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This article is taken from PN Review 226, Volume 42 Number 2, November - December 2015.

In Defence of Poetry as an Offshore Island and Art as an Undersea Mammal or Coral Reef Gregory O'Brien
The truth is always first discovered in open space… – John Berger

…this antipodean beach by a Pacific sea sprayed with light from the ripe, squeezed, bitter sun… – Janet Frame, Scented Gardens for The Blind

Bay of Lemons

‘We are always at the beginning of seeing’, the painter Philip Guston once observed. The beginning of things. You wake in a new bed; you open your eyes on a new day full of trembling, heightened particulars. This morning, you gaze across the Baie des Citrons – the bay of lemons – to the vast lagoon of New Caledonia. If you looked long and intently enough, you would spot the bay’s resident dugong which, for the past fifteen years, has lived fifty metres offshore. As weirdly shaped as a classic Citroen or a rough-cast croissant, this seabed-grazing, aquatic cow is the lagoon’s model citizen: nonchalant, patient, low-impact, non-aggressive... Outrageously ugly, yes, but also endearing and charismatic enough to inspire a daily stream of locals and visitors who glide above it on paddleboards or swim out and plant their snorkelled faces in the water.

To enter this warm, salty, dugong-friendly tide, you must first step across a beach thatched with bronzed sunbathing bodies, having already passed a notice concerning sea-snakes, a beachfront shower, a defibrillator and – as befits a ‘French’ beach – a traffic-jam. Every once in a while there is a crack, like a gun-shot, as a falling coconut strikes the pavement, just along from a shop called Bikini.

Twice in recent history, the dugong has been joined for ...

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