the spirit of the director’s gift of association, Ardea was improvised over a period of two-and-a-half hours, roughly the length of a feature film. Improvisation for Paul Cox1Snapped at the horizon of visionthoughtfully tenanting Egyptian waters,your role in the periscope of rememberedtime is protected by the agency ofOrpheus: with that weight of associationto bear no wonder you drape a grey raincoatover hunched shoulders and refuse to attendrehearsals, – as if one whose brush had drawnup shadows from death’s bowl writing with themmortal maps needed further direction.But I see you under other lights whenwithout regard for Fiction’s plot you droppedin to the set, perching on Medean rooftopsor idly lifting off from sunken regionswe had overlooked you pulled the straining wiresof your craft, Phaedrus-like, towards the sun –startled, I always thought, by a psycho-logical indiscretion or the rowdyobsession with surface detail likely toobscure the immortal creases in the water’s face.Then, pulling off the monkey face that answeredyou, jabbing with futile endeavour the beakthat probed the underbelly of the shallowsfor life, you were not so smart, but ungloved ofyour double’s worship, stood about like anyevidence of nature’s perversity: shags,gannets, mergansers and other notorietiesof northern avifauna easily out-hauledthe treasures of the deep, putting food onthe table of science and the everyday,while you with your flamingo pretensionsstalked up and down in solitary, unpickingan Ego not yet dreamt of in my Eden.2Always it has been like this, we say, expectinga tearing of the veil that will reveal behindthe film the existence of a might have beentrajectory, you know, spreading southwardsas the heron heavily climbs towardsthe threshold of whatever emancipationof the spirit – O look down below (panning withthe camera’s eye of memory recliningon association’s lulling cushions):a girl, her skirt rolled up above her kneeswith red hair, green eyes and the centuryin her hands; O look, the funeral bierand over there the alienated familycome together with the deceased’s ashes,reading futures in the glitter of the fishmealurnage turned out in mother’s favourite waters –you funeral fowl, ardent in defence ofashes, you doctor who takes over whenthis-worldly doctors wind back across the field –Death having put an end to artful deferral,veilings and the other feathered artificessociety uses to capitalise the flesh –when you could have been useful you rosewith just the smallest effort, the baby-bringingstork in reverse (and shot in grey),and listlessly doubling the point settledto new work, new littorals a bay away.Sad, I thought, that at the end one whohad specialised in shores (and knew his Keats)could not be recruited for this last scene.3I wouldn’t have taken you for a dancer –a swimming attendant or other fin-de-siècle servitor caressing rebellionbehind solicitude for his master’s ease,dancing on the fingers of the age’spuppeteer perhaps – but these wild fanfaresof wings, these alightings that always seemlunar in their lack of gravitation to the earth,suggest a stick figure of skin and bone,a fantasy of Wilbur Wright. As for style –beside the quill clipped over the earand the Hapsburg hunch, you are, ifpivotal, the Janus operator from a timewhen light had not been sprocketed with soundbut glanced as easily as the tide withdrawingribbons round the ankle – and the girl who thenstood astride vocations, like the opening of a film,is married and wears her hat of woe to bed.Transposed, the traded feather is the clueto what is going on: from coveted ear covert topennant plume caught in a woman’s hat asthe door opens onto a parterre with pond,it migrates, metamorphosing into the motiveitself, Time’s arrow, call it Eros, that holds –and holds apart – the consecutive actsof passion’s eagle-snake struggle with death.Love, the picturesque dialect of liquids,curtains, drugs, divans, goes on down belowbut you are drawing out the line abovelike a 1950s bomber invisible but forthe aged arcing eyebrow of the trail,you, breastless, a creaking scaffoldingof bone and woe, little more than a curveon wings, a needle pricking out the stars,are always departing from the visual realmthe keeper of the out of sight that underwritesthese fragile felicities of the camera’s gaze.4Why did you come back that day, scrambling fora foothold on the sloping roof, astride the shipwreck of my life when, unmoored by half a worldfrom what my mother would have called home,and my wife in the mirror of her dying alsowithdrawing into the underworld of hopeabandoned, why did you take on the role ofvagrant or rare visitor to that placewhere already the soul of her had lifted off?Was it to bring news of her right ascension,with your needle beak to stitch my flight pathinto the hems of her abiding canopy?Or was it a torch of fire, a blackened branch scored onyour brow, expression of a finger raised insolemn condemnation of my act, you soughtto balance, like Fame’s malicious messenger?Monitor of the entertainments we deviseto curtain off the very real, you act outthe uncoordinated passages of the