This piece is about 3 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Simon Robb and Jacket magazine 2007.
Jane wants to cross the street to talk to the people, goes to the people, after a motorcycle has passed. Is always careful of the traffic, even in these backstreets. Sits down with the people. Has the people on her mind, at the table on the street. Is offered some tea. The tea is poured. Jane looks anxiously down the narrow street, not sure why, something always bothering Jane, someone watching perhaps who she can’t control. Wants to be in control. Sips her tea. Is offered some cake. Jane smiles, commutating gratitude to the people. Jane is empty inside, even within her anxiety about surveillance, even inside there is still a place for nothing to happen. The wind blows the trees, what trees there are here, they are empty too. She is practicing mindfulness in the presence of the people. This is how it begins at least here and now, although it also began ten thousand years prior to this in bronze- age markets and something that eludes her now. Something about the river that runs through Hanoi and the people and the rice and the way in which the people have always been here, at this very place, in this very moment, that has not moved or gone away, at least not now, in the sipping of tea, in the emptiness of the people. Without anything to give to the people except her emptiness, Jane is nothing but her presence, the presence of Jane, next to a table of flowers and incense and a small house taken over by the people for spiritual purposes. Jane thinks of a spirit that returns again and again to earth for enlightenment. Knows that much about being spiritual. Doesn’t know why it should return. Perhaps because it must, or wants to, must be one of those, if it returns it must be one of those. There is either an inevitable return or a voluntary one. How did you come to be here, Jane? Came here to the people voluntarily. Must be a spiritual thing. Feels her spirit. Starts to glow spiritual in front of the people. Gets up from her chair. Takes the hand of a man and grips it kindly, smiles, as if radiating her spirit, full of understanding and affection, for all the other spirits, with whom Jane is in solidarity with, in this time of war atrocities. Jane has will. Jane willed herself here, the one who willingly entered the 14th realm of the dragon, in solidarity with the river and its people, and the company they offer. Jane shakes another hand and crosses the street; satisfied her empty spirit has shone and embraced the realm between times. In this place, Jane ascends the stairs and lies down on her bed. Jane is tired from her solidarity and spirit work. Jane is looking out the window from her hotel and out to the balcony, looks down the street, down along the streets to the French colonial architecture, fading quickly now from de-colonisation, she believes, at least that is the thought running through Jane’s mind as she stands on the balcony. Jane goes inside, puts her coffee down on the table near the bed, thinks about getting dressed, lies down on her bed. Hanoi and Jane are one, but America and Jane are not. She remembers America using a route taken long ago by the society of free men, who have all since perished in fires and accidents and disease. The society of free men come again here to this point where they are needed. To the place where Hanoi Jane is, in the midst of her crisis. Worries about death and destruction and what happens inside oneself after death is dealt out. Has worried for many years about action in times of atrocities. Wouldn’t be the first who had felt like fleeing at such a time. As did the society of free men. Invokes the presence of the society of free men. The words come from her lips quickly, lying on the bed in the hotel room, in the increasing presence of the heat of the day, she says help me. Descending from the stars, the society of free men are used to strange places and times. There is no time that has not invoked them. Are familiar with all times and no place to them is strange. Even places without freedom, without the capacity to accommodate the free choice of spirit inhabitation. Where there is no freedom the society of free men return through obligation. Jane fell from the stars too, voluntarily, that day when she came to Hanoi, with the society of free men in the back of her mind, and the desire to be with the people. The society of free men have come to help Jane. They arrive at midnight and enter through the hotel foyer. Silently, while everyone is asleep. They check the register for Jane. Find her in her room, still sleepy, tired from having given to the people. The free men sense her waning spirit and her confusion, her fear of surveillance, her inner emptiness, her body still damp from immersion in the bronze-age river. The free men take up their places by her bedside, patiently, calmly, tenderly, even here in the middle of war. Take her breath and place it here within this cup. They light incense and one reads from the book of free men. Jane can give herself away whenever she desires. There is no stronger desire than to give of oneself to others, Jane thinks that, for now, that is enough. The society of free men are calm and willing to listen to these thoughts. The war is killing my soul. These thoughts need to be drained away from the heart and from the brain before their total malevolence interposes itself there. The free men drain it away. They suck delusions out and dump them in Halong Bay, at approximately three thirty in the morning, when no-one is around. Now there is nothing left inside Jane once the free men have evacuated her anxieties. The troubles are taken downstairs. It’s two am, plenty of time left to get to the Bay. Jane is refreshed now, even after giving to the people, and her exorcism by the free men. It’s getting late, it is late, the free men are on their way and now Jane’s emptiness is almost complete. A few waves, however, still wash up bloated corpses from America. These things that are remanets from another world, that resonate even after a complete exorcism by the free men. The things come from too far away to ever be completely erased. They roll over the horizon just at that farthest point, as the sea is being sucked out as far as you thought it could go, Jane, they tip over into the daytime, having just been set free from the night, they come eventually into full view, arms outstretched, slimy and black, wanting to be loved. Jane can’t love those dead who roll now into the clear expanse. Can’t love the returning of the dead, from across the other side of the world, why do they appear here and now, why, also, Jane, is this question so without insight. The appearance of the corpse is as easily explained as the appearance of the living body, shrouded in guns and planes, white bodies alive and killing all before them, they came here, Jane, to kill and destroy. And they remain, even as corpses. And they come back to you, after your exorcism, as the unaccounted. They do not come invited, the corpses that come in towards land, riding on a wall of water. The society of free men are not corpses and do not come unbidden but rather come to the water to release and dispel. The society of free men, who only came because they were requested, make their way to Halong Bay, to the shore, looking out towards the mountain peaks emerging from the water, the free men go down to the water, deeply, and scatter Jane’s wartime anxieties.
Simon Robb is an Adelaide based writer and researcher. He is currently working on an Australian Research Council research project on the utopian imagination of young people on the margins of society. His most recent book is the experimental history The Hulk, 2003, Post Taste, Sydney.
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