Walking into Mallam’s Grocery,
Mullumbimby, you can buy Byron
Bay Chai tea, packets of gluten free
hippie biscuits, thick mosquito coils,
incense, tea tree oil, tins of tiger
balm and rennet-less organic cheese.
The soya chips and tofu burgers
come with mango milkshakes, do you want
sprouts with that, or grated beetroot?
All summer the cane toads and green tree
frogs chant through the humid nights, the most
of how hot it will be is the amount
of laughter the kookaburras make
in the early morning. I travel
by train, by local bus, I wade through
the muddy flood water across Main
Arm. Streets with names like Hibiscus Place,
Avocado Crescent, Azalea
Drive and Grevillea Ave, reflect
the flora of an Australian
Eden. There’s blood on your sarong, says
my eldest sister, a great bloated
leech as large as my left thumb has to
be removed from my bleeding thigh.
When there is too much rain the junkies
gone mad in the wet shoot the place up,
we hear helicopters and the police
lose five rifles in the swollen river.
This miasma of violence
seeps through my Rudolf Steiner rainbow
coloured mosquito net and links hands
in an unholy story alliance
about family in my dreams.
My second sister believes she has
two little friends called Bobbin and Mobbin
who guard her. She cleans the phone with germ
killer and must spray the people who
enter her flat. She talks rubbish, then
says something very clever, attacks
visitors wearing glasses, smashes
things that others love, and claims she has
ten lovers and twenty enemies
and knows who these enemies are, names
them over and yet over again
in her one-bedroomed blonde brick unit
on Proudfoot Street, with smoked bubble
glass in the panel next to the door
and seventies hacienda style
breeze-block decoration around
the grey concrete barbecue area
she will never ever use because
she feels uncomfortable being
only one minute away from her
front door. The poinciana tree standing
outside is like a red wound against
her white-blinded window.
And it is moments like these you squeeze
your eyes and rub your forehead to try
and remember the less complicated
days of childhood when my sisters hid secrets
for me to find (messages in lemon
ink, codes and treasure maps). These women
that I visit now are like strangers.
I watch the lorikeets. What colours.
What jewel-like wings. My nephew shows
me how high the river rose. His son
takes off all his clothes and gets into
the Municipal Gardens fountain
and refuses to come out. What colours.
What passionate adornment these
lorikeets are to our parched
surroundings. At the bus station
of course you have to pay for the key
to the toilets and inside they have
one of those stupid violet lights
to stop addicts shooting up. It hasn’t
worked, there is someone flaked out
on the floor near the basin. I know
the man on the desk will be annoyed.
I try to wake her up. An old woman
in a straw hat and carrying
a bag knitted in pink and purple
wool washes and wipes her hands while she
stares at us. I try to wake the girl.
It’s disgusting, says Sunhat. I can’t
wake the girl. This could even be my
own sister. And I think of the flock
of lorikeets, yellow, red, and blue,
seeking the blossom-laden fruit trees.
This young girl refuses to wake up.
I’m getting a tight clenched feeling
in the back of my throat. She won’t wake,
I say to Sunhat. The body remains
comatose. I hold her slim brown wrist
and discover a fluttering pulse.
Lorikeets. They are everywhere
in the empty arid park, swooping
in over the sad dusty date palms.
Vivienne Plumb is a Wellington writer who writes prose, poetry and drama. She was born in the St George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Camperdown, Sydney, (1955) to a New Zealand mother and an Australian father.
Her first novel, Secret City, was published in 2003 (Cape Catley Press, Auckland). Her collection of short fiction, The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In Her Sleep, was awarded the Hubert Church Prose Award. Her poem, ‘The Tank’, won first prize in the 1999 NZ Poetry Society competition.
Vivienne’s new collection of poetry, Nefarious: poems and parables, was published in December, 2004 (HeadworX, Wellington), and also features about twenty parable-like prose poems which are mildly amusing.
Vivienne has also been a recipient of the Bruce Mason Playwrighting Award, and several residencies, including the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship (2001) and a University of Iowa International Writing Programme residency (2004).
She comments: ‘The writing of “Lorikeets” physically began when I woke up very early one morning in someone’s spare bedroom in Brisbane and began to write quite a long poem that was eventually to become “Lorikeets”.
‘The imaginative creation of “Lorikeets” evolved from an incident at a Sydney railway station. Upon entering the Ladies’ toilets I found a young girl collapsed on the floor near the sinks, obviously suffering from the intake of some drug. Her boyfriend (also out of it, but still walking) was beside the Ladies’ door shouting to her, but when I told him she had collapsed, he ran away. The true life incident was messier than the way it sounds in the poem.
‘As a writer I feel it is my job to rearrange these small events of life into a more interesting display before I present them to a reader.
‘One existing theme in “Lorikeets” is that of Australia as a gorgeous lush tropical “Eden”, and the reality of that being overbearing heat, humidity, creepy crawly insects that can suck your blood, and people who go “troppo” from too much heat and rain during the wet season. I use the exotic rainbow lorrikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus) to bring some beauty and colour to the picture. In the poem they are a sign of hope.
‘Of course “Lorikeets” is primarily about family and how we try to help each other, and about how it doesn’t always work. Instead, we can feel like strangers travelling in a strange land. It is also about having the courage to take action even in the most disturbing situations. I exhort all readers to refuse to stand on the sidelines, and to make an effort to discover “the fluttering pulse.” ’