soulwhich the bushfire of our art drives to madness:the evidence of your empire isthe aftermath of ashes. I wish I couldwithdraw you from the dead campfiresof our collectivity’s acquired regret,cross you with the pelican, kingfisheror gavotting egret or any other more genial fowlbut born of Dawn and Dusk, the critic ofour daytime plays and artificial fires,you refuse intimacy as suffocation –as Olympian in your rag-and-bone wayas Plato who thought plays a double tragedyfrom the point of view of right geometry,angular yourself, I should have recognisedin you divinity’s dishevelled cope.5To and from a tidal district you passed overour tents, our huddled streets, our half-built squareas one might survey another’s troops,torn between calculation and care, amazedperhaps the precious regions you made forremained unknown to the director herewhose bright new world of crowds and convergentdestinies lay protected from the ebb and flowof time – that hoary context of the primary poseand sufficient phrase that would securethe life-likeness of the writer’s script. So,day by day, whatever the state of the weather,you marked the stages of our uncommercialpageant with your patient economyof eels on lucky days, maintaining an indifferenceunduly calming as the sequel proved.Male or female we could never prove – in-distinguishable to the outward eye,unsexed as the Phoenix is when the ardentnest of flames dies down, we enjoyed you,if at all, as some aerial artist, cyclistor heraldic parody of American power,appropriate for symbolic grafting onto the retina of an audience unused tointimations of the invisible. Until, someparallax effect of life on art occurred –a mother died, a marriage began unravellingagainst the backdrop of ongoing war –and you noticed for the first time the human hand,clenched and unclenched when the bird took off,saw where previously there had been the usualeffects of cloud, a woman’s lips and imperious brow,nothing like the ones whose dreams you had croppedon a hundred different beds (over the years)and you knew that its persistent passage back and forthmapped the crossroads of a life lived back to frontand that you had before you saw it passed intopost-production when cut into a thousand ribbonsa life joined up is composed of endings – and Shewas rowing into the backlit sky a twig bornecrosswise in her beak, and nothing you could doto stay the creation of next year’s nest.6Then it turned ugly with the fire of endings,waste tumbling out, promontories collapsingas if eschatology had becomea fashionable aesthetic and the bestnooses narrative could devise to staythe flood produced instead an empty deafeningroar. No matter that the essential theme,the solitary stalker on the shore, hadcome into sharp relief, the sand was slippingfrom underfoot, and even the actors hadshot through, gone under, or embalmed intheir last images sought anonymity.Just then, convinced departures had caught upwith you, the master of valedictions, it rainedand stepping out, although it hurt to exercise,you saw reflected in the archipelago of shallowwaters underfoot the craggy impression – thoughtat first the Stork of childhood but battered, cinereous,pointedly accelerating away – a figure whose headshrouded underneath a mac could have been anyartist of the Cold but was instead Ardeacinerea, walking as fast as you could go,splashing wordlessly, a dea, a dieux, and you,although you could not hold up the actionto ask it to pronounce more clearly ashes to ashesor any of the standard phrases actors know,were happy that the cinema underfoothad brought you back a brother to your visiona goddess of the flooded plains whence you came,a totem of the incidental but for whichthe incidents of a life could not take wing.*The clouds are nuclear this Sunday – hardto say whether they are films or screens. I thoughtwith regret of leaving them behind,moored thoughtfully off chimney topsor caught like plastic bags in the powerlines,of the aperture closing to this alonenessat the end – except that this aloneness witnessedas the archipelago aloft, call itregional, an inclination, theseaccumulating hypotheses ofpossible endings that will never be,no, a continent of connected thought –who could not love your muffled outpourings,lowering rumbles and general detachmentfrom the earthquakes scoring agony acrossthe wrapped up surfaces of the world below –embryos of, if not a universal,a film realisation of the whole –who could bear to tear themselves apartfrom this interim investigation of the Real.So every illumination of the loss,though mortal immortalises partingand these passages of the final filmthough unforthcoming about the final cutconnect the islands of our apartness –look, conquistadors come bounding downfrom the sky, bridging horizons, O youare mine, heavenly, deformed creatures,you drifters foreshadow as decisivelyas time allows the shape of thingsto come, the wisdom accumulated inthese ephemeral citadels! the collapsingartifices of faith! O you vocations forthe inexpressible, greet here below onewho raising wings steered up among you,the best and glorious best of what any could do.