I scan the textbook looking for any flickers of familiarity, of words I might have seen before or words that resemble English in some way. There are a few of those like Sohn, son, Bruder, brother, Mutter, mother. Would the unfamiliar words make more sense if my grandfather had kept his native tongue rather than disown it when he arrived in Australia?
Women are held responsible for their own safety, after all. More bluntly speaking, women are held responsible for not letting themselves be murdered, assaulted, or otherwise victimised.
His name was changed from Pollnow, German, dating back to the eighteenth century, to Peters, assigned with little more than an up and down glance. My grandfather, along with seven other young Jewish refugees, was cautioned against revealing any trace of their foreignness. Assimilation has always been Australia’s policy.
In considering only the alphabetic aspects of the postcodes one half of their narrative and poetic potential was potentially being overlooked. Some quick calculations confirmed this, and the need to dig a little deeper.
On occasion the threads braid together and present a knot or a node or an answer. Halfway through the 13 September 1967 issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly is a promotion for a storytelling game called Postcode, which requires entrants to spin a yarn with postcodes in place of a few key words.
In front of the man, in fact almost all around him – scattered on the butchers papered trestle table he sits at, taped and tacked to the three dividing walls arranged in a U suggesting a room, tossed or lost to the floor – are sheets of paper: photocopied, cut and pasted, gridded, plain, scribbled, planes.
I open the folder and a frail wisp of paper flies out, caught in the gust. I catch it and read the headline: AUSCHWITZ: TRUTH TOO PAINFUL TO BELIEVE.
Her name was Jessie, or Jep, or Jep Jep, or Jeplestein, though certainly not Tinsel, her name before we picked her up shortly after moving to Texas, before Y2K, when people stockpiled water, canned goods and guns at Walmart, preparing for the end.
The meat was too many colours, purple and brown and white with fat; it was too large, whole sides of beef, reams of sausages like swollen, pallid intestines. Walking fast down the aisle hoping for something more innocuous at the end was unsuccessful. More meat, chickens, turkeys and ducks this time, frozen and silent.
The Acknowledgement of Country can feel like an empty gesture. The practice is supposed to show respect for the traditional custodians of a particular area, but sometimes it feels more like performing a meaningless lip-service that allows for a momentary relief that we are doing ‘the right thing’.
Everyone wants to champion change when it’s fronted by a group of sexy young people sipping on soft drink cans, or when it’s confined to a celebration with exotic catering you can brag to your colleagues about sampling.
And then, I remember, I groped for one of the books by my side. When it came into vision, I read The Things They Carried, and I held that book, arms straight, high above my head, glancing at it, then looking away, then glancing again, as if it were Medusa, as if it had the power to return me to that private hell, something inescapable, to stone.