Sport 29: Spring 2002
Laura Kroetsch — Moby Dick on Darwin Harbour
I'm sitting near Darwin Harbour reading Moby Dick—a banged up copy that I use to shield my face from the sun. If I look slightly to the left I can see the sea and in the distance tankers. They're waiting, anchored, in what looks like midstream. I come here every day and lie in the shade reading. Ants crawl up my legs and so occasionally I have to move to a different bench. Most of what I do every day is read Moby Dick.
Every day I read Moby Dick. I dream the novel. In the mornings I read in the trailer where we are living. It feels like being in a cabin, a too small place with bad light.
In the air-conditioning I lie on the too-small bed once Tim has gone to work. Tim works on the shrimp boats—hot dirty difficult work. On Fridays the men who work on the boats drink light beer—they're afraid of being caught driving drunk. Those who don't care, or who have already lost their licenses, drink Bundy and Coke. I don't know what Tim drinks. I never go meet them. Tim asks me, but I prefer to go and sit by the water or to read. My suspicion is that I will find their world more interesting at a distance. So instead at night Tim drives me down to the docks to look at the boats.
I like to think about Melville in the Pacific, about the Islands, and the Lucy and finding his way back to the States. I don't know if Melville ever came to this place, but it feels like an outlaw place. It feels like the kind of place where the things you see invite the story, a place full of men and their longings.
I'm reading Moby Dick, that great rage of Empire in Ahab against nature, that wholly American determination to seize the world. That fury at the injustice of a world being stolen by a people convinced it was made for them to take. I think about the ruthlessness and the beauty of the wildness, in the men, in the whale. Knee deep in desire, they are both made, and unmade. Capturing a kind of beauty, which page 173 is so often too much, and at the same time insufficient.
I'm reading Moby Dick while staying at a gay bar cum trailer park. I read the great sperm scene alone in a tiny trailer while at the bar across the courtyard men drink and long for each other under broken lights. One night Tim comes in late. He tells me about spending the night watching one man stroke another's penis. Tim tells me it was an act born out of boredom, that one of the men was straight, that the other was lonely. He tells me that nothing happened, that eventually they all simply lost interest. I can't image that on the Pequod or in Manhattan it was ever boredom, but what would I know.
I've read Melville for years, but had never read Moby Dick. He is in American letters everywhere, a literary Elvis, a sign of all that is revolutionary and anarchic in our collective American souls. He is in pop songs and liner notes and everybody else's novels. And yet you are not prepared for this amazing piece of writing, nor do you know that for the next year you will return again and again to Melville and Moby Dick. To your own feelings of madness being in that strange faraway place, of dreaming the Pequod and Darwin and whatever it is you are trying to write.
I'm sitting at Bitter Springs, I'm crying, Tim is swimming. As he swims he calls out to me about a magical underwater world. I cry. I can't bear the thought of getting in the water—it's oily. I have finished reading Moby Dick. It's unbearably hot. White cockatoos swoop from tree to tree, they seem reckless and sinister. The grass is too high here. I'm afraid of snakes. It's hard to breathe.
Sometimes the world is too much and I falter. Tim is floating in his facemask delighting in the world—fearless and full of joy. I continue to cry knowing that at this moment he is tired of me. When Tim gets out of the water, he gets us some food. I eat some fruit and a bit of melting cheese. He takes me to a park further along and I fall asleep.
The next day I swim in the spring and I see the magical underwater world. My sadness and fear gone. Together Tim and I see 200,000 flying foxes returning from a night's hunt. They arrive in waves and become the sky. They settle in the trees, pulling the long leaves down with them, flapping their wings to cool their small bodies. They rustle and squeak and this makes the tourists uneasy. They drip acrid white page 174 guano onto the boardwalk and so will not be allowed to stay.
We watch the park service try to move the bats with a helicopter. They are ‘pushed’ along by the helicopter's downdraft. The rangers force the bats off the trees and into the air. The bats circle and resettle. The helicopter continues, knowing that eventually the bats will get tired and move downstream. Today the helicopter has been ‘pushing’ them for four hours. A park ranger tells us that they will do this every day until the bats move. He predicts it will take a week. It's hard not to think about men and nature.