Because it would let you carry off hot pink
the way the black models do, the way I do,
I meet your light face with confusion
I feel rivers rise under my cheeks
in this wide and sunburnt country
what colour should dark people blush?Back in Madras with a cousin six shades paler
and aunts saying Well she can carry off
any colour because she’s fair.
maybe you should wear pastels?
So, I take old blues and beiges to the tailor
lavenders dulled by dust, old roses
stained with British chai
So, I bring nothing bright with me to these
salt-rimmed shores with my visa
no saris of jewelled seas, no kurtas with
sapphire mists tacked on
on Chapel street, the drunk girls call out
I don’t know why I pause before I tell you
that the man who plays the didgeridoo
on Bourke street called me sister.
They think you’re one of them lot!
you say and mimic my head-shake
your eyes roll like earth marbles.
Later, my desi friends bristle too,
all fellow savarnas thinking:
It’s one thing for white people
to see only our colour and race
(not our high and pitiless birth)
but for “them” to think we are the same!
Back in Madras, this is cast as story:
Well my grandfather was so dark
they once mistook him for a ____!
made to sit outside the high-caste house
coffee left for him not in steel tumblers
but glass with its sides cut sharp
like a prism – dividing light
even rainbows could not fall on our streets
without showing proof of lineage.
Here in hot Christmases, you daub zinc
on your face like grandfather’s caste marks
just as easy to wash off
Strange camouflage, I thought, because
it just makes you whiter in this brown land;
litmus that shows you don’t belong.
You don’t need the sunscreen, mate you said
Surely you get enough sunshine over there?
But no, it singes us too, some of us,
coffees too hot, poppies too tall and ruddy,
Opal-heart countries so white they could be mirror
I walk towards the glare and it casts back my shadow
– my brothers tar their faces to jive on Saturday TV
– my compatriots call people monkeys on the field
what’s done to us was done by us
My brown skin, sure, dark enough for pink
but flecked with inherited prejudice
melanoma from both our suns.
- 108: DEDICATIONwith L Patterson & L Garcia-Dolnik 107: LIMINALwith B Li 106: OPENwith C SLowe & J Langdon 105: NO THEME 11with E Grills & E Stewart 104: KINwith E Shiosaki 103: AMBLEwith E Gomez and S Gory 102: GAMEwith R Green and J Maxwell 101: NO THEME 10with 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