Murder at Wave Hill
Judith Nangala Crispin
Yes, he is beautiful, the boy dancing with men, purlapa, snake story — his skin gleams oil and iron-red ochre, she watches his musculature, his torso lithe as a red-belly black.
In Wave Hill, population 334, there are no secrets.
She plays cards with old ladies in the road, for welfare money, for cigarettes and grog. He calls her to the window of his Holden V8. She is a love spell, the word ‘Deadly’ in sequins across her chest, eyelids painted Beyoncé blue.
already fallen to dust and insect wings, the hanging planets, spindrift stellar fields above the houses. She sees auras, she tells him, not like ngangkari — like a faith healer, like someone holy, someone from outer space.
He gives her a motel Bible, from a room at Top Springs, shows her antique playing cards online, with pictures of doves and owls, peacocks. He drives to Katherine to buy her a Woolworths chicken.
When the baby comes they move into a sheet metal donga, coloured fairylights along the back fence. She dreams of a honeymoon at Top Springs, of white towels folded into swans.
When the baby comes, he tells her he might take up rugby.
In a smoke-filled room, she changes the baby, turns up her bluetooth speaker — rap music pouring into their yard of noisy dogs, the scorpion-filled weeds beneath the car with its windscreen shot out, that night he came home too drunk to aim a rifle.
They fight. They tip over the sofa looking for change, and one day, the word ‘suicide’ creeps into the donga like a huntsman.
She stops taking the medication, watches crows with renewed interest.
He joins the rugby team. While he’s at training, she takes kitchen scissors into the yard, opening and closing them like a beak.
They survive Christmas.
Now, in January, he sees the bare shoulders of another girl — the falling strap of her dress is a road to a different life.
Somewhere, on a night of bottles, beyond the town lights’ reach, they lie on their backs tracking meteors, star formations — the skyworld of animals. Hammered silver, the Milky Way spins asteroids and cosmic dust,
spacejunk, the exploded ruins of stars — all the night’s dark until trees resume their daylight forms and parrots screech their canticles to the sun.
And now he sees how things end.
The boy moves his things out of the donga, mumbling excuses — we fight too much. This one right skin, prettier. The words ‘child support’ drop in the space between them, cold as the light of outer planets.
In the kitchen, in her tiredness, she feeds the baby — her brain burning, sees crows perched in a corner of the room, houselights turning on in the street, and in those houses, other girls sitting at their mirrors, putting on lipstick, wiping it off.
She sleeps alone, motel bible under her pillow.
In a town like Wave Hill, there are no secrets.
Yes, the young mother is beautiful. She shows him how to support the new baby’s neck, keep its tiny head from falling. He tells her his ex-wife is crazy — gone beyond some unknown vanishing point, even pulled out her eyelashes.
The ex-wife watches them together at the park, at the swimming pool — sees them smirking behind supermarket shelves, glancing back at her from the checkout and laughing. She returns baby formula to the shelf.
She buys a steel claw hammer.
She buys a knife.
With a practiced twist, the man on tv
is prising open the fragile mouth,
probing tender flesh unable to resist,
orbs of sunlight string glistening water behind.
Inside the injured tissue, he leaves a small stone —
in time, it will grow a pearly cyst
to smooth over the rough intrusion.
In the jumble of a city flea market once,
I couldn’t resist
a string of aged pearls, their soft peach glow
alluring from velvet folds —
I realise now why
no matter how I would twist them,
they would find a way to choke.
How a man’s hand can close
over a small mouth, encircle a throat —
unable to resist, injured tissue accepts the stone.
I almost drowned once, refound how words
won’t form in the absence of air.
If I could form the words now,
I would tell you how you can drown on dry land.
Never take me to an oyster farm —
all those closed mouths
not forming words under water,
slowly growing over their own small stones.
There are places where a woman can be stoned for failing
to resist a man, her pulped flesh left
to ripen around the stones.
I remember your hands, dandelion clock
soft, like the gentle descent of snowflakes
on Mount Sannine. Plump as fresh-baked
khubz, I would tuck myself into
your flank — my snuggling potion.
Now, I long for the when of how things were,
for the Beqaa Valley tessellating from the veranda
and the trailing summer grapevine arbor
guarding your grandchildren’s giggles.
I ache for winter’s cherries in sickly sweet syrup
and your home-made labne balls dipped in zaatar
hidden far from our ravenous reach.
Your midwifery tales did not wane with your moonlight hair.
Motherless young, widowed young, you carved pillars
out of your ribs of sorrow and kindled
life from life, swallowing a woman’s bellow
whole when push became a deafening echo.
Out of womb cocoons, babies were pulled
bathed and anointed with olive oil. Swaddled
in cotton white, you held them like mother-earth
holds onto her roots.
In a sunken valley of razed memories
in the fertile land of Zahle and Baalbek—
your Astarte light pellucid.
These poems are excerpted from Borderless: A Transnational Anthology of Feminist Poetry (edited by Saba Vasefi, Melinda Smith and Yvette Henry-Holt).
Borderless is a collection of brand new, specially commissioned poems from a wide range of contemporary poets reflecting on feminism in its broadest sense. The voices of First Nations, refugee and migrant poets are a deliberate focus. These poems plunge the reader deep into the experience of life in the world, at this moment, in a woman’s body, and explore multitudinous versions of what that can mean.