14 mars 2015

The Epic of Rear Admiral Wang

I had been left with all that jargon ringing in my ears after spending one night too many translating an interminable Chinese part list, with some English thrown in for good measure. It might have been the time or the lack of context, but it all sounded distinctly kinky: this REAR INJECTION SHAFT, that CRANKCASE ASSY, its minion the CRANKCASE SUB ASSY. All properly CAP BEARING, looking for the MANUAL LUBRICATION POINT. 'Please lubricate until grease pours out' - since you asked so nicely.

In case the Chinese and English names didn't agree, extensive technical drawings had been made available. The files would take forever to open, and when they did I would be faced with large arrays of slightly different tiny plugs and toy lifeboats, all joined by dashed lines orbiting around some larger object, typically named something like CRANKY NUT or ASSY OIL. Whenever I actually looked for something in them what they provided was a third opinion, at variance with both written descriptions, so I chose to just see them as art. Tableau after tableau of every view of the space station from Space: 1999 which readers of this blog are surely too young and intellectual to have heard of. (In a nutshell: that year, human civilisation peaked, colonised the moon and filled space with what looked like bath toys, then the whole thing apparently Big-Crunched and went back to what it looks like now.)

Eventually I decided to recycle those kinky mechanical terms into a poem, and the result is the Crankshaft Odyssey. Items taken verbatim from the translation are in ALL candid CAPS, as they were in the original. I quickly ran short of them so I had to add a few non-mechanical stanzas to round it off. The mild Antipodean flavour is meant to pander to the poem's dedicatee.



À Jillian



"First LOCATE HOLE COVER. That's this one, I'd think.
But why then it's labelled 'ROD ASSY, DRAG KINK'?"
"Sir, I think I have found the LUBRICATION POINT."
"Perfect. Make sure that's the first one you anoint,
But avail yourself of the OIL PUMP ASSY;
For I'm told these days it has been a bit gassy.
What is it, Midshipman?" "I have found the SCREW SET!"
"So bring it somewhere where we can juice it."
"Here, Sir?" "Not there! Just a little more aft.
Has any of you got an IDLER SHAFT?"
"I have, Sir." "Good. Are you wearing a SNAP RING?"
"Some Able Rate's taken them all and gone slappering."
"Then a BALL-CHECK will do." "Or perhaps a GROMMET?"
"Alright, but take out all the BUSH RUBBER from it.
Lieutenant, didn't your THRUST PLATE just make a jolt?"
"It did, Sir. It hit the FRONT RIM BOLT."
Slather the CRANKSHAFT with a RUBBER swab,
And DRAIN any ORIFICE you might have missed on,
Including the ROCKER SHAFT ASSY." "Aye, aye, Sir."
"And JAM in some JAM NUTS. Oh yes. That's much nicer."
"Sir, I'm afraid that's the WARNING LIGHT."
"Well, indeed. Cup the NIPPLE and CAP the KNOB tight--
No, that's the BLEEDER. It's happened again.
Boatswain, the DRAIN COCK! It's your turn to DRAIN
The whole system and purge every ORIFICE
With a proper WASHER SET. You might want to borrow this.
Then join me in the forecastle. With all this KINK
I think we've all earned ourselves a good drink."



Rear Admiral Wang filled his rocking settee
As he playfully swung the helm with his knee.
His turquoise settee he rocked as he clutched
His purple plush phoenix. Almost untouched,
The glass of cointreau where he'd leisurely dip
A fresh-steamed mantou as he governed his ship.
The ship. The pride of the People's Navy.
The portrait of him in a hat, and the wavy
Expanse in the background. A Captain's hat,
A Rear Admiral's now. A brave crew, busy at
Steaming a fresh round of buns with whose help
One manages somehow to turn all that kelp
Into something to dip in one's glass of cointreau,
In one's freshly-steamed carafe of baijiu,
Acrid sap which one might otherwise overdose on.
Again the Rear Admiral summoned his boatswain:
"Boatswain! Bring those fresh kelp buns, would you?
Without something to dip in one's hooch one gets broodier.
And come share a sip with me, boatswain, lest
My purple plush phoenix alone gets caressed
And alone I steer this ship through the main
That begets all that kelp one would dip here again."



