Bread, leggings, helicopters

Featured in

IT’S THE DULL hum of a helicopter overhead that wakes me up. A few pocketed families scatter from their games – soccer / volleyball / running really fast together in a straight line, being timed.

It’s hard to find a way to justify falling asleep in the park, book splayed on my abdomen, as exercise – even within ten kilometres of my apartment. But the sun was just so warm on my thighs; it straddled heavy on me. The book was boring. No one was around. I felt safe.

Flushed under the sound of that helicopter, I think a bit about my bad heart and whether it would be useful when I needed it to be – instead of the liability it’s been so far in a pandemic. But who’d want to go to a hospital right now? I settle for pretending to do crunches.

We get followed by cops even when the activity exemption is obvious. I learnt early on (from what you could euphemistically call ‘comparable experiences’) those small indicators that shouldn’t matter but do because race and class do.

Exercise exemptions: wear good leggings and a matching top. Go to the nice walking tracks near the Drummoyne McMansions where police stay in their cars and just do laps. When you’re there, walk with your chest up and out, a little smile. Shopping exemptions: always buy a loaf of bread and UHT milk and at least one canned good. Never cough, don’t linger. Get carded anyway.

I am in Sydney’s inner west, an enclave of relative wealth. I have light skin that affords me a pass from – and offers complicity in – most public and carceral racism. And I have plenty of bread now. I am doing okay. I am not hungry, criminalised, unsupported or surveilled.

I do not have an army at my door.

THE VENDING MACHINES at Central and Redfern stations are slow. But with creaseless cash and quick fingers you can get a bottle of sparkling water from them while the train’s pulled up for passengers. Sparkling water, I’m told, gets irritants like OC spray out of eyes a little quicker – if you or anyone around you is scared of going to hospital because you can’t breathe and because you matter and you’ve chanted as much for the last eight hours.

SHE SAID HER name was ______ but I took to calling her ___. She was maybe early forties, two kids. We met through the open window of my car with its long and loud first gear. I blushed a little when the engine strained towards her testing table. Working in the city meant dancing this odd little line with ___ a few times each month.

‘They’re working you hard today!’ / ‘Beats the hospital! Could you check your address for me?’ / ‘Yeah, A_____?’ / ‘Yes. And You work in education this whole time?’ / ‘At a uni, yeah. But I don’t teach, so don’t tick that.’ / ‘What? What do you do at a uni if you don’t teach? Well, it’s ticked. Okay, head back.

Almost done.

Don’t cry.’

___ saw my exaggerated wet blinks. She offered me a quiet ‘good girl’. Every time I saw her for a test – which was until Laverty took the contract and the former e-waste site privatised – my hips fluttered.

EVERY PIECE OF lockdown writing is a chore. There’s no friction in the action. We’re condemned to the dull hum a crisis takes on when it’s gone on too long. I remember few notable events. There’s no purchase in memory anymore. There’s nowhere to hang the weight of a story. Every poem in lockdown – well, at least mine – succumbs to its own exaggerations. (Like here! My grotty interiority!)

I am impotent, wordless again. Too many op-eds have scared me off simile or metaphor. This is not like this. That is hardly like that.

It’s embarrassing, the public urge to distinguish your suffering from everyone else’s / to try to find it a unique and named place in the whole / mostly inside and mostly alone. But becoming right and righteous is not the same as coming home.

The quiet I’m cultivating – not because I’m above this public urge, just because I’m right now too stupid to find words for it – has its own accidental wisdom.

A lockdown is not, despite what you may have been told, like a prison.

THERE ARE SEVERAL young blak men on the roof of Parklea – a place that is like a prison because it is one. Prisons should crumble, but especially in pandemics that predate on breath and air and space. They already effectively use those tools to incubate death, disease and suffering. No, I haven’t digressed.

In the footage online, I watch two competing plumes of debris rise into a sunset. One is black smoke. The other is a spiralling white-grey mist. Tear gas. The young people get into formation and hold up their fists in the golden hour for the drones coming by. Their silhouettes are for a second gilded. They’ve arranged their shirts on the roof at their feet to spell out BLM – like others did at Long Bay prison about a year ago now.

That bit doesn’t make the nightly news, but mob see it elsewhere. Briefly, these men step into their power and we bask in the responsibility it confers upon us.

LOTS HAS BEEN written and said about how familiar this dull hum of long-term crisis is to mob. I don’t want to repeat it. I only want to follow my family’s little precedent / a path of hedonistic spite that we push as wide as a narrowing catastrophe allows. I know this containment isn’t that Girls Home. I know this containment isn’t Tipperina. In spite of everything, my life’s path is relatively wide and the hedonism permitted me is nice.

I get to watch in awe as a black cockatoo comes close to somewhere it should be but can’t, dangling like a fruit over the profane / a D-grade McDonald’s / falling-apart apartments / WestConnex tunnels. The leggings are done. I’m buying leotards. My five-year sobriety is dead.

I get to watch the novel coronavirus, see it creep up towards Gomeroi Country and for the first time I let myself catastrophise. It is, after all, where I promised my weakened heart I’d die – not a place for wholesale death to go. Again.

Share article

More from author

One minute past midnight

GR OnlineWe know, some of us, that confronting books are losing their power, flooded by an industry of trauma stories and books on mass casualty events and individual atrocity... Truth-telling and shock are one thing... But how do we make it clear that what we write of is a vast and interconnected world that also implicates all our readers as the cracks in its colonial mortar grow?

More from this edition

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.