May 242012
 

I am at the train station in Savannah, feeling like I’m leaving home.

Which, in my own strange way, I am, after two weeks in the same bed, waking to the same birds outside the same window.

Savannah is a near-three hour drive to the Atlantic coast from Augusta. A port town. A pirate town. Rhett Butler’s town.

A late lunch of ‘wild’ Georgia shrimp in a stale po’boy roll (clearly they weren’t countin’ on an Aussie who knows a fresh prawn when she bites down on one), down by the old docks on River Street, cobbled and dressed up for tourists, its shops stacked sky high with the same stuff you find in tourist shops all over the world – only these clothes and trinkets were stamped ‘Savannah’.

We cross the Savannah River, wide and brown, the same river I walked beside in Augusta with Harry and Mee-shu in tow, spilling now at journey’s end into the sea.

My publisher, Lucinda, makes several U-turns as we make our way to the station. I have learned after two weeks’ in her passenger seat that she has a penchant for U-turns. Happy circles.

We pull in. We unload my bag. We hug. I walk to the front door and wave her off.

I am leaving home.

Heading north to my future.

North, to New York City.

 

 May 24, 2012  Tagged with: ,  2 Responses »
May 172012
 

AUGUSTA SNAPSHOTS

 

I have American fans. Meet the Talk the Talk Ladies Book Club from Augusta, Georgia.

They have been blogging my book: lively, engaging, challenging online conversation.

chocolateamethyst, their leader, said last night, when she introduced me to the crowd at the Augusta library – they have been sharing my journey so SERIOUSLY she cried when she got to the last page because the journey itself was over.

The TTT Ladies love my book. And according to my publisher, my talk was a hit with the crowd. Although she coughed, loudly, to drown out the words ‘Hillary Clinton’ as I spoke them. Not that my speech was about Hillary, and all I was gonna say was ‘a certain Democrat woman’.

We were discussing American politics, only briefly, in response to a question.

I laughed out loud when she coughed; we are, after all, in the heart of the Republican bible belt. And it is, after all, her territory, not mine. The publisher’s, I mean, not Hillary’s.

She was being funny, by the way.

I think.

Her father is in his 80s. He has always wanted to walk from Aiken, where he lives, to Augusta. After listening to me speak about the pilgrimage I shared with my son Ben, he’s gonna pull on his boots and make that 20-mile walk.

A couple of days ago I walked Harry and Mee-shu, my publisher’s dogs, down to the Savannah River. On the way home, right at the moment I noticed the sheriff’s car idling in the car park by the river just up ahead, I glanced down and noticed the fly in my shorts was undone – not just politely unzipped, but wide open gaping at the world.

I nearly died! If that cop was lookin’ in his side mirror he would have seen my undies through that circle of zip!

At best, here in the bible belt, I felt slothful. At worst, down by the river, like an weird ol’ lady pervert.

I met a woman yesterday who had 12 brothers. More than this, she was the seventh child – six older brothers, six younger. I pictured her at the apex of a mountain of brothers.

‘No,’ she said before I had a chance to say anything at all. ‘I was not spoiled.’

I was more thinkin’ ‘at least you got new clothes’.

There is old man’s beard hanging from the trees overhanging the Savannah River.

Now I know why it’s called ‘Old Man’s Beard’.

In Australia it should be called ‘Teenage Stubble’.

They have a saying here in Augusta, about worry.

What do we know about worry? It’s like a rocking chair – gives you somethin’ to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere.

 May 17, 2012  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
May 142012
 

Roz: who sat in the cafe writing her first poem in a dozen years, preparing for her moment of stage glory. She blitzed it, gentle grace.

The N word.

A young black man steps up to the microphone and blasts poetry from his mouth that begins with the N word.

Nasty, sharp.

He is talking to his brothers with words that twist and turn like the rope of his hair, callin’ them to attention with N, N, N, callin’ them out, callin’ them in, callin’ them he sees how they treat ‘their’ women, he sees them lazy, he sees them steppin’ back from their responsibilities as men.

But all I can truly hear is N, N, N.