He steered her and made her course fit
A path he presumed in the charts dimly lit
By the hearth where dried kelp burned away
With the Renmin ribao from the previous day,
Cointreau-soaked, lipstick-stained butt-ends of cigars.
He thought he should rather consult the stars.
"Boatswain! My sextant! Draw open the papery,
Pompommed, tasseled, embroidered drapery.
I shall look at the stars through the porthole."
"It's all black," said the boatswain with a chortle.
"Oh you're right! That's what happens in a submarine."
Then Rear Admiral Wang stroked his plush qilin,
He commanded, "Up periscope!" and up he sat,
As he put on the cocked Rear Admiral's hat
Bestowed upon him by the Central Committee
And emblazoned with a Red Star and a Hello Kitty.
He gasped at the splendid sea-scape: "Holy Mao!"
The turquoise-blue waves rode a portly sea-cow,
Radiating fecundity, wide-hipped and braless,
Reflecting the blue-green Aurora Australis
That lit up a field of kelp, here and there bristled
By the Roaring Forties. They shrieked, now they whistled,
They shook the fronds of tree-ferns, now they tore
The fronds off them, strewed them on the shore,
Now they murmured, the greenish waves they combed.
Wavelets broke against the periscope and foamed
As the engine below roared. With a low purr went
The People's submarine up the mouth of the Derwent.



His orders were clear and that made them just zanier:
Reconnoitre before the attack on Tasmania.
They chose him because he had studied abroad:
Not in the US, which he could not afford,
But three years had then-captain Wang
Spent at the Disney School in Pyongyang
Where he somehow picked up Milton's tongue
And some politics too, with a few details wrong:
The Imperialists he pictured in a room
Where the smoke of cigars, coalesced in one plume,
Dimmed the covetous grin on a banker's face,
On Armani-clad Italians' the clownish grimace,
Atop blackwood-clogged Dutchmen's hats a pink feather,
And damped the squeak of a Bavarian's trousers' leather
And clouded the lustre a Prussian helmet's bronze
Cast on what each Austro-Hungarian dons
To each soiree in which a gin-sipping cabal
Will meet, and where Ottoman grand viziers shall
Cross the Emperor of Japan, White Russians wrapped in fur,
Imperialism's every running cur,
Hot dog munchers from Seoul, assorted bogans
Hovered on, shat upon by levitating yogins,
A lama who spreads yak's butter on toast
While many a bey of the Barbary Coast
Swigs raki by the yard and eats dates and chats
With American think-tankers in their tinfoil hats
About how best to calibrate interest rates
For the Georgian coving for the stalls in their estates
To stay cheaper than the gruel for the hard-toiling masses
While their indoor-bred peacocks snack on molasses,
How to keep China weak and contain North Korea,
Steal their oil and their women and cunningly steer
Their impressionable youth down the path of greed,
Of bawdiness and idleness, sashimi and weed,
Of upskirt photography, uppitiness, lust,
Failure to read Marxist scripture as one must,
Politics and pot and porn unrestrained,
Debauchery unbridled in a word, such as reigned
In that smoke-filled chamber in a castle on the top
Of a mountain in the Alps, disguised as a gift shop
That's closed, and anyway not reachable by land
But by black helicopter alone, like these manned
By oil sheikhs, nabobs, samurais flying in flocks
To the den where they conspire to keep you in the box,
Greedy bankers, professors, Buddhists, tree-huggers,
Race traitors, apostates, the Pope, rugger-buggers,
Hongkongers, foreigners, the Kuomintang.
Up against such foes was Rear Admiral Wang.
His orders were shocking: reconnoitre
The waters near Hobart which our troops would then loiter.
Why Tasmania, this land which not even superior lists
Enumerate among the main haunts of Imperialists?
Why not London, Davos? Why not Saint-Tropez?
But the Party is wise. For Confucius say:
When painting a dog green, begin at the tail.
Invade the Empire from below; that can't fail.



