I’m very blessed, to move so easily through the world. I forget that this is a blessing, or rather that this is something given to me at the expense of others. This isn’t me talking about my white guilt or anything of the sort – it’s me remembering that my cousin’s don’t experience this. That I can’t take the train with my cousin without her getting in some kind of trouble.

See this: once, the pair of us were on a train, and I’d forgotten to tag on. I hadn’t taken the train in awhile – must have only been fourteen or so – and it was one of those trains were you don’t have to walk through a gate and sign on, there’s just a pole in a specific place and you have to tag on there. So at the other end, where you have to tag out I go ‘Oh shit!’ and realise I never tagged on.

I go up to the transit guard and explain the situation, and clearly state that I’m more than happy to pay the fee as I did the wrong thing, the way Mum always told me to. Rather than making me buy a ticket or giving me a fee, the officer just says ‘No problem, just make sure you don’t do it again.’

On the other side, my cousin with her blue black skin that speaks to anyone with half a brain that she is Yolngu is trying to wade through a sea of irritated professionals that don’t have time for teenagers.

And then she’s pulled over by another officer.

I’m stuck, waiting past the gates and hovering near her as the officer questions her.

“So where are ya going?”

She looks at her feet, the way that our mothers taught us to. “Into the city.”

“Mmm,” the officer says. “You got a ticket?”

The group of tourists behind her, blonde and blue eyed shifted as they waited for their tickets to be checked, only to be waved past her, all a foot taller and pressing against her shoulders as they stepped out onto the seat.

My cousin dug in her bag for the ticket, carefully kept inside of the purse Aunty made her before she left for the city that was worn from her coins sliding around in it and rubbing the fabric, and presented it to the officer.

“Hmm,” he said. “You come from the end of the line?”

She shook her head. “No sir. I came from that station.”

“You meeting someone here?”

“No sir,” she shook her head again and pointed at me. “I’m here with my cousin.”

The officer looked up and at me, and I stepped forward. “You know her?”

“Yeah. She’s my cousin.”

He wanted to ask the questions that people normally ask, but instead he let her go. It always has stuck with me that one encounter. That my ability to move freely and have my mistakes forgiven because I don’t appear black comes at the expense of others. Even my own family members.

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Born in the fire. Let it shift and shake over you. Blink once, blink twice. Throw rice in the air, high to the sky, over the left shoulder, over the right. Break the circle with a flick of the foot. End the dance. Sing on the quietest nights. Pray on the loudest. When the dust comes to settle in your throat, let it. Breathe through the nose. When they ask you what to do now, now you are so far from home, how you remember it, point to your body. See? Even after all these years, I still live. The only piece remaining of a home once lived. Time capsule girl. When they look at me, I’m still frozen where they left me.

No Service

12:59:
it’s been a year.
1:25:
do you remember the way the crickets kept us up all through that dizzying winter night? the way your eyes looked like hazelnuts and hope and home, scorching across my skin, flicking your eyelashes to meet mine? we had an almost dance with our eyes and lashes, something palpable and infectious, the heat of the fire pulling us closer.
1:39:
when you left you said, don’t wait for me, don’t think of me. but boys like you don’t know how to forget. you’re tied to the homeland your mother tries to wash from her and your sisters have already forgotten, tied to a farm you’ve never seen but always loved. how can i forget you, when the moment i move on, you are right there by my side?
1:42:
i keep finding myself by the sea
1:53:
your mother told me a story about a woman who stood herself in the sand, waiting for a lover who went to a war that he would never return from, for so long that she became a rock of salt and quartz
2:37:
yesterday i made a wedding cake. white. frosted with perfect flowers. smooth as satin, arched over a tower. my hands haven’t stopped smelling of oranges.
3:05:
mama asked why i keep crying.
3:11:
i still love you.

