Orange Plastic Mug
Once red and always on
the plaid-lined lower shelf
of the cupboard under the sink,
for weak juice and milky tea.
The mug smells of hot tussock
that breathes like baking.
It tastes of the Belgian biscuits
my mother made one summer
and looks like black-striped pink
geraniums. It feels like feet
swilling sand in a bucket of water
gone warm, sounds like the pound
that resembles wind at first, the tide.
It is full of the frustration of playing
children’s Scrabble instead of
the real thing with darker squares
and no pictures, the tired
comfort and outrage of being
put to bed before the fire
is put out, while other children
climb the hill’s seeping shadows,
feeling their way under wire
fences and over dead sheep;
screams flashing like torches.
There are orange plastic mugs
and magenta geraniums and dry
biscuits, tussocks, torchlight
here—but what is the point
in saying that mug is a similar
size or I learnt to swim by
walking my palms along the floor
of a lagoon identical to that one?
It only marks the distance between
here and then. Sometimes I am far
from the country that no longer exists;
sometimes I feel close to nothing.
This mug is not a likeness, a simile.
It is the same mug I drank from then.
I hold it now, but the trees are whiter—
bones clean except for silver leaves
the shape of my father’s and my husband’s
dry smiles. One is here, one is then. I am
tense now. Unsure of when we are. Cold tea
burns my lips. I politely ignore everyone.
Amy Brown was born in 1984 in Hastings. She now lives in Melbourne and teaches creative writing at the University of Melbourne, where she completed a PhD in 2012. Her first collection of poems, The Propaganda Poster Girl, was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2009 New Zealand Book Awards. In 2013, her contemporary epic poem titled The Odour of Sanctity was published by Victoria University Press.
Brown comments: ‘I wrote the first draft of this poem while camping near the beach in Jervis Bay, New South Wales, and having recently read an article about the grossly inadequate medical treatment of refugees detained on Christmas Island (another white-sanded, turquoise-watered place). Not feeling the authority or inclination to write an explicitly political poem, I tried to imagine being faced with such inhumane conditions. Insulating oneself with early memories of home, and trying to find familiarity in the alien environment via similes, seemed to me some of the only means of coping. Living as an expatriate, I found this comparison of “home” with “home” came naturally. So, while the narrator of this poem is fictional, she is made from the aspects of myself that are able to empathise with her.’