Madrid, Spain 2019. The end of the UN Climate Change Conference—another moral failure on the part of those who could have made change. I go back to the labour union hall that all the activist groups have been using as a headquarters to help with the clean-up. There are only a few of us left. I take on the communal kitchen and bin heads of broccoli gone to dusty seed and half-used jars of slimy lima beans. I wash towers of greasy plastic cups with cold water and floor cleaner, because that's all there is. The door to the room that held the expensive sound equipment has been broken—no, not just broken, but thoroughly smashed. There is talk of a missing key, something lost in translation. The word 'smithereens' comes to mind.
In a back room littered with cardboard and paint tins, I find a giant papier-mache head of a grandmother that First Nations activists fashioned for their part in the climate march. Alone in the echoing halls, it feels like silence and time are demanding something of me—an act of great care—though I don't know how to rise to it. The crisis is upon us, but abstraction is a bulwark; deafness, everywhere. We have come to an edge. I want to find a way of taking the truth into my body, and then putting it down into the ground. From somewhere offstage, a misery of voices starts to murmur in the scrounge. What starts up is a grief work. I wrap the grandmother head in a pall of plastic sheeting and carry it across the city to Desperate Literature bookshop in the rain.
Joan Fleming's honours include the Biggs Poetry Prize, a Creative New Zealand writing fellowship, the Verge Prize for Poetry and the Harri Jones Memorial Prize from the Hunter Writers Centre. She holds a PhD in ethnopoetics from Monash University, is on the programming team for the Unamuno Author Series in Madrid and is the Aotearoa/New Zealand Commissioning Editor for Cordite Poetry Review.Author City: MELBOURNE AUS