Death Zephyr

By | 1 May 2021

After ‘Death Zephyr’ by Yhonnie Scarce, exhibited at the Art Gallery of New
South Wales, 2017

We stand under the glass yams
black and clear, they sparkle under
the gallery lights, so still but in a wave
as if moving, as if blown
by the nuclear wind of the Maralinga
tests they whisper of, they speak to,
they keen and wail, the ghostly
not-tinkling glass

My baby girl reaches up
to the dangling yams, she loves
their shape and drop, their shine
This work is a memorial
for the artist’s people and country burnt
again by the British government
(the words of the wall plaque in my ear)

My mother’s words in my ear:
My grandfather, with the RAF, in charge
of the tests at Maralinga. He flew
out from London, leaving my two-year old
mother at home, to work and visit his brother
in Adelaide. He knew people were there;
my mother told me. He was a soldier,
a military man. He followed orders,
just as his father did. For him, it was the same
as Hong Kong and Malaya, the same
as dropping bombs
on Nazi U-boats in the Atlantic

I stand under the wave of glass
I am outside of it
I am part of it
the black zephyr and the white
Too visible under the gallery lights
Too seen
in the silence
of those my grandfather chose not to see

My baby girl reaches up for the yams
She wants to hold them, I want her
to feel their smooth belly
and sharp point

But I pull her back, trap her hands
and watch only, from the corner,
as the death zephyr fills the room.

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