By | 15 May 2023

where bangalow palms and prickly tree ferns began
i remembered you. from the tarmac
to your small yellow car i missed half your words
relearning your strange accent, distracted
by this foreign world we were yet again traversing
of white sand, clear skies and diving pools.
he drove us along roads that wound like racing tracks
drifting from side to side lost and dizzied, you stuck
to my side, then my brother’s, like the same moving being.

a gentle wheeze of nicotine and lavender-rose
escaped the front door and i soon found
the things we had forgotten. floral duvets and photo albums,
two wall clocks set at different times.
the table fans whirring in unison, clapping the blinds
against the windowsill as if to say welcome home.
we took over the couch, four bodies collapsed and moulded in.
you muted the television and told us stories
of violent wars and cobblestoned streets, the ache
in your side when you thought about darwen tower
and the journey across desert and sea.
your cup overflowed with wine
as you shuffled playing cards with newly refilled fingernails,
the red tap-tap on the plastic backs
like a timer counting you down.

after lights out, we lay awake to noises we didn’t know.
our bodies showered in sticky sweat, breathing
the hum of cicadas and the faint smell of sugarcane leaking in
through the fly-screen window. we imagined
human-sized grasshoppers and bunyips in the creek.
you knew, and opened the door before midnight.
leading us outside you pointed to the swell
of cane toads lining the road. we stepped
between them carefully like a delicate game of lava
my brother pretending to be one, his cheeks
expanding and retracting in the humid moonlight.

in the morning you were tired, he took us to the beach.
my brother and i whispered about whether we should call
him grandad as he marched us up the sand dunes and told us
about the ocean and the next landform it would meet.
we found a pufferfish, dead and bloated
just back from the shoreline by a bed of seaweed and foam.
he held us back like it was a crime scene
we looked up at him then, eyes of wonder and intent,
his slightly brimming with salt water. he bent down
in that way old people do when they have stories to tell
and said, ‘let’s go find a big stick.’

you joined us in the rainforest where birdsong felt swollen
with rain. flicking a leech off my leg, you told me
i must taste extra sweet. in a quiet clearing,
you showed us a tree that had been taken over
by ferns. brilliant green roots clasped
onto the furrows of the bark, a tangle of antlers and scars.
it was the most magical thing i had ever seen
where thousands of mosquitos danced in the water
gathered at the bottom of each green nest.
and i wondered how the tree felt about being taken over
by something so foreign. you coughed deeply
when you laughed at our wonder
and held us tight like your two little trees
you, the epiphyte.

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