Lady Vee steps up to the microphone: ‘Let’s give it up for free speech,’ she says.

But not for the N word.

Lady Vee DaPoet is a woman of power and presence, a performer and poet of grace and skill and our MC for an open mic night in which I am the guest star.

She’s clever too – you can find her given name in her stage name.

(I’ll put Australians out of their quizzical misery – it’s DaVeata.)

Before intermission and after a steady line of delicious performance in that crowded Urban Grind cafe, Lady Vee introduces her next guest with such gusto, passion, enthusiasm, intelligence and respect that I look around the room thinking ‘wow, whose this gonna be …?’ – and it’s me.

The room is mostly young; they are confident, their hearts bursting with their own promise. They perform their poetry and sing their songs like for all the world they do this every week, which they do, and the world is waiting for their gift, which it ought to be. Theirs is the bold entitlement inherent to all Americans blessed with a microphone and a stage.

It’s my turn. I step up. I look around. The room is all black. In America’s South I have a new box – I am not just a woman, I am a white woman. And everywhere I go at the moment I am the only white woman in the room. It took me a while to realize this. And I am starting to wonder why this is so. I’ve not had a single white person in my audience in the South. On the surface it looks like the South has come a long long long long way in race relations. Black people own big houses and drive beautiful cars. You will find them on both sides of the counter, just like whites – the waited upon and the waiting on. I wonder if white people do not come to black events on purpose. Or if the cultures at their most comfortable simply celebrate differently. Or if black people would prefer white people stayed away. And if trust is yet a while away at the South’s social core.

I suspect there is still a big conversation to be had in the USA. Or perhaps some folks is tired of havin’ it.

Lady Vee asks me a question about my journey with my son. It is supposed to be a Q&A. As I draw to the end of my answer I look over to find her sitting down – I am on my own. So I draw my story out and then I read, three passages that bring the house down.

My publisher is pleased.

I’m relieved, because I had decided this was an audience who needed to hear some things and rather than play safe with beauty and mild adventure in prose, I slugged them with stories of worlds they know in ignorance, with a short history of what things were like for women just a generation or two before me and my favorite story of all: the one about how the men of the Arab world gave me the greatest gift of all, the gift of self; how they modeled for me what it is to fill your own space with nothing but . . . yourself. Speaking as a woman, that was an extraordinary experience. These are men so confident in their own bearing they do not spill their energy beyond their own boundaries. Every woman on Earth should feel, as a birthright, what it is to fill our own space and unapologetically possess all of it, right out to a circle of about three feet around us. All mine. No encroachment. I have never experienced this in the West.

On the drive back to my hotel, through Atlanta’s Saturday night traffic rushing home in the rain, I thought again about the N word.

And was reminded of my experiment with the C word. These two words, as far as I’m concerned, are in competition for the ‘Worst English Word on Earth’. They are sickening words, hateful words. Many years ago, a few friends were experimenting with the C word, with speaking it out loud. We would call each other a C and roll around laughing, doing our best to take the sting out of a hateful word.

One day I went too far. I emailed my sister (at work!) with just one four-letter word. It was bold, red and typed in font so big it filled the entire screen. I thought I was being funny. She never said a word. And to this day she never has.

Imagine, opening an email at work and staring down that word. A big loud angry C word, in your face. My sister was not part of the experiment. That word came out of the blue and must have slapped her so hard it took the wind out of day.

The N word. Perhaps he was experimenting with claiming that which hurt like hell, a way of possessing the power others think they have over you.

Like women who reclaim the C word.

And now there is a whole movement of women reclaiming the S word with an annual event called Slut Walk.

I understand their mission, but I cannot join them.

 May 14, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  2 Responses »
May 122012
 

AUGUSTA, GA

 

There is a lake down the road called Lake Oconee. This picture is not the lake, but I’ll get to it in a moment.

Lake Oconee struck at my brain for two reasons – first, I’d never heard of it and I was surrounded by signs to places I’ve been singin’ about and hearin’ about all my life.

Places like Chattanooga, Montgomery, Birmingham – Lake Oconee?

As we sped across the water of the lake. on a massive cement freeway that carved Lake Oconee in two, and diminished this huge body of water to a glimpse and a few seconds, I stared into the wilderness and realised that this was the kind of water you saw Indians drinking at, along with deer and bear, in the old westerns we watched on TV.

And I was stunned by how you can take a photo of a place in modern urban America and it looks like the wild places are fully alive and present – yet they are pockets, remnants, fragments.

Like the little creek in my photograph, which I came across yesterday walking Harry, my publisher’s dog.

To Harry’s disgust I sat awhile on the rocks by the bubbling water, marveling at the scent on the wind, the high and low notes of the cyprus pine, quite different to the gum of my own land, yet earthy, just the same.

As I stilled to the air and the water, again I was keeping company with shadows among the trees. Only this time the shadows were not those of the fearful dark skinned people on the run, they were the first nation peoples – because I know it’s not nearly okay to call them Indians any more and in truth I can’t quite come at ‘first nation’ either; although I like the words, the pedantry of the ¬†journalist now buried deep within inhibits me from employing the word ‘first’ any more than I could use the word ‘unique’ – because nothing ever is, either unique or first – but ‘first’ is all I have because I’m not sure ‘native Americans’ is much better, now that we have so many native generations from so many different sources.

The politics of time and tide hijack me from the shadows . . .the deer, the bear and the people who rarely chopped down the trees in the forest, who lived in skin and hide, who ate and drank and worshipped the earth their home and the animals who shared it with them . . . and learned to paint with all the colors of the wind.

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they’re worth

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind.

 

 May 12, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
May 082012
 

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA

 

This big house in Augusta, Georgia is my now-home.

The room on the right with the open windows is mine.

The house belongs to my publisher, Lucinda, whose welcoming smile and southern sense of hospitality have carved out a space for me that is all mine.

All morning I wrote a speech, getting ready for tomorrow, the first true book event of my US tour, a couple of hours down the road in Atlanta.

This afternoon I took a walk down to the Savannah River rapids. If I’d heard that name, Savannah, when I was pregnant with my daughter she’d be named for the power, grace and beauty of that word.

Like maintenance free communities all over the modern world, the wild places in Martinez, Augusta are to be found in scattered weeds, pine needles that refuse to be hemmed by trimmed lawns, treetops and puddles.

The temperature is perfect. Warm and humid, the breeze bringing stories from the east.

I find the river and sit on a low rock wall listening to the shush of the water over the stones I cannot see. I long to go down to the water’s edge, but the fact I left my windows open in that big Georgian house is pecking at my brain – I swear mine are the only open windows in all of Georgia and, after all, it’s not my house.

I walk back the way I came, for a moment scissored between clipped urban woods, a mile or so back up the road. In the house, I follow the darkened corridor to my room, the slow fan twirling on the ceiling, afternoon sunshine shooting through those wide open windows, and I close my door against the chill of the air-con ranging through the rest of the house.

. . . there’s a reason warm and sultry places throw up warm and sultry women.

 May 8, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
May 072012
 

ATLANTA, GEORGIA

 

Downtown Atlanta looks like it’s preparing for a party whose guests never came.

Those party streets are as empty now on Sunday morning as they were when I arrived at 8pm last night.

I’m just out for a wander through the empty streets, headed towards the shining gold dome lit up by the early morning sunshine – the Capitol Building, of course.

All the parking spaces for the Governor’s staff are filled; they’re mighty committed to Georgia, I must say.

Across the road is the imposing Shrine of the Ascension, the white-tipped church of the Roman Catholics, and, before that, the smaller, somewhat sweeter grey church of the Presbyterians.

Why am I not surprised there is only a thin line between church and state in Georgia?

On the street are the tired, all crumpled and worn; the weary, pushing little trolleys loaded with their worldly possessions away from the rising sun; and the early for church in their Sunday bests. All seven of us.

A squirrel bounds across a wide road, a bus bearing down upon it. Sometimes I wonder if squirrels are all that’s left of the animals of the lower half of the USA. Little bitty animals sitting right at the top of the food chain.