The helm spun. The settee rocked. The Rear Admiral grasped
With each hand each handle of the periscope and gasped
At the clockwork-like prance of a school of sea-cows.
Sheeny, sea-foam soaked fur the Aurora lit. "How's
That?" he exclaimed. "It's just like a telly."
Rolling up his sailor suit, he stroked his belly,
Taut, tawny tent that a naval diet
Fed fine fodder the Haikou Hyatt
Would envy: oysters, kelp, wedding cakes,
Hennessy's best for the coffee breaks.
A crab-egg-filled mooncake was served to every
Crewman for tea. This placid reverie
Then ended abruptly. He jolted. His eyes
Opened wide like an oyster the moment it dies.
"Boatswain," he said, "something here, in my womb,
Has just kicked, something capers and jolts." Then his gloom
Turned to bliss, and, still stroking his belly, he smiled:
"My loyal boatswain, I think I'm with child."
"Sir, with respect," said the boatswain, "I've tried,
And know well that won't work through the hole on that side.
I suspect by-products of the breakdown of kelp
Are to blame for the swirls you mistake for a whelp."
"Insensitive boatswain! Such algal cud
Could never be mistaken for one's own flesh and blood.
How dare you compare half-digested pond scum
With a child conceived in true love through my bum?
Awake every man from the warmth of his berth:
We shall land somewhere nice for me to give birth."
The boatswain heard these orders with a pensive mien;
This nuclear-armed nuclear submarine,
As its deputy Party secretary and boatswain
He knew that full well, because of no son
Or daughter to be born could forsake its lofty mission.
Without higher approval, that was empty wishing.
"Before that, Sir, I assume you'll be paging
The relevant Navy departments in Beijing.
They are as gracious as they are understanding
And surely will grant you permission for landing."
"You're impertinent, Boatswain, as much as you're naive
To expect getting love-child maternity leave
From those Marxist strategists and cold dialecticians.
Our child deserves to be born in conditions
No worse than those of the decadent West,
A passport, Vegemite on toast, and all the rest.
We will invade the West to keep Beijing happy,
Or enough of it for me to procure the odd nappy."
The orders reached each reticent crewman
In the mess, the machine room, the torpedo room in
Which many a hole and nook between the guns
Form natural steamers for clandestine buns,
In the august library he visits for a fag,
In the steamy berth where he dreams of his flag.
At the boatswain's whistle the tin and steel
And silver and zinc of the submarine's keel
Squeaked as she dragged through the Derwent's sand.
Pebbles scratched her hull. She was motionless and
Aground! The shock-wave tingled through the hull
Popping out bolts that hailed down on each skull
And plinked on steel-planks with a popcorn din
The ghastly screech of wrinkled-up tin
Could mask just as much as the deafening crumps
Of trampled-on blown-up condoms, the thumps
And the flapping and flutter of thick incunabula,
Cobwebbed Engels, tide listings in tabular
Form, phonebooks, porn books and porn magazines
And Coleridge and everything such submarines
Fill the towering, finely carved, varnished shelves
Of their libraries with. The librarians themselves
Hunkered for shelter in vents. A subtle
Wink made a carp that squeezed in through a scuttle.
Torpedoes rolled on the kitchen floor.
The settee rocked ungoverned. A glass and a straw
And ice-cubes drifted on a puddle of shed
Cointreau that dripped from the helm that had led
The PLA's pride on the course that would sink her.
The bottle itself ended up up Wang's sphincter.
He pulled down the periscope, looked at the shore
And stared at the tree-ferns of Hobart in awe.  



