Broome Speak by Nadia Rhook

Nadia Rhook is a white settler historian, educator, and poet. She currently lectures Australian and Asia-Pacific history at the University of Western Australia, on Whadjuk Noongar land. Her poems appear in journals including Cordite, Westerly, and The Enchanting Verses, and her first poetry monograph, ‘boots’, is forthcoming with UWA Publishing in February 2020.

Broome speak 

during the sunset   I pause

the ocean’s got something to say to us
maybe it’s history speaking or maybe
it’s other people’s ancestors
hard to say for sure

with every snap of the pinkening sky, the 
rocks become silhouettes, of picnics, the sand
ingrained in my grandmother’s sparkly linoleum kitchen floor

the surfaces getting sharper than the day 

for a split second
between snapping anniversary selfies and dodging camels 
and SUVs crawling, branded ants across the sand 

Broome Broome
Broom Broom

while the ocean projects across the land to the carpark, the tourists keep clicking
the middle of history is full of the sound of rental cars with their handbrakes on

Oyster Interrupted

early on in the tour
you place slavery in darkness
and paid labour, in the light 

an oyster shell covered in barnacles of the ocean’s bacterium truths, to be chipped away

pearls might be the circle of joy herself or a great asymmetrical disappointment

the oyster’s life is interrupted through
the insertion of a seed

the oyster releases liquid, to try to get it out
but most of the time it stays there
and after 2 or more years the liquid hardens
and that, folks, makes a cultured pearl
any guesses what this one’s worth?

I look at the seed, the abductor muscle, the 
oyster’s thin sensory rim

I  squirm in my seat    
too much like unpaid labour for comfort

considering the life of codes and Bob Hawke

there arrived a time toward the end of history when language went underground
grammar, a shell patterned cave

I dreamt one night of seeking refuge there from
the rubber bullets I spied tucked under pedicured fingernails

the bullets had no names on them, except
for strange names, like
Hanson –  Anning – Shorten – and
other names I can’t repeat here

I heard voices, travelling along the shell-writ grooves
they became softer the closer I drew
they become closer the softer I grew

I want to break the codes, some said, but
I don’t know if that code has a key
if that word had a history 

codes? history? 

once upon a time there was 0 1 0 1 
1 is on 
0 is off
for example; 
wealthy, poor
loser, winner
red green
good politician bad politician

just then, just as the age of codes was drawing to an end, a nameless rubber bullet broke through an above-ground room’s window, glass shattered, fragments of meaning stuck to polyester designs, and jean-clad thighs stuck to brown retro lino, and coffee stained lips

too many shapes to collect

glass shards lodged in incomplete sentences
objects lost their verbs, and nouns, cried out for their missing adjectives and

no one quite knew anymore, whether racism came before capitalism
or capitalism came before racism or whether humanity came before Medicare
or Medicare came before Bob Hawke whether land came before rights or whether
Bob Hawke came before land rights and everyone wanted to watch him tear up when he
announced that he’d allow Chinese students to come  to Australia after Tiananmen Square but
some of us couldn’t decide if he was good or not, deep down, and no one wanted to remember that there’d already been some exemptions for Chinese students made in the 1920s

and I? I didn’t know either

the thing about the code was 
the violence had become a logic, and the logic was buried
deep down in the cells, of people with hearts who bleed rational blood 

0 dollars can become 1 dollar, and 
1 dollar can become many dollars
then, one day, 
the language went underground and I, too, dreamt of seeking refuge there 

leaving behind ‘0’ and ‘1’  
taking my Medicare card with me



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