Fiona Wright is a Sydney writer, whose poetry has been published in a variety of journals and anothologies in Australia, Asia and the USA. In 2007, she was resident at the Tasmanian Writers Centre, developing a series of poems about Australian soldiers in Sri Lanka, and in 2008 she was runner-up in the John Marsden National Young Writers Award. Fiona works as an editor for Giramondo Publishing and HEAT Magazine, and a Project Assistant for the Red Room Company.
Oh, he can’t speak English
Mrs says when I ask for his name.
to his stiff sweeping, the white gravel garden
bared to the first sun. Loudhailers writhe
with morning prayers,
the taximen blessed
over the smokesong of their engines.
He pulls her aging BMW
through cowsome backstreets,
the corrugations of fences
barely squeezing past side mirrors,
Cliff Richard crooning through her tapedeck.
His questions fall soft, and askance.
The afternoon heat,
he busies in the garden, burning
rubbish, painting windowsills,
resetting shards of glass along the wall.
Sometimes, I see his gaze absent
through the slatted windows
of the main house,
where Mrs moves her dark outline
from kitchen, to table, to easy chair,
the ceiling fan
struggling at the waist-line frill
of her ossariya.
First, the dust cross-pollinates.
Guards in saggy khaki scratch
their noses, phlegm-spit
before their stamps rubber
onto our watermarked papers.
The road is thick. Wads of paper money.
and swift exchanges,
the litter of planky rickshaws
and the speeding limbs of cobble-chested boys.
They drag past crates of cigarettes, munitions
and pickled pythons, their bulb-like elders
broadly beam and sweep their hands
at pink casinos.
Ribby women swagger under gemstones
and rub their tongues over their teeth:
Perhaps there is no law
but human enterprise, the thick illicit
and a price for everything.
Vast bald marrows, frilled mushrooms
make us marsupial. We scamper,
the greens hustling from the woodwork.
Wheeled baskets stalk. Their leathery muscle
snaps at careless ankles.
The whiplash of green bins, cornsilks
and macheted heads of cabbages, we duck
and weave our way, as the small teeth
of asparagus grate.
Knobbled and gossiping fingers
pull at thin bean strings. The backpacks
are bulbous, sometimes sprouting.
The crate-jawed men compere, their howls
reverberate and crash against the foliage:
one dollar one dollar cheapest
try sweet lady, sweet sweet
sweet pear, try before you buy
The smell of fish curls on the edges.
We gather, alertly herbivorous
and chew on cherry tomatoes.
The seeds burst like blood in our mouths.