Atlanta, in case you don’t know it, is home to Coca Cola. I think that says a lot, although I”m not sure exactly what.

Today my publisher scoops me up from this footpath and the business end of the book tour begins.

Watch this space.

 May 7, 2012  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
May 062012
 

JACKSON – MERIDIAN – ATLANTA

 

Aboard the only home I know these days, the Amtrak trains rattling around the United States of America, I remembered I had The Help as an audio book on my phone.

I remembered this ‘cos of a comment made by the man I sat next to on the bus from Jackson to Meridien.

He was born and bred Jackson.

He said all his friends were talkin’ ’bout this new movie and he wasn’t gonna see it, ‘cos it dissed his home town.

‘The way they tell it,’ he said, ‘it wasn’t like that. Maybe itty bitty bits, but me and the black kids all played together, we was all po’ together.’

And I thought, yes, poverty is a leveller.

And I thought it must be quite sumthin’ when folks thinks they know all about you – what you do, what you think, what you believe – just ‘cos they saw a movie.

Meridian.

Just across the line and a little south-west of Meridian is Lillian, the red dirt girl from a red dirt world.

And the dirt is red. Which surprised me. The colour of the dirt from home.

I had to get the bus to Meridian, the only way I was gonna to get to Atlanta without goin’ all the way back to New Orleans. In Meridian I could meet the train.

Meridien. I have loved that word since Alice Walker wrote a book with the same title. And I’ve been singin’ Emmylou’s song since I learned I was headin’ to the US of A.

The bus was packed with America’s down, but not out. And Bill, born n bred Jackson, Mississippi.

He said there used to be three classes in America – rich, poor and middle class. A union man, he pointed out that the unions created the middle class. Before that there was rich and poor. And now, he said, there are four classes: educated, not educated, ignorant and rich.

In Meridian I boarded that train, settled in with my audiobook and rattled my way across three states – Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia – listenin’ to Southern voices tell me a story.

I laughed out loud with the book’s opening – it’s set in Jackson, Mississippi, right where I just came from, and she wonders out loud about 200,000 people livin’ in Jackson and where are they all?

I had the same thought myself. In a city carved up by big roads, it is impossible to see where that many people are livin’ – and I’m sure there’s more there now than there was in 1962.

Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia.

What a world.

Here are the lyrics to Red Dirt Girl – as a picture, the song is utterly brilliant.

Me and my best friend Lillian
And her blue tick hound dog Gideon,
Sittin on the front porch cooling in the shade
Singin every song the radio played
Waitin for the Alabama sun to go down
Two red dirt girls in a red dirt town
Me and Lillian
Just across the line and a little southeast of Meridian.

She loved her brother I remember back when
He was fixin up a ’49 Indian
He told her ‘Little sister, gonna ride the wind
Up around the moon and back again”
He never got farther than Vietnam,
I was standin there with her when the telegram come
For Lillian.
Now he’s lyin somewhere about a million miles from Meridian.

She said there’s not much hope for a red dirt girl
Somewhere out there is a great big world
Thats where I’m bound
And the stars might fall on Alabama
But one of these days I’m gonna swing
My hammer down
Away from this red dirt town
I’m gonna make a joyful sound

She grew up tall and she grew up thin
Buried that old dog Gideon
By a crepe myrtle bush in the back of the yard,
Her daddy turned mean and her mama leaned hard
Got in trouble with a boy from town
Figured that she might as well settle down
So she dug right in
Across a red dirt line just a little south east from Meridian

She tried hard to love him but it never did take
It was just another way for the heart to break
So she dug right in.
But one thing they don’t tell you about the blues
When you got em
You keep on falling cause there ain’t no bottom
There ain’t know end.
At least not for Lillian

Nobody knows when she started her skid,
She was only 27 and she had five kids.
Coulda’ been the whiskey,
Coulda been the pills,
Coulda been the dream she was trying to kill.
But there won’t be a mention in the news of the world
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Names Lillian
Who never got any farther across the line than Meridian.

Now the stars still fall on Alabama
Tonight she finally laid
That hammer down
Without a sound
In the red dirt ground