These poems originally appeared in The Lifted Brow #6.
Packets of men’s underwear thrust in my face,
the happy plastic
of inflatable penguins, fat-cheeked dolls.
Spined fish dry on grey tarpaulins,
and piled red leather thongs
grow stiff and stringy in the sun
like the glutinous fried syrup
on long-haul buses.
The crannied streets
stitch together stagnant roadblocks,
and tall and terraced houses
lean backwards from the throng.
A sudden temple flexes.
Its sculpted walls
a mad and teeming mirroring of streets,
the coloured gods bloody and riotous,
vengeful as memory.
Fruit sellers hang their washing, disembowelled
from razor wire
and dice pineapple
for hungry students.
I can smell war in this city.
The khaki jeeps creep through the bus queues.
A thin-fingered soldier
invites me to hold his rifle,
and calls me beautiful.
At a food stall,
eating beetroot curry with pink fingers
he saw his first albino,
a small child,
eyebrows like the down
in the centre of a coconut.
She hid her face
from the sunburnt soldiers,
buried deep in her father’s dark knees.
At a bus stop, I see albino skin
prickling pinker in the heat,
the sun griddling through earlobes;
fingertips in a lacery of veins.
In the pulse and spill of people
women clutch thick-skinned umbrellas
And his pale limbs arrest my eyes.
He startles when he sees me,
then his grin thins, and turns away.
We both are skinless
in these streets.
Ribboning between the rail line
and the sea,
we head south.
The city frays along these edges.
Old men carve driftwood
into curled awnings,
or bedheads coiled and knotted as their knucklebones.
Stacked, the sturdy dreams beneath them
latent, not yet thought.
A tin boat, bluely moored
in a tree’s branches.
Whole walls are missing, carved out
from concrete homes.
A boy runs, waving, on a beachhead,
and a whole village gathers in;
a silvered, sinewed net
is waded into shore,
The fishermen pluck muscled legs
like reedy birds,
dipping on their thighs.
Street vendors lay stilled fish
on wooden slabs
and under naked light bulbs.
The air tastes scaly and their skin
is petrol-coloured, sweating
flies like tiny gemstones.
We head south, ribboning,
as cows and goats gnaw
on coconut shells
thrown roadside from car windows.
The late rain prickles on my flesh,
and it grows dark so suddenly
the headlights pick out lone stars
through the sharp lines of palms.
Their Army wages were riper
than all they’d known before.
This soft, misshapen weaponry–
bananas, broad and muscled cartridges
on heavy stems,
pomegranate, papaya, pellet-ridden as grenades.
The round juice of new words
upon their tongues,
they sliced them thick in washing tubs,
a sticky sauce
of condensed milk.
In the suburbs,
families ate rice,
and curried Spam.
Even here, it smelt of Christmas mornings, caravans.
Its cardiac curve, cool skin.
I fetch the boy
the thin man said, his rickety grin
propping up his lottery stall:
You are wanting mango, no?
You wait, I fetch the boy.
The boy: a bare, strutted chest and boned machete,
and skin creased as minutely
as a letter from home.
(And in these swollen afternoons,
it is his own spine that is curling,
his bony skull protrudes.
He masticates the ending, often threefold.
As though the boy
grows older still, each time.)
That year Mrs lived through a London winter,
worked double-shifts to stand nearer the industrial ovens,
won a street-side contest
scraping overpriced coconuts.
The white flesh
fell away; flaked snow.
The barbed arm of her coconut-scraping chair
uninvited and lecherous
beside my leg.
My small hands on a hirsute shell,
the curve too globular and perfect
to hold unfumblingly:
I will make a no-use wife.
my flesh flakes under the buses’ practised and hazarding gazes.
Motorcycles slow to match my tread;
there are no footpaths
in this city.
My feet grow dessicant
on the mild toxicity of insect spray,
the scuffed polish of road dust.
These liquid mornings bend
on battered buses, plucked chickens
soften by the bus route.
My knees bruise
with the prints of male frustration.
I bring their shadows home, yellowing
in sickly gradients;
the dark dirt collapses
down my shower drain,
embanking somewhere else
as foreign soil.
Fiona Wright is a writer, editor and critic from Sydney. Her book of essays Small Acts of Disappearance won the 2016 Kibble Award and the Queensland Literary Award for non-fiction, and her poetry collection Knuckled won the 2012 Dame Mary Gilmore Award. She has recently completed a PhD at Western Sydney University’s Writing & Society Research Centre.