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Hebe Kearney

bukit ibam, 1968

a story in a cage. dad,
you recount my grandmother
through the mosquito netting baking
tiny raised cakes.

the expat community there,
bukit ibam, balanced mine-side,
some australian joke,
no punchline.

she was hospitalised
there in malaysia, my grandmother,
fell down the stairs, silly thing.

my grandfather worked with his strong two hands
and spoke through the slit in his tongue

if a bruise appeared,
if a dinner plate like a frisbee thrown smashed
it was nobody’s business.

just memory now,
like the faint static, her perfume,
I smell on streets
passed by other old women, dad,
who are not your mother.

you were a child in a warmstrange land
and learned the language of lizards;
consumed only dried fish, pink milk
exuded only english.

you had seen it happen.
you had been there
and there had been
no stairs.

only mum
and dad
and dad’s two hands.

you had seen it happen, you say,
you are drunk again,
you had seen it happen.

and we, now,
have seen it too.

Hebe Kearney is from Christchurch but now calls Auckland her home. She is currently studying to complete her Honours in Classics at the University of Auckland. She couldn’t stop writing poems if she tried, and her work has also appeared in The Three Lamps and Oscen.