Chorus of Crows

by K A Nelson

When she saw Top Camp
(humpies made of corrugated iron/slabs of bark
people and dogs living together
children discharge running from nostrils/ears
like sewage seeping from the broken pipes next door)
she didn't wince.
She learnt to overlook the rubbish
caught on broken fences
blown by westerlies that brought the dust
and the haunting sound of crows through
every crack.

When she met Topsy
(her husband used a star picket
punished her tribal way even though everyone knew
that whitefella contractor got the better of her)
she didn't faint.
It wasn't the first time she'd held the hand of a woman
being stitched up.
Outside the clinic the crows seemed to sing
that white man
long gone.

When the Land Council mob
said no to a drink in the back bar
(the publican would only lace
their beer with Worchestershire Sauce
customers would stare/whisper behind cupped hands)
she bought a carton.
They sat in the yard yarning and laughing
at the crows as they burnt their beaks
scavenging for scraps
on the barbecue
hot plate.

When she walked across the Harbour Bridge
arm in arm with friends
(black/white and brindle
as her Nana used to say)
mothers pushed babies in their strollers
fathers shouldered children waving flags
people carried placards
and a breeze billowed out
that 'sorry' word above the crowd for hours.
Not a crow in sight!

Well into the New Millennium
it wasn't the daily press releases
of suicides/sniffing/stoushes
or claims the ATSIC experiment
had failed (miserably)
but another order from a minister
and a mandarin
carried out by men in overalls
that did her in.

When they took the dotted/cross hatched worlds
off all the office walls to hoard them
in a secret storeroom somewhere
(Mitchell, Fyshwick/Tuggeranong?)
when each piece of art and artefact was placed
(without bubble wrap or due regard)
in Woolworths shopping trolleys
that lurched along the corridors
their wobbly wheels protesting to the last
when workers sat transfixed to telephones
and screens (like crows on a carcass pecking
pecking unperturbed by passing cars)
she hurried to the women's toilet
locked the door/flushed
and wept.

Later she stared at her blank wall
where Rover's Universe used to hang.
Without him she felt so far removed
from Top Camp
Topsy and the mob
from the fly speck she said she was
in a far flung corner of his print
near one of five gold dots
(or sacred sites)
and as she stared
she thought she heard him say
Gardiya* might like 'em
might learn 'em
might read 'em right way
one day.

But beyond the blank space/concrete wall/double glass
it seemed to her the crows guffawed
(as if they foresaw
the NT Intervention).

*gardiya (whitefella)

Overland 202

K A Nelson is a former public servant and adult educator, who won the Overland's 2010 Judith Wright Poetry Award for new and emerging poets. She lives in Canberra.

Last updated June 15, 2011