At twelve I was sure. This body
would belong, even briefly, to no other.
I had watched my mother
with my sister and I, the two
children that were meant to change
her life (we changed her life),
and it did not look enticing. The days
had an edge to them, and I remember
it not like a knife, but something
blunter, something that scraped,
and was rusted, and hurt
in a slow and dull way that rarely
showed. Sometimes I wished
for blood, as if that would make it easier.
Bruised. We were all bruised.
Her voice was this beautiful thing, low
and strong but with a break. She insisted
that she couldn’t sing, but she did. She sang
me into each day, and carried me through
the night. Language that tore but also
soothed, her voice, the tone of her, running
through my lymbic system, coating my amygdala,
teaching my cingulate cortex about pain.
But sometimes we’d put Buddy Holly
or X-Ray Specs on the record player,
the plastic arm hooking across, the needle
coming down to rest and crackle across
vinyl, and sing, and dance on the floorboards.
Six feet banging down, chalk dust
and crayon crumbs flying up, and over it all
her reaching voice, that cracked on the no more.
It was 1979, and we were blonde girl children
with a mother who was cracking, yelling
bondage up yours and jumping off
second hand couches like we could fly.
It was 1979, and my mother was writing
for Spare Rib and wearing overalls
and gymboots and smoking rollies
and taking us to rallies.
We swam naked in the Hyde Park fountains
after Land Rights marches. Cold brown water,
one cent pieces glinting on the concrete bottom,
too far down to reach. The feel
of a metal turtle back between my five year old
legs, cool and hard and round. Balancing
on a turtle shell and dangling my legs
and looking up at the fig tree canopy, so green,
with the sun on my back, and looking over
at my sister dog paddling to the edge, her hair
gone stringy, so blonde it was almost white.
Don’t think it was all bruises and cracking. There
were moments like these. There were always
moments like these: metal, and sun, and green,
and cold to the knees, and later water
and apples on the bus home,
and my mother smoking (because
you could then), and us rolling up our white and purple tickets
and pretending to do the same.
1 May 2014