When the Cladding Melts


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Nadia Rhook is a non-Indigenous historian, educator, and poet, who lectures at UWA, on Whadjuk Noongar boodja. Her poems appear in journals including Cordite, Westerly, and The Enchanting Verses, and  [+]

The City is all about scale. An ocean laps at its chest. Mines yawn below its feet. Desserts warm its cheeks with big huffs of wind. In its heart, concrete towers draw squinting eyes toward the sky, a distraction from the army of blue shirts who gather like thirsty pigeons at street level.

When Tera enters the main hospital it’s her turn to feel tall. Midwives and anaesthetists gather around her as if she’s nothing less vital than a ship’s mast. A tower’s elevator. A city’s spire. The feeling doesn’t surprise her. What is giving birth if not a chance to grow.

After the second hour, she looks into the eyes of the lead midwife and asks

‘Is it even possible?’

The midwife grips her hand.

‘What d’you usually do to relax, darling?’

‘Breathe deep. Like in yoga.’

But breath will not move her past a pain that has no location, no address in this limb or that organ. Her relaxin-flooded body is a wave crashing on itself. She screams as if she might drown in it. Her imperatives echo through the ward.

‘Ride the wave... Let it gooooo...’

As soon as she can walk again, they drive to its heart, to stroll. They’re tilting their heads to view the tower-tops when their baby leans out from his pusher and stretches a podgy hand to brush the exteriors in front of them.

Concrete cracks. Pigeons take fight. Sheets of aluminium cladding melt into corrugations, shimmering like the Swan River under a djilba sun. They see little choice. They let go of each other’s hands and dive into the City’s molten walls hoping they remember how to swim.

*djilba is the growing, transitional season in the Noongar calendar, akin to spring.
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