Scales, Enclaves

By | 1 February 2018

The scale that weighs my face tips towards
the spot where shadows mingle on the road,
on the pavement and on other strange faces.
It is a heavy face, amplitudinous, strange even
through the side windows of cars parked
on King Street this side of old Newtown
like transient turtles, waiting for the waves.
Where the eyes had been—the eyelashes
scaled down to mere tiny lines, the slits
that defied at first the whole of continents
they call Asia and Europe and Polynesia and
the Pacific Islands in their deceptive sheen
in the light, and underpinned at last the
indifference of strangers towards their
incongruity—could never find solace in
the teem and vagabond of the inner west.
I had been to St Clair and so had my eyes,
so had my face, where an interloping emu
or a small bovine would sometimes sun itself
in the pastured greens of the reserve leading
to our old backyard that my uncle used to
call his expansive workshop of dreams.

To get to where my uncle’s family used to live
from the centre of the wide jungle of the city
is to travel back to the overlapping enclaves
of suburbia and into the cacophonous chatter
and diaphanous grip of suburban xenophobia
(or reverse claustrophobia). The train leading
to the leaf-laden streets lazily embarks at
St Marys, a locus of blatant tattoo parlours,
empty pop-up shops, disregarded playgrounds,
archaic street signs pointing to welfare offices
and even a lone shabby port of a Filipino shop.
If the train arrived belatedly, a mad flurry of
feet and huffing bodies trampled over stairs
to catch the every-thirty-minute shuttle bus
to the nearest main artery winding towards
the weird ensemble of cul-de-sacs on Meru
Place. The street name itself invoked the
fantasy of time and space drenched in the
strange fascination of memorials and old
kingdoms forever lost between the sea and
the shore. But it’s the street where my uncle
used to live, where I used to die little deaths.

Going back to the place where I first breathed
the clear smogless air of Sydney, where the
clowns of indifference first danced in my head,
where the temerity of growing up quickly in time
blossomed like a flower in the misty nightscape,
proves to be an epiphany, a turning point of
sorts. It’s the same streets with wide girths
and clean gutters, the same grass landings full
of green lush and lavender tufts of wild weeds,
of houses of pseudo-affluence standing tall,
of swirling driveways and unfenced-in smirks
of tots on three-wheeler trikes that used to
shout chink chink as I walked by on the way
to the bus stop—an ugly memento of a moot
circumstance—and the same tree-lined memory
of a time when the inherently vicious nature
of man belied the freshly sweet air of new
freedom. Getting back to St Clair, it now
gives me clarity—I have grown old but wise
to the call of hate and regret. It’s the same
old place, but I am not the same. I am one,
for once, with wisdom in a haunted face.

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