Covid in the time of Primeminiscinda
I’m not listening to Jacinda
I’m going to my friend’s party and all the herbalists are there
listing all the things:
Thieves Oil, whiteywood, kānuka, honeysuckle, pōhutukawa,
horopito, elderberry syrup.
It’s really easy, they say, all you have to do is go for many
miles into the wilds, recognise the right things, pick them,
dry them in a confusing and special way, boil them, decant
them, strain them into pure glass bottles and seal them.
You’ll be lucky to find them for sale anymore.
This freaks me out so I go home.
I’m listening to Jacinda
I’m telling myself that I’m staying the hell away from herbalists
I’m sitting in cafés with the panickers, the terrified and the lonely.
I know there is plenty to panic about.
I’m staying six feet away
chatting to the old man with the stroke in his arm and his leg.
How are you? he asks. I’m good, I answer.
I’m watching the surprise in his droopy eye
and his lopsided smile.
I’m talking to the German Hare Krishna, who owns the café,
and asking her how she copes with everyone coming in
and eating their anxiety and leaving saliva on the plates.
They’re just stimulated by all of this, she says, but I have Krishna
and I will be all right.
I’m waking up at five in the morning and I’m thinking maybe
Jacinda has become my Krishna
I take her picture down and light my incense to nothing at all.
I’m asking my eighty-six-year-old mother to ring me half
an hour before she comes into the same room as
me and my daughter, so I can disinfect:
the light switches and the door knobs and the cupboard handles
and the fridge door and the microwave door and the knife-
drawer handle and the taps and the dishwasher door and the
bench and the tabletop and her dining-room chair and the
back of her chair and the landline phone and the TV remote
and the heat-pump remote
and then I walk quickly to the other end of the house
and disinfect the toilet and the flush button and all the light
switches and the taps and the empty towel rail.
I keep reminding my daughter:
Imagine Uncle is lying on the floor with his feet here and
his head there, that’s how far you have to stay away from Granny.
I speak loudly to Mum (cos she’s pretty deaf):
Stay away Mum, stay away.
Before my brother and my niece arrive for the last time,
my daughter is deep-frying panikeke
I say the word dangerous more than fifteen times
then I’m standing under the shower and forcing myself to
just leaving her with the boiling oil and standing under
the water and trying to breathe. I am just having a shower I am just
having a shower I am just having a shower.
I’m listening to Jacinda and clicking on her message to the nation
and the full media briefing she does afterwards
and the science woman with bright pink hair who shows us how
to wash our hands.
I am calling a briefing for my mother and daughter.
I am Jacinda
I’m plugging myself in to the TV and turning the volume up
loud enough that my daughter
has to cover her ears
and my mum can hear.
Are you ready, I ask them? Are you ready?
Jacinda is saying tomorrow is lockdown
I know my daughter is out of sanitary pads and I’m not sure
if the taxis will keep running, so, I’m going to Wainoni
Pak’nSave with six zillion other people.
Jacinda told us to shop normally.
I’m telling myself: Shop normally shop normally shop normally
I’m forcing myself to buy one packet of toilet paper
and four cans of baby beetroot. A woman is taking photos of all
the different kinds of sanitary pads to send to her daughter.
She steps back and bumps into me. I’m trying not to freak out,
I’m forcing myself to walk slowly around the supermarket
walk slowly walk slowly walk slowly.
I’m going back to the health and beauty aisle and searching for
Rescue Remedy and not finding it
I see a guy I met on Tinder ages ago and didn’t sleep with
and he says, Well, how do you tell the story?
and gives me a look as if it is a thing that neither of us
could know, as if it is a thing perhaps no one could know.
In the carpark a couple of young bogans
stick their heads out of the car window
and cough as loud as they can, laugh and drive off.
I’m reading what the microbiologist has said about
You have to let it sit for ten minutes
or you’re just moving the bacteria around.
I thought I was doing a good job keeping my mum safe.
I thought I was keeping her safe, so if she does die,
at least I will know I did all the right things
but I’ve just been moving it around.
I’m listening to the bugle call in the kitchen.
Jesus isn’t coming back or Armageddon
or even the end of Level 4
but here is the moment of silence, so I stop
whatever ten-minute meal I am making
and remember those who have fallen: the Anzacs and the Covid
cluster down the road at the Rosewood Rest Home.
Tusiata Avia from The Savage Coloniser Book Victoria University Press, 2020
Tusiata Avia is an acclaimed poet, performer and children’s writer. Her previous poetry collections are Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004; also staged as a theatre show, most recently Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year), Bloodclot (2009) and the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu | Spirit House (2016). Tusiata has held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, and in 2020 was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts. Her latest collection, The Savage Coloniser Book, has just been published by Victoria University Press.
Victoria University Press page