Spice/Species/Specific

CONTENT NOTE

‘The Port of Sidney, 1838’ makes mention of colonialism, empire, and violence. ‘Absorption Method’ makes mention of infertility. ‘Half Written Poem’ makes mention of racism, the Stolen Generations, infidelity, and death.

The Port of Sidney, 1838

So it was that in this week
so many hogsheads, so many bags
bundles, crates, boxes, bales
of Cayenne pepper, nutmeg, turmeric
rattans, rice, table cloths, buffalo hams
1162 bags sugar, 300 bundles whalebone
136 ponies, 311 male prisoners
were inscribed as IMPORTS
on barque, brig, schooner, ship
marked SOUTH SEA ISLANDS, marked LONDON
marked NEW ZEALAND, marked CALCUTTA.

Within the hull of ARETHUSA, a worshipper to
a Greek God, stolen wealth erupting into fountains
in Sicily, on Greek islands, in Macedonian towns;
the butchered slop of a native word for ‘bright sky’
ULITEA carried the fallen cloth of hurricane wrecks
or MARTHA or WILLIAM or LORD LYNDOCH
where 16 convicts were dreadfully scalded with boiling
tea; with the namesake of a slave catcher, the cutter
BLACK JOKE: a British bawdy about a girl’s genitals
and so on, into the port of a spacious island.

SIDNEY: gold not here, Chinese uninterested
in Mother’s tidbits; they wanted honour
for antecessors, smoke opening sensory orifices,
before CURRENCY LASS and BRITISH SOVEREIGN
could disembark with cargo, distinguish themselves.

They would not accept!! Owing to a trade deficit
each of the islands lugged their ludicrous names:
Society, Sandwich, Savage… Samoan catechists
were deposited alone to teach the word of foreign gods,
brittle Australian inventories of sandalwood were left
on the beaches, as sailors, waged in short commissions,
courted a girl or two against their captain’s will (along with
a variety of other effluviant miasmas). The inhabitants
fast diminishing: in a few years it is to be feared
they will be spoken as people that were, but are not.

The vegetation was entirely different: every step
we trod on Ginger, or Turmeric, or Arrowroot. Volcanoes,
who hadn’t belted out a rhizome since the first revolver
(designed to maim not to kill), peppered the horizon,
once long, lobed, pendulous, deep orange and smeared
with powdered amylaceous matter. Now prepared for
marital coitus, in a bed of osnaburg, each spice lay
petrified, legs spread, hardened with wax. Spirit softened
by calloused hands, passed from merchant to missionary
to foreign school through fluent French negotiations
regarding the terms of exchange. Nutmeg for New York,
a spice monopoly!! Food preservation, many cases of scurvy
and life sentences, the crimes of which have been forgotten.
This historical record chewing on unwritten words:
the specific instructions required to prepare seeds
from the just-ripe blossom according to a calendar
burnt in the pyres of a sister’s ill fortune; dried-out skin
combined accidentally, in the wake of tragic division,
with delightfulness, with rhapsomantic blessings
to survive with new meaning, to impart a flavour of

Inspired by Dorothy Shineberg’s ‘They Came For Sandalwood,’ written with excerpts from the Sydney General Trade List pub. in The Sydney Gazette, 16 August, 1838 accessed via Trove.



Absorption Method

The kitchen is a great place for you to cry
for often something must be killed so you
have energy for the next day. A tradition
put women here in charge of cycles, while
men saw horizons and lines. The cupboard
stored dry beans, canned tomatoes, spices
and a shadow of the void. Knelt down
searching for something to wow children
her hands almost grasped something else
like freedom. I am trans and infertile but
I still cook, grinding cumin and fenugreek
into spirits, into dust. I know nothing
about those ancestors—a few words
left on official documents. A few tears
season the curry, intuition guiding choices—
never writing lists or following recipes, just
listen for voices, and when they come, I
hold onto the countertop splitting open
into the wide, shining saucepan. The rice
runs through my fingers, then back in
the sieve, tossed up and down, over and
over until the water runs clear. The kettle
whistles (I am lost in the process) I pour out
twice the rice and some—a little bit more
than last time, always adjusting. Closing
the glass lid, I watch bubbles condense
as the pot tremors, lowering the flame
then as always set a timer. Simmering
sauce beaming with turmeric, the broccoli
almost cooked. I taste a bitterness I know
will reduce in a moment—a lick of honey
and a crack more salt. The beginnings of
a feeling that I am secure and safe; food
is prepared, the rice water all absorbed,
steam billows from the pot open at last.
I put out plates. You arrive after all this
work: several thousand conversations with
myself cutting root vegetables. You are
so pleased to be here. I am not alone, I am
your host. Eating together, I pause between
mouthfuls to ask about your day.


Half-Written Poem

Here is a poem I cannot write yet:

My father is half Pakistani.

Sometimes we have to say things
before we know what they mean.

There was a lot more here in a previous draft.

My father is half-Pakistani.

He was adopted by a white family
who liked getting more babies.
They liked brown babies.
They had Jamaicans, Stolen Generation…

My father is half Pakistani.
My father insists he has never experienced racism.
My father was in the army band
then the air force band.

My father wanted me to play football.
My father left Mum when I was 2
for another woman. He had a suitcase packed
beneath the bed, left in the middle of a fight.

My father is half Pakistani.
My father will not talk to me about Pakistan.
I like to learn about Pakistan.
I like to learn about all the cultures, all the peoples.
I like to learn about history.

My father insists what has happened
has happened and we must move on.
‘Action stations,’ he used to say
while rushing me out of the room.

These past few years, me and Dad don’t speak
My father and I are not on speaking terms.

My father is half Pakistani.
I see him everywhere, dressing like everyone.
He likes to wear puffer jackets with his buzzed bald head
but when he turns around, he is not my father.

I had a dream about my father, he took me
to a pub. We were served too much food:
chicken parmas, steak, chips and a burger.

My father has a beer gut.
My father loves beer.

I remember my father marinating pork ribs
in Coca Cola and cough syrup.
I remember he let me drink Coke.
I remember he liked taking me out to yum cha
trays of colourful jelly and steamed xiao long bao.

My father is half Pakistani.
Mum says he used to cook the spiciest curries.
Mum says he had long hair and loved women.
Mum says he grew dope and flushed it down the toilet.

My grandfather was Pakistani.
He left Pakistan wanting a better life.
He had a fling with a nurse then lost touch.

My father is half Pakistani.
He was first named Benjamin by that white nurse
who called her next child Benjamin too.

Sometimes I feel perverse saying this, after all
I can’t write this poem yet—I told you!

There is a single two-page document that says
everything about where my father and I come from.

It says my great-grandma and grandpa
were Hindu and Muslim, probably North Indian
then the Partition, that great displacement,
pushed them to Pakistan. My great-grandma
died of heartbreak missing her home.

Sometimes I think I feel her heartbreak.
Sometimes I feel perverse saying this.
My grandfather left the country.

My father taught me how to make espresso.
My father explained how Melbourne city was planned.

When he left my mother, my father stayed in Hong Kong
sent me postcards with letters of the alphabet drawn on.

My father loves shooting big cameras at nature.
My father loves finely bred Siamese cats.

My father said my mum feminised me.
I tried to speak to my father like I would my friends.
My father said, ‘Your friends must all be women.’
I’ve forgotten what he then said about being a man.

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE