The Ghosts Hang Out the Washing
When she talks, suspend chronology.
The rain in Cairns comes down – here and there
more showers than rain, more sunshine than cloud:
“ghosts that hang out the washing” she says
translating a Sanskrit base-memory:
folklore that connects, intermittently,
a palimpsest of flashback and place –
today sun showers,
yesterday bursts of lightning, childhood scenes
of a market squeezed between two cemeteries, Muslim and the Chinese.
A shrimp paste entrepot of big boned moody women
hawking dried prawn…
It's a nuisance –
the rain she means, not who owns what
or the way migrants apply an ethics of citizenship
to the weather.
It's not a question of
religion, but simply the rain.
Fast-forward to a 60s honeymoon, youth,
Art and Living, London mews, and of course
appalling drizzle, a climate she quickly forgot
at a gallery at Australia House
hung with Namatjiras:
blue sky, white trees, red earth.
Decided then on going there,
and made it here
arriving on the latest 707, hence immediate
laundry duty in a Perth dust storm
among the unpruned roses, no time to smell them
tending to fevered child (me), mumps, eczema, asthma etc.
She cried in sight of her first beach.
Life's wetter here, for the good, near 30 years on.
There. Say hello! Up against the window
a green tree frog, icon of the North.
And those ghosts again
begin to hang, fickle
but refreshing, like our talk, words
that evaporate then re-vaporise
in an evening for lazy Cairns radio,
hours of talk: the eroding seashore,
the mechanical decay of our bodies,
the crazy neighbours,
what price a fresh coral trout,
why Riverland casks go off on road trains heading north,
the effect of storm surge,
the lethal mysteries of the Irukanji jellyfish,
the futility of bus timetables.
So this was Namatjira's legacy, lost now
to the manager who bought and sold his oeuvre
(his mob own nothing framed but memories).
Namatjira wept when he saw the sea, and knew
by the scent in the air
there was always (he could see)
another country raining on this one.