No Service

when i loved you this city

turned pious and beautiful

this city became

bright and stunning, bright and golden, bright and beloved

when i loved you this city transformed

drenched in sunlight

the pavement shined white like marble

the sun a jewel

when you loved her

this city turned cold

cold and barren, cold and aching

weeping for a lover

swept away by the sea

when you loved her

we fell apart

paper against the crumbling skyscrapers

celestial compositions

     women see more than men
your aunt speaks like she’s in prayer
     women see more than men, know more of the world than men
it’s a sort of secret, mangoes heavy around you, like jewels in the moonlight

     women know of others
her eyes are misted over, her hair piled up, looking like a goddess, a queen, a Being
     women know of Others
she repeats and you do not understand, you understand 

     women belong to the sea
time is stagnant in the mangroves, and the air is heavy
     men belong to the land
she turns her eyes to the stars, gazes far beyond the world

     women carry the burden
she presses her fingers into the grooves in her thighs, grooves born of work and pain
     ridiculed for Knowing, ridiculed for not Knowing
she turns her face upward, a reflection of the moon 

     when they came, it was the women who understood
your aunt never uses man or woman the way others do
     hold out your hands wide, show love
she presses a flower into your hand and you grasp it tight

     you are rewarded for love, for giving
she smiles, looking earthly once more, not Otherworldly
     but sometimes it will hurt
she opens your hand, and it is red with pain, with poison, with blood

     then you crush them
the red of the bloom runs down her hand, she blinks, heavy lidded, and returns to her unearthly state

 

This piece of work is based on a culmination of conversations with various aunts, from various peoples in the Arnhem where I was raised. It centres around the ancient idea of women coming from the sea and men coming from the land, which is the explanation for various life cycles (birth, death, menstrual cycles and so on). It also reflects on the idea of space and the sea, the Knowing and Unknowing being deeply connected, and women being the earthly mediator between the two. 

celestial compositions

desperation

and after all that, you still expected her to be waiting?

aching and hurting and yearning?

she buried you on that long road,

that empty road with lipsticked women in pretty dresses all lined up

ghost faces, flickering like a flame

what did you think, that she’d wait forever?

that she’s so hopeless, that all her life she has waited, cried tears over, yearned in lonely and black and thick nights

that the phone is the only one to hear her tears?

that she’s desperate?

she’s lonely, yeah

but God, she doesn’t hate herself

desperation

Eldest Daughters

This is what I now know: I’m still learning to live. Someone said to me, you’re nearly a grown woman, you should know by now, but the thing is I barely remember a time I was a child. Eldest daughters often grow up too fast, too quickly. They become the second mothers to their siblings – the one who calm and soothe when their mother’s yell, who screech when their mothers are crying from it all. They’re the ones who wash and clean and sew and knit and cook. My mother turned to me and said ‘baby, when did you grow so old?’ I smiled at her and said, ‘I don’t know. I’ve always been this way.’ (overnight/ this morning/ last year when I was crying on the bus in my closet in my bed in the bathroom/ when you were lonely and needed me and I came/ when I was lonely and needed you and you found someone else/ when I moved away from my homechildhoodheart/ when Dad didn’t come home for month/ when my brother learnt being a man is all contained in his fists/ when my sister came home with blood on her thighs and wanted a hand stroking her hair).

Eldest daughter’s grow up fast. We haven’t got the childhood others have. So this is my second childhood: my wild and unashamed and abrasive and barefooted long salt soaked curls my wildfire eyes my hands twirling in the air after the song has ended. It’s a little innocent and a little devious and a little tragic.

When I say: I’m still learning to live, I meant this: I smell the roses. The sky has never looked brighter than today. The water looks like a drop of the heavens. There is something sweet in the air. The mangoes taste like home and heartbreak and love. His letter makes me uninhibited like a child, run out and twirl in the rain. We sit on the phone all day, talking about TV and our mothers and video games, like we’re still playing on cousins’ gameboys behind the couch. I pull you fully clothed into the sea, splash you until we’re soaked and laughing and screaming and crying. You sent me a perfume from Lebanon that smells of your sisters that one afternoon and smoke and mangoes and the orange blossoms you put in my hair. I dress so outrageously my mother wonder’s if she should lock me inside, something strange and provocative as I am modest. I say to my sister: ‘dance with me’. She says, ‘for how long?’

I worry this is the curse of all girls. That she’s grown up too quick.

‘Until the night ends or our feet fall off.’

Eldest Daughters