ok so there is this photo of my mother on her wedding day, right, and she is sitting beautiful and savage in a cloud of tulle, centre-frame in a group of pretty women with teased-out perms and soft smudgy ash-gold skin; and they are all slightly wild and unfamiliar in the way women from there and from then were, eyes too far apart, waif-like aliens in suit jackets, bones too fine-cut, like a Siberian infanta. my mother though. impossibly dark-eyed, framed by mid-century oak. white roses spilling out of her lap and her neat little mouth like the heart of a magnolia. crowned by a spray of white blossoms like a scornful pagan Cinderella steel-spined on a palanquin. something foreign and socialist and dangerous in the sweep of a heavy eyelid and the reckless angle of a cheekbone. she doesn’t smile self-consciously in the wrong direction like everyone else. there is a tense animal fury in the line of her neck. she has a grenade under that satin train and none of those nervous young women will know.
this country still terrifies with its tempers – its lean ferocious women, its salt-stained barefoot sharp-toothed girls, its wild caprices, its sunlit seas a hard blaze of madness. what’s a country but an idea you hold pinned together in your mind, hardly more plausible than a galaxy? home is a predawn quietly spinning its stars, the sun at the end of every street, childhood mornings cool and clear. dizzy buzzing summer afternoons, tracking sand into the car, dry cereal out of a cup in the tired 2/3 stretch of a road trip. side street parking lots and peeling paint and strings of flax, January sky so blue it burns, mallow puffs and fruit roll-ups and all our little fads. on the edge of suburbia there is an earth heaving mutinous with adolescent rage but it has never wanted me. this raw graceless promised land has never quite looked kindly upon me.
we go for a walk on a Saturday night. i am restless and reckless with cheap gin bitter in the back of my throat and you are moody and quiet with a sour kick in your questions. two swans glide dreamlike down the Isis. early tomorrow half-asleep in a rainy morning next to you i will remember this, and everything else – your letters, your tipsy spoonerisms, your kiss under the shadow of the observatory – and brush your bone-china wrists with my fingers with as much softness as i can bear to give. but now i am cool and impassive and the wind chill frosts my cheeks and a still fury coils in my chest. down past Magdalen you tell me about the little minute of your life with a soft ironic smile and a reminiscent laugh and you are so of this country i could weep. what a perfect creation. what a sacred completion. you think me a mystery and for a moment, burning like a pint-sized flame-eyed goddess in the wind, i think maybe i am.
Grace Lee is a poet and aspiring novelist from Auckland, currently studying English Literature at Oxford University. Her writing has been published in Polaris, Signals, Starling and the Oxford Culture Review. She can be found in various airport terminals and in the backgrounds of tourist photos.