"This," he thought, "must be the forest primeval."
A coconut dangled above, as a weevil
Gnawed on its stalk in a trance the Aurora
Induced through its ruby-like eyes and the Roarer
Winds would not wake it up from. They awoke
Huge squid from their slumber; they muffled the croak
And broke the formations of schools of sea-cows;
They made a stern thylacine raise its thick brows
And perk up its ears and gaze at the fern
Disturbed by a slick kangaroo that in turn
Jumped back into its mother's pouch, and she was also gone
Into her mother's, and she into hers', and so on,
Frightened by the reddened clouds, this orange flash
Across the night sky, red-eyed, menacing weevils, a splash
Of pink foam, lustrous platypuses perched alert,
Flying yabbies, an enormous turquoise spurt
Of sea-water lifted by a giant squid mid-air
Sprinkling down on the helmets and crew-cut hair
Of a dozen battalions in battle array,
Swords, rocket launchers, slingshots on display.
One movement more of one weevil's jaw
And a coconut would tragically hit the shore,
The Tasmanian shore, now a forest of crimson,
Gold-tasseled flags we've tossed off lofty hymns on:
The beloved stars, the sickles, the slick skulls and bones
Billowing above the cornets and the sousaphones,
Harmoniums, slide-whistles and suonas of the band
Waiting for a hand-sign to blow away the sand
That clogged their pipes and pistons with a march we'd sworn  
We'd march to on that day, the fateful day whose dawn
Now brushed the Aurora away. A large squid
Imperceptibly cruised mid-air. Tall amid
His troops, a feather protruding from his cocked
Hat, stood Rear Admiral Wang. He unlocked
His spyglass and soberly pointed it at
The enemy's camp. He gasped. He spat.



"May I help you?" she asked. She was wearing a staid
Business suit, whose black matched a handbag in suede
No less than the suede of her staid black suede boots,
And a hat made entirely of tropical fruits.
Feverish with fervour, Rear Admiral Wang
Gave his soldiers a grand patriotic harangue
From atop his unstable settee. "That's the Queen,
My warriors. We've come in a huge submarine,
Leaving behind the loving embrace
Of our Fatherland and Party just to smash Her face,
Avenging the aeons of humiliation
Imposed by Her kin upon our glorious nation."
She gave him a measuring glance. "You might
Be looking for the Queen. Unfortunately right
Now She's not available, but within an hour
I could arrange a meeting between you and our
Company's GM. I think you could bring up
Your issues with him and have a chat over a cup
Of coffee to discuss appropriate measures.
He's one of our National Living Treasures,
An entrepreneur, and our future PM.
He'll listen to your issues, and I'm sure each of them
Will be duly and timely addressed." "That sounds OK."
"Great. Let me take down your name." So they
Walked hand in hand under the giant ferns,
Escorted up and down and round their myriad turns
By the PLA's battalions and a pack of quokkas.
His cocked hat bounced as they walked, as did her knockers.
Soon a clearing opened up. Truncated cone-shaped hills
Rose above a dusty plain, where pumpjacks and rock drills
And excavators toiled and bored an arid, porous
Soil on which pink-feathered, brisk Tyrannosaurus
Together with their kin, mechanical Triceratops,
Frolicked and jumped over lorries and cherry-tops
And smelting plants. A network of conveyors
Spread beyond the horizon, conveying Straya's
Ores, clod by clod, and the odd shiny gem.
On a rock sat the nation's impending PM.



