Follow the Shadow

After Eileen Chong’s Compass

Dad wakes up quickly

told me he would die at fifty-five

because his father had

that fate runs in our family

he laced his pocket in shadow and a toothpick

sucked air through his molars

an entropic portrait painted

his bottom teeth dry

tried to convince me he had anything up his sleeve

other than black art

At fifty-five the shadow creeped out of his pocket

spent in a trickle on his children

latched onto my sister’s heel

my brother’s ignition

the way I part my hair a constellation

stare in the mirror like I’ve got fifty-five years

to turn my life

into the kind of bleeding that leaves a room

having connected to dots

In twenty-five years I’ve spent one night

under the stars with my brothers, eleven hours south of Bankstown

red dirt lining our fingertips

clouds silvering the back of the Landcruiser my dad bought at auction

I shuffled wakeless gums and wattles

made shadows of my brothers in the front seats

gumtrees hooting their loss

a funeral for owls, I missed our olive

trees that watched my dad

never buy or sell a car that wasn’t on its way to a graveyard

we parked in drought and bone dust

dad’s dry molars in the back seat with me, I imagined

he wasn’t dead, only outside

living, casting the longest shadow

In our backyard with a garden hose rainbow

accidentally spraying us on purpose

water pouring down his stubble and smile, ten years away

from worrying about a pill

or an uncle, or a missed call, or a midnight train smiling

at my mother from the kitchen like ice

on his summer lip

It was and is my job to flip the stalwart pot

bubbling lemon and oil and vine leaves

steam breath on winter windows, at dinner

mum’s hand catches droplets on gold bangles and croons and laughs

at the shadow of meat falling into my siblings mouths, their kids

get messy, really messy, get put to bed with Johnson’s

bubble bath spilling out of liquid TV screens and wrinkled fingertips

I’ve got the same hands as mum

dad kisses them gently at sixty-five, he’s outlived the love

like he’ll have better luck ten years later

like my shadow will weigh less than her outline

on his bed I rummage through his drawers, on occasion

curious what immortals keep by their bedside

He’ll live forever, in the shadow of this poem

creeping out of every garden grave

yard work still red around his eyes

ten years away from going back to the shadow.

Bilal Hafda is a Muslim Lebanese-Australian writer living in Western Sydney. He is a committee member and organiser of the Bankstown Poetry Slam, and works full time at the Story Factory, a not-for-profit organisation that runs creative writing workshops in High Schools and Primary schools across NSW. 

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