By | 1 May 2018

The diagnosis is hard to hear. Dark
flames lap the future’s pretty
cottage. Knees and elbows
smoulder anger. Three streets
away a fire engine’s
high-pitched gape
sounds amongst the traffic.

The grasshopper in the bathroom that I trod on in socks, not squashing it
but breaking off a leg and not even noticing till I sat on the milky bath edge
in the half-light and a small movement came to me. I peered closer—
what is that?—and saw the little thing crawling round its broken leg
nudging it with its head as if trying to coax it into life, circling and circling touching it. I felt what I thought must be its confusion, its grief
and my throat was thick with what I had done. Its poor big eyes.
I didn’t know how to make amends.

On the other side of the apartment
wall our neighbour is
crying. No-one can hear her. This is
not true; we can hear her
but we don’t know her so we don’t
know how to go to her. We wonder why
no-one goes to her.

My boy when he was little, some days after I’d told him that wild things
prefer to stay in the wild. He came running in from the garden, his breath crosshatched with sobs and threw his arms around me
pressing his head into my belly. Whatever is it? I asked
my fingers stroking the small bones of his back.
I let all my caterpillars go, he said. I put them back in the wild.

Even the birds have their emergencies.
Their loud alarms in backyards and bushland.
And that half-dead galah, flattened on tarmac
attended by ten or so others, who rushed
out from the pavement to flutter and squawk
around it whenever there was a
break in the traffic.

The story my parents often told about a time when I was a child
still young enough to run to their Sunday morning bedroom and crawl into
the soft place where their warmth pooled. On one such occasion a butterfly
had flown in through the open window and I leapt up laughing, grabbing
at the colours until my fingers closed around it and it fell on their covers.
I picked up the broken thing and crawled, sobbing, into the bed, smoothing
the crumpled wings, hoping they might mend. I can still hear the low murmur
of my parents’ comfort, feel their hands on my shaking back, a memory
that may have come from the actual event or the way I pictured the event whenever the story was told, or is maybe just the way I’m picturing it now
as I write this, stopping sometimes to rub at my burning joints while my parents
lie asleep in a bed so far away I can no longer run to it, can no longer find
its soft place.


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