by Jennifer Harrison
A nun told me when I was eight, I wish I could put you in a glass box and carry you everywhere. How odd, I thought, but now the computer screen is my own box of translucent rabbit-hole glass, and I am carried to the world, everywhere. That Good Samaritan was tall with long black robes but when, for some reason I can’t remember, I touched her back it was rigid as a board and I thought, Are all nuns like that? Carved from stone? It wasn’t until years later I was told she was in body plaster after back surgery. Memory moves like a serpentine body, smooth for a while but scaled in purl loops of the past, ravelling. In the past months I’ve spent too much time alone but there’s a peace in being excused from life; monastically, just yourself and past paths, the future paused, the present opaque as a milky stone, yet threatening. Your mother turns ninety-one and you become a grandmother. Wearing a mask is mandatory in some countries. Swedish friends sit in cafes enjoying a latte. In India workers walk a hundred acid miles home. Around Albert Park lake the palms throw shadow circles on the red dirt path. An Alfred Stieglitz photograph you walk over. The black swans have birthed and their cygnets weave and sway in a wash of ecstatic busyness. Sometimes I mistake shadows for birds. I remember the magpie that swooped over me on my way to school. Something coming at me from above. A danger. Something from which to avert your eyes. Now I look at what is coming next. Stay at home they say. Your age. Vulnerable. I put my name to the online working-from-home agreement, watching small birds outside my window free to tweet in the ornamental pear trees—they seem more themselves than ever, an orchestra of freer flight, cheerful as usual, while inside I duck my eyes to a screen and say hello to somebody more than one-dimensional, a figure perched in a room at home, remote and unknown, yet familiar as our voices, our words awkwardly timed, our breath pristine.
Jennifer Harrison’s most recent publications include Air Variations (University of Canberra 2017) and Anywhy (Black Pepper 2018). She manages The Dax Poetry Collection housed at the Dax Centre at the University of Melbourne. She was awarded the 2012 Christopher Brennan Award for sustained contribution to Australian poetry.