"Whatcha want?" he inquired. "Mr Wang has today
Raised some issues that in more than one way
Might be relevant to our campaign, and I thought
He could sit down with you to discuss how we can best support
His efforts." "Thanks, Windy. It is no small pleasure
For me to address a live National Treasure
Of this plentiful land. While I cruised unseen
In the PLA's mightiest nuclear submarine,
It would seem a display of affection from some
Loyal crew-member, conveyed through my bum,
Has resulted in pregnancy. Witness the pangs
With which the proud heir to Rear Admiral Wang's
Name and title expresses his or her wish
For his or her father to feast on some dish
Made from kelp, or a good imitation thereof.
It befits a young person conceived in true love
To be born in properly equipped facilities.
My ship lacks them; thus I've ordered that until it is
Clear that I have safe passage to a nice
Maternity room where, for a modest price,
The country's best doctors and its best AC
Can help me give birth while I'm watching TV,
Australia shall face a harsh ultimatum.
My men have come with me and you shouldn't underrate 'em.
Behold their battalions on the sand: a terracotta
Army, complete with a brass band. What a
Terrifying sight it must be to our foes!
Behold our bazookas and slingshots and bows,
These massive cannons, those pointy torpedos
Aimed at Tasmania by sailors in speedos!
Your clockwork reptiles and mining equipment
Shall be no match for our massive ship, meant
To annihilate the last imperialist swine."
Then Rear Admiral Wang made an obscene hand sign
To close this ultimatum, delivered from the height
Of his rocking settee. He jumped down. "Listen, myte,
I don't care whatcha do in yer warm, semen-soiled berth,
But we all know that marriage, let alone choyldbirth,
Has been defined by Scriptural injunction
To involve man and woman, and that the only function
Of the organ you claim you've been impregnated through
Is to mediate the transfer of your contents to the loo,
And thence, through labyrinthine sewers, to the azure myne.
Now you'll kindly refrain from calling me a swine,
And if you want a clinic, there are plenty up in Synney,
So why don't you pack up and unscuttle your tinnie,
Together with those quokkas and your army of queers,
And leave us decent folks alone. Cheers!"
Here Windy saw it fit to intervene.
"Look, Clive, once you scuttle this type of submarine,
It's tricky to unscuttle them again. Submarines
Were the topic of the PhD I did in my late teens,
So I know what I'm talking about. So maybe
We should give Mr Wang a lift so his baby
Can be born in a nice clinic. On the other
Hand, I think his right to be a mother
Is something we could actually advocate as a main
Point in your budding election campaign.
As your PR manager and confidante,
I think I should advise you to recant
What you just told this guy, and instead
See him off to Sydney's best hospital bed.
Since the merger of the Coalition, Labor and the Greens,
Pregnant Asian men washing up in sumbarines
Can serve us as a boost to get the left-wing vote."
Clive pondered in silence. Then he cleared up his throat.
"On reflection, dear Guest, while I thought we had enough
Already, I think Australia could use just one more puff.
Indeed, I stand for an Australia for all Australians,
Including poofters, women and illegal aliens.
Everyone is welcome to land on our shores
As long as they are willing to help extract my ores.
Perverts may frolic undisturbed by the police
And agree to tax exemptions to foster an increase
In production of key minerals, such as zinc, gold and iron.
So allow me to escort you to a place where your scion
Can move from your womb to the world in a proper
Maternity ward. We'll fly there in my chopper.
I don't see motherhood as forbidden to the male;
But the thought that no child should ever fail
To have both a loving mum and a hard-working dad,
And the sailor suit in which you're so smartly clad
And the hat you so lustfully tilt on your head
Arouse in my heart a strong urge that we wed.
We'll perform all the relevant rites in the chopper.
I've a wife, but it's just about time I swap her:
I'll explain your miraculous case if she protests,
And tell everyone else that you've just got bigger breasts."



