Iris tells me about being a teenager
in apartheid South Africa, 1970;
she feeds me chicken curry and rice
(my first home-cooked meal since arriving in Cape Town),
and her fingers are playing with a tea towel as she talks,
story lines creasing and smoothing,
once-starched, now soft.
The Catholic school she went to broke the law –
taking in students of any colour,
many of the teachers themselves activists
and the science laboratories used for making bombs;
gun powdered fingertips,
soon to clench and form the fists that would be raised
in homes, in streets, in defiance.
And on weekends
the girls would curl their hair and set it with sugar water,
the ringlets stiff and sweet;
and in them would be tucked tiny scraps of paper
carrying tightly-wound messages –
the honey in their beehives –
to be delivered to prisoners on Robben Island
(under the guise of visiting with the priest).
She tells me about the policemen lining them up;
her and all the other coloured children on the street,
the officers whipping the backs of their legs
until they turned the colour of shame,
hot like the beans and chilli her mother would make.
Still, nothing compared to the torture of her older brother,
who remained a political prisoner for ten years
and emerged with a nightfall in his eyes that never turned to dawn.
Suddenly, she is tired.
‘Ah, sweetie-pie’ she says, ‘It’s all history now’.
But as she packs away the dishes
I wind some of my hair in a tight knot around my finger,
until the tip becomes numb and my hair forms a perfect ringlet.
And I tuck our conversation away,
like a sugar-curled message,
because I know history has a habit of repeating itself.
- 99: BROWNFACESUBMIT NOW with W S Dunn 98: SINGAPORECOMING SOON with A Pang and J Ip 97: PROPAGANDACOMING SOON with 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