Halley’s Comet loops around the galaxy like the hands of a clock. I see time marked out there in space. Notches carved along the comet’s trajectory, in between the stars and the nebulae, mark the years as they pass. Down on earth, stretching deep into the past, faces have shot skyward every 75 or 76 years to witness this knotting together of time and humanity, earth and space. In their fields, on their mountains, from the dunes behind the shore, from the windows of their homes, they have tracked 1P/Halley through the darkness.
I see Halley’s cycle marking the time that has passed, and, like a clock, it marks time that is to come also. The eyes of future people too will rise one night to see the comet in the sky.
Some people say we will survive anthropogenic climate change as a species, but not a civilisation. This zine is an imagining of home and life and love on the next four nights the comet comes around. We are acidifying the oceans, poisoning the rivers and wiping species from the face of the planet at a rate not seen since the asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, but time will keep on flowing, the stars will keep on burning, and what goes around will come around.
Emma Marie Jones
There is something so seductive about the naked eye. Both of us sitting here waiting with our naked eyes. Waiting for the cold snap when the smog peels back – it’s hanging phosphorescent, throwing the light of the city back onto itself. The light a loop. All of space and time a loop, a long slow dance that folds back on itself again and again and tonight we’re just able to see it. The comet. A recurring marker. A bright burning metronome measuring whole lifetimes like they are just a single beat.
Will you see it same as I do? Will it bind us, all of us? Your grandmother said remember when. Remember when we would touch avatars of things and they would appear. Remember when the self was a text, written by the self. Remember when we were all connected, all hooked up to one another, lives outside of bodies. Your grandmother who saw this comet on its last lap around the Earth. Will she be with us too?
You used to have faith in the wall, but now that you must leave me behind to go and build it you have changed your mind. You saw the flood barriers they were erecting, over in New York, over in Osaka. You got off on the fear. Look what happened to Venice, you said. Look what happened in Barcelona. We should build a wall right here, you said, right around Port Phillip Bay. Without shame you told me we should build something and hide behind it.
My mother says she doesn’t want to die behind a wall. My mother says she’d rather go by drowning anyway. It’s poetic, she says. Heroic like the myths. