Alone in the land of others
An outside visitor I am to them,
Whenever a festival arrives
I miss you all the more.
From afar I know you brother
Climbing up the mountains,
The zhuyu plant is worn by all
Except for the one absent.

On the Double Ninth Festival: Thinking of My Brothers in Shandong

By Wang Wei
(Translated by Zong-qui Cai)

I sensed some kind of trouble, but nothing I could clearly define; a feeling akin to the time of menses, but as much in the head as in the hollow of my gut. A kind of tearing — a pressure in my ears of rising blood and whispered screams. Deep basal thuds I feel in my chest, coming through space as though something were being bludgeoned from my soul. I could not fathom it, but knew it to be central to my being. I thought of my twin brother. I had felt this way before. It was in the weeks after the typhoon in the year 1874, when our father, mother and two younger sisters all died. On the bare earth under a hastily constructed shelter built from the salvaged timbers of our fallen home — while my brother was away in the Provincial Capital, acquiring medicines, a little smoke and food, I tended to my ailing parents and sisters as they lay, afflicted by the demons of a most virulent fever.
When all four lapsed into delirium and unconsciousness I turned to prayer and invoked the powers of the Ancients, for the demons that plagued their bodies were strong. Alas, these demons were so strong the sacred herbs and tokens I used in my ministrations had little effect, and I too was almost overcome. As my parents and sisters drew nearer to their last breaths I was forced to enter a deep meditation that my brother later told me lasted some eight or nine days.
In this time of reflection I was troubled by a terrible tearing sensation, like the onset of debilitating cramps in the stomach, or what I imagined I would feel were I experiencing a miscarriage – though I had never been with child – but more cerebral than visceral. I became lost in myself and felt my grasp on reality slipping, until the Ancients spoke to me, commanding that my brother and I abandon our ancestral home, for to remain was now pointless, and that we must travel south.
With a dizzying rush I found I had returned to this mortal plane; the stomach pain and all signs of my family gone. For a time I feared that my brother had succumbed to the same vile fever, but when he appeared my heart was overjoyed. I was saddened when he told me the sorrowful news that our family was dead and in their graves, and that he could no longer stay in this place. My brother had sold all of his possessions and what little had remained of the wreckage of our family home, and entreated me to go with him for he would soon be leaving to seek his fortune in the goldfields of Australia. I would follow, but I did not reveal to my brother the words of the Ancients.
Alas, during our journey we parted, and I shall never forgive myself for leaving him. My brother and I had taken opium with a trader from Siam when the merchant ship in which we sailed had docked for repairs in Batavia. As we descended into sweet amnesia I was jolted awake when I heard the voice of our father. It was as clear to my ear as though he were sitting directly beside me. My father commanded me to give what remained of the little money I had, to my brother, and to let him go on to Australia alone. He commanded me to travel east on foot until I came to a fiery mountain where, he said, descendents of our family had come hundreds of years before and where I would be welcome to practice my medicine and healing, and to pray and meditate. Lastly, he told me not to despair for I would meet my brother again in the afterlife.
That night while my brother slept on the deck of the ship I placed a note by his head, explaining our father’s words and what was to be done. I wept as I looked for the last time at my twin brother’s sleeping face and it pained me to think we should have to part in such a way. But the memory of my father’s instructions, and the knowledge that the mystical powers of the Ancients would see us reunited in the afterlife, spurred me on. A moment later I was gone.
Now, many years later I feel the same stomach ache coming on, the terrible sensation as before, as though something were being physically ripped from me. I sit in my new home in the jungle village, and I look up at the smoking mountain that dominates my every southward glance — the direction in which my brother went. I direct my energies to the worsening pain. I fear some evil has befallen him — my brother.

Argus divider

Taken from The Argus, Friday 8 August, 1884:


At about 8 o’clock on Wednesday morning, August 6, the body of a Chinaman named An Gaa, alias Tan Kar, aged between 30 and 35 years, was discovered in a house in Punch’s lane, off Little Bourke street east. It appears, from what can be ascertained of the occurrence, that the deed was a willful and brutal murder. The unfortunate man’s skull had been smashed in several places, and a man’s shirt wrapped around the head and mouth of the body. The corpse was covered in gore, there was blood on the floor, and the marks of blood having been splashed upon the walls. Around about the place were evidence that the room was frequently used for the consumption of opium. The supposition is that the man was murdered without an outcry, either taken by surprise, or having been affected by opium at the time of the murder, for if he had cried out his voice could easily have been heard at a neighbour’s house. The circumstances connected with the tragedy are as yet unknown…

Argus divider

“  I beat my machine.
It’s a part of me. It’s inside of me.
I’m stuck in this dream.
It’s changing me. I am becoming…”

The Becoming
By Nine Inch Nails

Twenty-seven days have now gone by since everything got turned upside-down. Twenty-seven little squares on my calendar. But I’m not counting. Time isn’t important to me. I just miss my Mum and twenty-seven days have passed since I saw her get buried at Fawkner cemetery, and then my sister left for London and now I am alone. To make it all worse, slumped into the earth like a manifestation of those twenty-seven days, this fucking city holds nothing for me, no good memories. There is so much that is mundane and grey in this place, there will never be anything memorable or iconic here.

