Cross country

I live in lightning-lit country
where the atmosphere attaches like cling wrap
When the virus comes
my long-haired son crosses a continent
better to be cling-wrapped in a house on stilts
than strangled by a student flat in a lost city

He folds himself into his childhood room
Months pass to the rhythm of the ceiling fan

He roams on his bike among termite mounds and
car bodies
while in his city, five million people vanish
apocalyptic ends of a
selfish/cooperative, irritable/sensible
hedonistic/rule-abiding country.

When it is safe in the south we pack a car
and drive for days through violent red desert
We clamber over spheres of orange rock
split by forces beyond our understanding
and float like a hovercraft across
land with no friends of influence
used for testing the annihilation method
that haunted my youth

In the traumatised city my son’s flatmate has fled
debris scattered in a crime scene
decipherable without forensic science

We cram bags and bins with junk
smashing things that don’t fit
and go to charity shops wearing masks –
bandits, demanding that property be taken from us

Rubbish gone, my son says: I can take it from here
His rubber gloves wet with sugar soap and freedom
I find that I don’t want to cry

He is cleaning the walls.

Liz Bennett


Liz Bennett works as a mediator. She was a finalist in the 2019 NT Literary Awards, a poetry place-getter in the 2012 Australian Cancer Council Arts Awards, and her poem ‘A Present from Samuel’ featured in the anthology Imagining the Real: Australian Writing in the Nuclear Age (ABC Enterprises, 1987). Though now based in Canberra her home remains a Darwinian house-on-stilts.

Listen to Liz reading Cross country (1:49)

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