I’ve been reading the face of the woman on her knees on Platform Four with her shopping bags spilled around her like a sandcastle ruined by the tide. I’ve been reading the uncertain angle of her head as she gazes into space, blonde hair spilling loose, mouth slack and smeared red. I’ve been reading her enormously vacant eyes: some small madness at the gates. Or perhaps she can see some larger madness approaching that we can’t. Perhaps it’s the rising sea.
I’ve been reading a draft of a musical novel by Kirsten Krauth which pulses and roars with the sound of things being made and growing and being torn down and reborn. I’ve been reading how a music video shot in a Hawthorn rubbish tip in the early 80s turns into a Holbeinian bacchanal of sex and death lit by a burning lake of toxic waste. How one of the ringmasters of that nightmare, now older, lovingly builds instruments from timber over months. ‘How most men don’t issue or embody something other than themselves / How to nurture and create something of their own, bring it into the world, they need to make music.’ Or to write.
I’ve been reading the season in the yellow curl of the quince trees’ leaves at the bottom of the garden, across the road, in the colonial orchard in the historic reserve that everyone has forgotten, except us. We pruned decades of dead wood from the plums and the pears and pulled white netting over their branches and returned to read the swell of their buds. I’ve been reading meaning into the shredded nylon and savaged fruit where some other future clawed its way in. I’ve been reading the look on my love’s face when she places one of the two surviving pears—the first fruit in a decade—into her mouth, and bites.
I’ve been reading sentences that begin in a foreign language and end in a language that was and will be my own. Tērā te wā, ka hinga te matua, ka hurikōaro te ao o Hinarata. Studying Māori, we’ve been reading fairytales and instructions for bath time and bed time as if we’ve taken on parenthood, or reverted to childhood, or both. After a dozen times listening to the words, the sentences makes sense. One day, her father died, turning Cinderella’s world upside-down.
I’ve been reading the signals from my chest and my lungs and my ribs, hoping for silence, but finding static and spikes of pain. I cracked two ribs mountain biking last week and it has attuned me to my body in new ways. I read the terrain of the fabric of my shirt for pitfalls and traps. If I slide my right arm into the sleeve first, will it hurt less than the left? Can I open the spring-loaded door to the bathrooms with my hand, or better to use my foot? I’ve been reading the faces of people when I tell them I’ve injured myself. Sometimes their eyes say oh no. Sometimes they say really? again?
I’ve been reading the dark crevices where doorframe meets door and finding omens for the future of our small house in the bush. I’ve been reading hieroglyphics etched into dry timber when I prise off a weatherboard and disturb a line of termites going relentlessly south. They’re tunnelling through the sense of permanence that’s supposed to come with a home. Safe as houses. Eating the simile, one beam at a time.
I’ve been reading my own notes, taken two years ago now, from books pulled down off shelves in distant libraries containing notes from conversations with long-dead ancestors about their irreducibly visceral relationships to land. I’m in Australia writing a book about the Southern Alps of New Zealand, told through walking journeys, into the Maori perception of mountains, and a pre-European sense of place. I’m reading back through my own journals trying to conjure the feeling of standing on Copland Ridge after fresh snow in the freezing air where nothing has a smell but the melted glacier far below our feet is a monstrous ruin, like a bombed city after war. It’s a shocking beauty. I’m trying to get that shock onto the page.
I haven’t been reading Twitter. I haven’t been reading Instagram. I haven’t been reading Facebook. I’ve been reading about how Facebook has learned to read us.
I’ve been reading one hundred and thirty three undergrad short stories. I’ve been reading about the behaviour of insecticides, and termites, and how termites think your house is an enormous dead tree. I’ve been reading about growing, and pruning. I’ve been reading how long fractures take to heal. When I get tired and run out of ideas I’ve been reading Gumtree ads. Knee pads. Elbow pads. Gloves.
Nic Low writes satire, apocalypse and wilderness. His first book Arms Race was an ABR and Listener book of the year, and shortlisted for the Readings Prize and Queensland Literary Awards. He’s currently writing his second book, an indigenous history of New Zealand’s mountains, told through walking journeys.