Local amnesia

Emilie Collyer

 

There was a tree you climbed,

height-thrill and warm bark against

 

your skin. You don’t know what kind of tree

it was. Today, waiting for your mother in the city,

 

she’s running late and it’s pouring rain,

(did she slip, is she okay?) a sudden violent

 

outburst—it never used to rain like this in Melbourne

did it? A heavy, humid gush that sucks brollies

 

inside out. See her in the distance, both smaller

and more certain than you remember.

 

You booked an Indigenous walking tour

for her birthday. The guide shows

 

possum pelts and baskets,

photographs and stats: of sheep-heavy

 

ships, within years there were

six million, mouths to the ground,

 

munching food sources, hoofed animals

galloping, an empire built on enthusiasm

 

and brutality. The group clucks concern—if only

they had known better, done better,

 

listened more, blundered less. Outside

in the rain-fresh air by Birrarung (river of mists),

 

the guide pulls a leaf with white spots,

people think it’s bird shit or cobwebs

 

but they’re lerps, from tree lice, sticky sweet

sugar you can eat. Mothers would teach their children

 

where honey was secreted in a flower,

which leaves to chew on and which to leave alone.

 

Remember your primary school

project, how proud you were to talk about

 

orchards planted here by your ancestors, diligent

German immigrants, long-faced and genteel,

 

settlers who formed a community and

called it Waldau—‘a clearing in the forest’.

 

How much is missing from your inherited memory?

Apples and pears were razed in favour of

 

suburban dwelling well before you entered

the family line. Stories passed down your

 

father’s side but your Mum’s a quieter song

(fragments: Dundee dirt floors, a ship,

 

a death at war). That photo in the yard, you as a

squint-eyed toddler, chubby and scowling on your

 

mother’s lap, siblings clustered close, her

face a soft surprise (How did I end up here?)

 

The tree’s not in the picture, a detail

half-remembered, a kind of drifting

 

amnesia easy to dismiss. Your life has not (yet)

depended on the knowledge of a tree.

 

 

Emilie Collyer lives in West Footscray, on Wurundjeri country, where she writes plays, poetry and prose. Her writing has appeared most recently in Australian Poetry Anthology, Cordite, Overland, and The Lifted Brow. Recent award-winning plays include Dream Home and The Good Girl which premiered in New York in 2016.

%d bloggers like this: