Shastra Deo was born in Fiji, raised in Melbourne, and lives in Brisbane. She holds a Bachelor of Creative Arts in Writing and English Literature, First Class Honours and a University Medal in Creative Writing, and a Master of Arts in Writing, Editing and Publishing from The University of Queensland. Her work has appeared in Cordite, Peril, Uneven Floor, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2016 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize; her debut collection, The Agonist, is forthcoming from UQP in September 2017.
In the summer of 1995 my mother and I took
a road trip, followed the Murray River
all the way up to Echuca. Our lives were bundled up
in garbage bags, weighing down the trunk, and at the start
the tiny hatchback could barely make it up the hills. The engine
was as ragged as my mother’s breathing.
Every twenty kilometers we’d stop and she’d throw
a bag into the river. We would watch it
long enough to make sure it would sink, then drive on, lighter
and lighter. I don’t remember the trip back, but I imagine it must have been
like the drive past the redgum wharf: the windows down,
the freshwater wind soaking my hair.
The engine was thrumming and I felt as though
I could outrun anything.
You never told me how it happened—bones trembling
beneath your skin, fluid collecting in your joints,
vertebrae ready to snap as the pressure
built at the base of your skull.
On autopsy they found bubbles in your brain,
your lungs swollen and soaked in sea-water,
ribs caved in. Paradoxical breathing—
your documented cause of death.
They didn’t stop searching until they found the sorrow,
tucked away in your thoracic viscera, the longing
distilled in the pedicle of your liver, hunger
hidden in the mitral valve of your heart,
didn’t stop until they had you cut and gutted like a mackerel
on a Sunday afternoon. In the low light your hands shone
phosphorescent like fish scales. Somewhere, the sea
stretches out for you, gleaming with promise.
Pass me the salt, sugar—you smelled of old empires
and the smoke of sacrifice—because salt preserves
and it purifies. You had the sea in your veins,
before they filled you up with chemicals.
Pass me the shovel, lover. It’s just you
and me, and I’m still waiting for you
to get up and walk away.