Friday, 1 April 2016

Extract from Nick Cave's 1989 classic 'And The Ass Saw The Angel'.

There below! O little valley!
Two shattered knees of land rise and open to make a crease between. Down the bitten inner flank we go, where trees laden with thick vines grow upon the trembling slopes. Some hang out into the valley at dangerous angles, their worried roots rising from the hillside soil as they suffer the creeping burden that trusses and binds and weighs like the world across their limbs. This knitted creeper, these trees, all strung one to one and chained to the ground by vine.
Travelling the length of the valley, south to north, as the crow flies, we follow its main road as it weaves its way along the flat of the valley's belly. From up here it could be a ribbon, as we pass over the first of many hundreds of acres of smouldering cane.
Tonight is the first night of the seasonal 'burn-off', an occasion of great importance and high festivity for Ukulore Valley, when the townsfolk all take to the tall fields to watch the wall of fire sweep the cane of its useless foliage, its 'trash'. Yet this night sees all strangely quiet here on the out-fields: wet sacks and snake-beaters carelessly abandoned, sparks and grey ash borne silently through the air on a low wind.
The sugar refinery sprawls out by the east flank, a mile from the town. We can hear the steady chugging of its engines. Trolleys ­some empty, some part loaded - sit forgotten on the tracks.
Wing on and past, over the town itself, where the rusty corrugated roofs grow denser and we can see the playground and the Court­house and Memorial Square.
Down there, in the centre of the Square, erected at the very heart of the valley, the marble sepulchre containing the relics of the prophet crumbles and splits beneath the slogging of three down­borne mallets.
A group of black-clad mourners, mostly women, watch on as the monument is destroyed. See how they wail and gnash their teeth! And see the great marble angel, its face carved in saintly composure, one arm held high, a gilded sickle in its fist; will they bring that down as well?
And on, through the commotion, through the town's stormy heart, where women mourn as at a wake, bullying their grief with breasts bruised black and knuckles bleeding. Watch how they fan the streets with their wild, black gestures, twisting the sack-cloth of their robes with pleading seizures and dark spasms.
From up here they look like ground-birds.
Circle once these Creatures of grief, and then onward across the stricken town, over the clusters of trailers where the cane-cutters live, at the heel of the rhythm of the crops. Here, at this dark hour, only their women and frightened children remain. Standing at their windows, the ghosts of their breath coming and going on the glass, they listen to the motors of their men roar northward then fade amongst the hiss and crackle of the fields.
But onward, winging go, or are you tired brothers?
Pursue Maine Road till the cane ends abruptly against bare wire fences, four miles from town, two miles from the northern valley entrance. Here we can see the pick-ups, trucks and utilities, shedding cocoons of red dust as they file off Maine towards the tarred clapboard shacks. Here live the out-cast, the hobos, the hill-trash.
A lone shack on a junk-heap burns and burns, belching purple smoke into the restless air.
Though weary of wing, a little further.
Beyond the shack the land grows sodden, paludal, and from the marsh rises a wheel of vegetation - tall trees born into bondage, rising from the quitch and cooch and crabbing dog-weed, carrying a canopy of knitted vine upon their wooden shoulders.
Here we dip and dive, for this is the swampland.
As we pass above, we see a line of torches winking beneath the dark canopy, moving inward and towards the centre of the circle in a thin ribbon of light.
Torn from the very centre of the swampland is a clearing, round like a plate, and within this clearing, like a wheel within a wheel, is a circle of quick-mud, black and steaming, large enough to digest a cow. It glistens darkly at our passing. But stop. Wing! Wheel! Look who lies on the surface of the mud, all curled up like a new-born! See how his bones cleave to his skin. How his ribs fan softly each time he draws breath. See how he is nearly naked. And look how very still he is.
But for that eye.
It rolls in its orbit, and, fish-like, fixes us. We freeze and circle.

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