As he rested his head on Clive's chest, as he knit
Turquoise-blue booties, he saw the plains lit
By the sprawling Aurora whose electric glow
Wondrously drawned the sun's rays in a slow
Buildup of burgundy glimmer above
A gritty expanse where reptiles made love,
Colossal, mechanical dinosaurs, slouched
In lascivious neglect on a power line, crouched
Under hissing conveyor belts. Further ahead
Began a thick forest, a dark-purple bed
Under the tops of whose ferns and date-palms
Irate kangaroos let the force of their arms
Untangle disputes so abstruse that they bored
The grin off a quocka's pert lip. A crisp gourd
Or a hundred were smashed in a splash of pink, fresh,
Warm, worm-inhabited, gruelly gourd flesh
As off snapped their weevil-gnawed stalk to their tree
With each gust blown ashore by the Roar on the sea,
The sea. Purple foam, stirred-up fresh by the prance,
By the metrical prance of sea-cows in a trance,
Frothy must, heady lather glowed through by the dimmed
Purple sun and the glimmer behind the clouds trimmed
Into downy spheres shimmering high by the flabby,
Slow limbs of a huge airborne squid and a yabby,
An escort of myriads of yabbies with curled
Antennae, in bands only broken and swirled
Apart by the whirl round a pink helicopter.
The submarine's wreck: the Captain who swapped her
For a miner's slick, gold-rotored chopper now sat
On his chair, in his bicorn Rear Admiral's hat.
An amorous Clive lit a large chandelier.
Ahead of the rite, a priest dusted his gear.
Feverish journalists roamed in their throngs.
Miners and sailors conversed in their thongs.
Clive tapped on a tall, silvered glass of Four Ex
To silence the throngs of the not-so-fair sex
That crowded his corporate chopper's board room.
He filled each guest's chalice with chestnut-aged goom
And stood on a plinth to deliver his vows:
"Let the lissome, light-winged, pirouetting sea-cows
Bear witness. I vow, my Rear Admiral, not
To balk at expense to bedeck our whelp's cot.
Once elected, I shall knight myself, and then you.
Post-nominal letters after 'LGBTQ'
You'll get just so many that your business card,
Even rolled up like a date roll, will be hard
To get through the doors of our mansion. Alright,
That's about enough vows, so let's get to the rite.
Any questions, my journos?" "Yes. We can gauge
That Mr Wang's pregnancy's reached a late stage.
How could you impregnate him months ago,
When he was in China, or sailing to and fro?"
"I rejoiced at a picture of his lovely smile
And mailed him the resulting seed in a glass phial.
Any more questions?" "Did your wife approve...?"
"La la la, I can't hear you I'm afraid. Let us move
To the chopper's main chapel." The Rear Admiral then spoke:
"Clive, we have no time. I think my waters broke."
"Haste then to the chapel and let us begin
The ceremony, lest our child be born in sin!"
So proceeded the guests, clutching bottles of liquor,
To the chapel and sat on their benches as the Vicar
Set up a bed and, at its foot, a baptismal font,
For Wang to lie while being wed and, since a want
Of time called for the rite to be made shorter,
For the baby to pop out and just fall into the holy water,
Being thus both washed and automatically baptised.
Windy sat at the organ and promptly improvised
A five-voice fugue while Clive proceeded through the nave
And took from his pocket a ring, which he gave
To Rear Admiral Wang in his altar bed.
The Vicar then pronounced them appropriately wed.
Just in time, for birth was imminent. Keeping his cool,
Clive asked for a doctor. "In helicopter school,"
Said the pilot from the cockpit, "we had a first-aid class.
We probably learned something about childbirth through the arse.
Would you like me to help?" "That would be nice, mate. Thanks!"
The Rear Admiral positioned his shapely shanks
On the rim of the baptismal font, while Clive
Stood next and held his hand. The pilot said: "I've
Got a lot of adult material in my room,
So I'm thoroughly conversant with the piping of a womb."
Then he put on his pilot's headset and his gloves.
As one feels when one is with someone one loves,
The Rear Admiral felt calm. He closed his eyes and smiled.
Feeling Clive's warm hand, he dreamt of their child
Growing up in Australia, the sunny land where
He or she would one day wake up a mining heir.
Hills of ore would mutate into mountains of cash.
A deafening chord of the organ. A splash.
Then silence. Silence, and the motor's whirr.
The stained glass let through the colours that were
Pure enough for the scene out of the spectral band
Full of turquoises and pinks the Aurora spanned.
The emblazoned cocked hat had fallen off the bed
And rocked on a floor slab. A foul odour slowly spread
Down the nave, filled the vaults and grew through the thick
Frankincense. A first camera flash. Then a click.
Then another. A shower of them. A reporter
Timidly walked to the font and gazed into the water.
They all did. One timidly smiled, or rather
Guffawed. "It actually looks like the father."
Faxes flew to newsrooms, and soon headlines by the metre
Said the land's top mining magnate had fathered some excreta.
Rupert read them in his lair, with a sinister
Grin. He was instantly elected Prime Minister.



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