I’ve started having visions. Since Mum’s death they’ve come to me like daydreams, but less lucid; these vivid out of body scenes that take over my mind. Or at least, they feel as if they’re playing out in my mind, but it’s hard to tell because the experience feels so real and time does strange things when they happen. Even stranger is that I feel like none of it’s mine. It’s difficult to explain, but they don’t feel like they’re solely mine, and yet they most definitely are. I can’t describe it any better than that – how I know – but I know that they are mine.

Reading, but not really taking anything in. The train isn’t a good place to study even at the best of times, so I just look at the pictures, running my fingers through my hair, trying not to look out the window. There are billboards and posters everywhere advertising the grand prix, like we’ve won the frigging lottery or something, but I couldn’t care less. I just want to ignore it. Instead I focus on the pictures in my book, and I am drawn to one picture in particular; a painting that seems to sum up exactly the way I feel about this place. No-one could have depicted Melbourne as perfectly as John Brack did. Whether it be 1955, 1995 or 2025, this place is, was, and always will be grey. Grey is the new black and it’s not just in Collins Street anymore and it’s not just after 5 PM. It was at my mother’s funeral too. My sister wore a dress the colour of ash. The headstone read: 9 July 1995.

There are two visions in particular that are becoming more and more frequent. In one I am sitting perfectly still on a bed of packed earth in a clearing at the base of a towering volcano. The sky is a strange dark-blue and grey mottled veil, everything gloomy, swimming in deep-navy shadow, and I am a gnomon, dressed all in white marking celestial motion as the volcano smoulders away in fast-forward and the day passes in smooth time-lapse around me. In the other I am standing in an empty dirt road out in the country somewhere, hair loose, hanging down my back, and I look like a woman. I’m wearing a kind of flowing dress and I’m holding something in my hand that I can’t make out, and lights like passing night-time traffic sweep by on either side in ribbons of red and gold, even though it’s the middle of the day, and there are strange trees around that remind me of the kind I have seen in old ink drawings.

My headphones are slightly painful on my ears, causing discomfort in my neck, giving me a headache. But it’s nothing to the wind-blown rubbish and scrubby grey weeds and the graffiti-covered concrete, the cream-brick facades and the dented corrugated-iron, rusted cyclone fencing and dinged old delivery trucks that swing by my window. The tawdry posters and billboards, just more money wasted by an ego-maniac politician, a vain attempt to win another term, all on the fake pretext of making this city memorable. But no-one gives a shit. The grand prix will just be a momentary flash of colour that most of the population won’t even see and we’ll all just continue on in our dreary grey existence and it will be over and forgotten by the following weekend anyway. It makes me feel like I’m dying inside just to look out upon it. The music helps.

No sound accompanies these visions. Only a deep sorrow for someone or something gone or missing, a conflicted desire for revenge – for my Mum’s deceptions and my sister’s leaving – and this horrible, vertiginous sensation of slowly leaning forward, a growing anxiety that feels like there should be some kind of ear-splitting screaming sound accompanying it, increasing as I close in on the point of falling. But there is only silence and an rising terror, the fear of tumbling into these strange imaginings and being trapped there forever.

On the train home one evening I was overcome by this weird pain in my stomach, but such a head-fuck of a stomach ache. For a brief moment an insane thought passed through my mind; that I was having a miscarriage! Biologically impossible, so how would I know what that was like, right? Where this thought came from I have no idea, but I felt a confusing sense of relief and sort of like the pain was wholesome somehow, like it would make me stronger, and that my thoughts were perfectly sane. I had to fight to convince myself that this was crazy, that, actually, it was probably stress, just something I’d eaten. Then I thought, maybe, finally, I was having a mental breakdown.
Then things grew dark and I felt a now familiar fear rising in the pit of my stomach, confusing relief turning to confusion and terror as the empty country road vision came upon me, blotting out all other thoughts. Except it wasn’t a country road this time. This time I was in a vaguely familiar suburban street, somewhere my fear-addled brain couldn’t place. It was dark. I saw myself standing, as before, my back turned, in the middle of the road as lights swept around me. The road was paved, not clay and sand.
Like the other times I was dressed all in white, looking oddly feminine, my hair out, hanging down my back, and my arms hung at my sides, palms facing forward. I felt the same sense of leaning forward, peering closer, and the increasing panic and maddening sensation of slowly falling into the scene. There was something in my hand, the me that stood in the middle of the road, but the image was clearer this time. It was something long and thin, like a pencil, that shone dully in the blue-black light and dripped dark splashes on to the white fabric of my long gown.
When I realised what it was and that the stain was soaking blood it was like a flicked switch in my head and all of a sudden I was consumed with the most appalling noise; of a woman screaming in agony. The noise kept getting louder and louder, and just when I thought I’d reached the point of falling forever into that hellish place, the ghostly figure in the middle of the street abruptly turned, hissing, “He deigns to leave her,” and violently jamming down the plunger of the dripping syringe.

Argus divider

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