On the AM peak hour train,
carriage of last night’s emptied beer bottles.
‘SMILEY 2192’, ‘WRECKZ’ and ‘GRIME’
carved into rattling windows
of this piss-stained smudge that is Bankstown’s orange line.
Filled with usos and habibs in suits balancing laptops
bound for the city circle.
I unravel the ie.
Mama mailed mai Savai’i,
shoved into my Herschel backpack.
I drape my red puletasi across my belly folds,
salt and sand woven in the rough fabric.
At the concrete valleys of Martin Place
my puletasi scratches my stretchmarks.
Sweat stings, rash forming between my thick thighs rubbing.
Cutting through streets of silver and glass
land unceded, I find them tucked into Moreton Bay Figs:
frizzy baby-haired kids in crisp blue ties,
bottle green blazers, galah-pink uniforms,
school logos emblazoned on chest-pockets, with handmade cardboard printouts
of worlds drawn dying, destroyed.
And flags of Oceania held aloft by women in ta’ovala,
men in ie faitaga, in black pearls and shell necklaces –
their first Climate Crisis protest.
My sei sits behind my ear –
a plastic white hibiscus I plucked from a makeki in Savaii.
I wear a pale on my forehead – a mirror bound in ribbon and sequins
a crown for a siva we cannot dance.
‘We are not drowning!’
We scream, voices breaking.
Flies buzzing at my wide nose.
Scarlet lipstick arcs drawn onto my cheeks
like spray-painted graffiti on rusted train doors.
Past traffic lights flashing reds and golds
a sea of protesters on Cook’s roads.
I spot Jake, the palagi with locs,
the one from the International Studies class
I’ve skipped to be here.
Our professor let us go if we documented the protest.
Jake captures Instagram selfies from the shade of some White millionaire’s
skyscraper on good Lord Macquarie’s streets now.
His pale skin already blistered under a bintang singlet,
locs in beads like a blonde Jack Sparrow.
He’s laughing the way we did the night he took me to drinks
instead of working on our group assignment,
danced gabber in a loft of laser lights and Axe body spray.
We kissed outside in front of my seki uncle,
who spread the rumour about me failing uni.
Jake doesn’t see me as he hashtags.
I turn away from him as the crowd surges on,
past a marble soldier on a horse.
My ex is beside me, eyes lowered.
She taps her cheek against mine.
A trail of coconut on the breeze behind her,
home-job blonde cloud of frizzy curls.
I lose her in the swarm of brown bodies
and side-eyes, cold shoulders, village talk
in that steel and glass labyrinth
until she holds her Samoan flag highest.
Her body black and hard like old lava fields,
her voice crashes over those sacred business districts.
Blue-eyed men in shiny black cars blast radios and put fingers to lips,
avert their eyes yet are still drawn to the malu carved on her thighs.
Her songs ricochet off the rusting beams holding this cold city up.
Sugar cane memories of our bodies hit me as the sun sets,
thick on my skin like turmeric paste my aunty used to fofо̄.
My ex leads the protestors to drink past the marble colonisers, palagi Jake
and past beeping cars and flashing traffic lights.
Posters with letters in sharpie
‘WE ARE NOT DROWNING, WE ARE FIGHTING’,
‘WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU, SCO MO?’
At sunset, the cardboard posters are discarded next to overflowing bins.
The hem of my puletasi sweeps the street
grime clinging to my ankles.
My jandals cutting into the spaces between my toes.
I pack my puletasi into my bag,
smelling like concrete driveways outside Mama’s fale in Lalomalava after summer showers.
That night, I press the button to wind the Uber window up.
I track the small blue Corolla on the app,
A leather interior that smells of cigarettes and hand sanitiser.
A black silk mini-skirt rides up past my knees.
Mama would fasi me if she saw.
The palagi girls at Uni suggested it for my second date with Jake.
In my bag, a six-pack of cider I’ve already opened.
But my head is filled with shouts against rising oceans.
My calves cramp in the small car space, the protest still burning in my taro legs.
I ask my Uber driver if he just started,
brown eyes like mine in the rearview.
He nods, pulls up close to the recycling bins,
squeezes me out onto the curb.
There are little white gnomes on a path from Jake’s mailbox, smiling, fishing.
He is waiting for me at the door, wearing a pair of blue boxers that clash with his pink skin.
He’s still wearing the bintang, his locs now hanging down past his shoulders.
Jake kisses me hard on the lips,
my mahana hair in braids so tight my ears are throbbing as I close my eyes.
A train trundles past, fills my desire with rattling windows.
Up white-carpeted stairs,
telling me to tread quiet cos his roommates don’t know.
Mama always told me to bring gifts when visiting new homes
but the walls of Jake’s space simply just wrap around his bed.
Is that truly giftworthy?
I put the six-pack back in my bag
as Jake pats his bare mattress with freckled hand.
He looks upon my body as though he’d skipped dinner,
round warm flesh with dark hair.
Asks if I’ve been in the sun with an eyebrow hooked up and
a finger tracing my sunburn, a punchline in his voice
I am too much for this space.
I am the first Brown face on his Instagram feed,
as though a Tinder swipe is a coffeehouse loyalty card stamp.
Jake is desirable on papers, who Mama would want for me
And why my seki uncle turned when I kissed… all cos he palagi,
meaning a way out.
But I remember my ex’s face in the protest,
watching me scream, me watching her malu sing.
I throw the mini skirt back on when she calls me.
I’m on an empty nightride,
bag bursting with used clothes.
Close my eyes and weave a fala,
sitting cross-legged behind a tanoa with ‘ava wrung out clear.
Draped in a tatau spun over my brown skin like ink over cardboard signs.
She lets me in, drinks ‘ava with me.
Fighting rising tides against the walls of our fale,
against those who sit silent in sacred-loc privilege.
- 102: GAMESUBMIT with J Maxwell and R Green 101: NO THEME 10COMING SOON with J Kinsella and J Leanne 100: BROWNFACE with W S Dunn 99: SINGAPOREwith J Ip and A Pang 97 & 98: PROPAGANDAwith M Breeze and S Groth 96: NO THEME IXwith M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRICAN DIASPORAwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones