Walking into Mallam’s Grocery,
Mullumbimby, you can buy Byron
Bay Chai tea, packets of gluten free
hippie biscuits, thick mosquito coils,
incense, tea tree oil, tins of tiger
balm and rennet-less organic cheese.
The soya chips and tofu burgers
come with mango milkshakes, do you want
sprouts with that, or grated beetroot?
All summer the cane toads and green tree
frogs chant through the humid nights, the most
of how hot it will be is the amount
of laughter the kookaburras make
in the early morning. I travel
by train, by local bus, I wade through
the muddy flood water across Main
Arm. Streets with names like Hibiscus Place,
Avocado Crescent, Azalea
Drive and Grevillea Ave, reflect
the flora of an Australian
Eden. There’s blood on your sarong, says
my eldest sister, a great bloated
leech as large as my left thumb has to
be removed from my bleeding thigh.
When there is too much rain the junkies
gone mad in the wet shoot the place up,
we hear helicopters and the police
lose five rifles in the swollen river.
This miasma of violence
seeps through my Rudolf Steiner rainbow
coloured mosquito net and links hands
in an unholy story alliance
about family in my dreams.
My second sister believes she has
two little friends called Bobbin and Mobbin
who guard her. She cleans the phone with germ
killer and must spray the people who
enter her flat. She talks rubbish, then
says something very clever, attacks
visitors wearing glasses, smashes
things that others love, and claims she has
ten lovers and twenty enemies
and knows who these enemies are, names
them over and yet over again
in her one-bedroomed blonde brick unit
on Proudfoot Street, with smoked bubble
glass in the panel next to the door
and seventies hacienda style
breeze-block decoration around
the grey concrete barbecue area
she will never ever use because
she feels uncomfortable being
only one minute away from her
front door. The poinciana tree standing
outside is like a red wound against
her white-blinded window.
And it is moments like these you squeeze
your eyes and rub your forehead to try
and remember the less complicated
days of childhood when my sisters hid secrets
for me to find (messages in lemon
ink, codes and treasure maps). These women
that I visit now are like strangers.
I watch the lorikeets. What colours.
What jewel-like wings. My nephew shows
me how high the river rose. His son
takes off all his clothes and gets into
the Municipal Gardens fountain
and refuses to come out. What colours.
What passionate adornment these
lorikeets are to our parched
surroundings. At the bus station
of course you have to pay for the key
to the toilets and inside they have
one of those stupid violet lights
to stop addicts shooting up. It hasn’t
worked, there is someone flaked out
on the floor near the basin. I know
the man on the desk will be annoyed.
I try to wake her up. An old woman
in a straw hat and carrying
a bag knitted in pink and purple
wool washes and wipes her hands while she
stares at us. I try to wake the girl.
It’s disgusting, says Sunhat. I can’t
wake the girl. This could even be my
own sister. And I think of the flock
of lorikeets, yellow, red and blue,
seeking the blossom-laden fruit trees.
This young girl refuses to wake up.
I’m getting a tight clenched feeling
in the back of my throat. She won’t wake,
I say to Sunhat. The body remains
comatose. I hold her slim brown wrist
and discover a fluttering pulse.
Lorikeets. They are everywhere
in the empty park, swooping
in over the sad dusty date palms.
A Letter from my Daughter
The trees are tall here, and everything
grows fast in the hot sun and heavy
rain. The wet has come, and butterflies
are the size of small birds. There are ticks
and leeches, enormous mosquitoes,
spiders, flies, thick striped snakes and green
ants, and they all bite. The rainforest
can be dark at night. And these mountains
are as green as their ferny gullies.
Sometimes the clouds engulf a whole huge
mountain top. The beaches have marvellous
shells and the sand lies silky and pure
white. You can pick coconuts, you can
pick as many as you like, and then
hollow out the smooth brown husks to use
for bowls. I have seen parrots, fruit bats,
black water snakes and tree rats. Mangoes,
bananas and pawpaws are growing
wild. During the wet, the sky becomes
deep violet and then next minute
the rain arrives in sheets. Water floods
the bridges and roads, and we cannot
reach Cairns. Because of the rain, local
houses are built on stilts, but below
the ridge down in the Commune we live
in old cars, in yellow bamboo huts,
or in treehouses under plastic.
I often walk along the railway
tracks and over the railway bridges.
There are big lemon trees by the tracks
further up (good for tropical
ulcers). I do not like the cane toads.
And now finally I must finish
this letter, but know that my spirit
astral travels at night, and therefore
I am nearer you more than ever
before. Always OM, your daughter Jane,
who has now been renamed Yasmeen
Shima Mogra Ashanti Cloud Burst.
The Vegan Bar and Gaming Lounge
I hate places with names
like Cafe Bleu.
I thought I saw a
Vegan Bar and Gaming Lounge,
my mistake, it was Vegas.
Clubs with names like Hot Chilli
are trying to tell us
that we will have a good time.
The birds were singing
as I crossed the dusky bridge,
in the park the damp leaves
were as big as my hands,
they had fallen into corpse
shaped piles, the carriage
lamps were lit.
I hate places with names
like The Olde Taverne,
or Aunty Val-Mae’s Country Kitchen,
there’s generally a hair
in the scones, or the drink
is poured with little generosity.
When I rose to depart
there were leaves like hands
all around me.
In the hotel I woke in the
obsequious dark, not knowing
where I am, where I was,
Your hands do not fit into my pockets
any more, I am coming to see you,
oh how I have missed you through
Horowhenua; before Levin
a man wearing a stained yellow
parka prostrates himself beside
the stream, I am coming, am coming,
and there are always sheep, and a wisp
of blue smoke in a distant paddock,
and there are always chestnut rumps
and a red roofed milking shed.
Wellington to Auckland, the Intercity
takes eleven hours, the driver
is always Sean, Dougal, Jim or Dave,
following the white lines, there is a post,
gate, post, fencing wire, a post, a gate,
Waikato, coming, coming, coming.
Sheep, sheepskin shop, butcher’s block, too early
for lambs, the furrowed ewe tracks
stay constant, every town has its own
cabbage tree, and for king and country
memorial, this is the farmland
that ate the forests of te motu.
They are cutting an ugly new road
scar with the digger, here I am
I am coming, molten green, pork truck,
fertiliser firewood and square slab
of silage, I see a sheep kneeling,
they are reading the weather, kare,
and predicting rain.
Fed and watered at Flat Hills, we
are the animals grazing off the
face of the earth, in love I am coming,
the sun sinking to the left of the
Karapiro Tearooms, a residue
of lolly pink, I bend my ear closer
I can hear you because I am almost
there, brave heart, brave face,
I see a sheep
bowing in Queen Street,
the Sky Tower, bleep, bleep,
I am here darling, where are your hands,
I will warm them put them in my in
my pockets, alas they don’t fit.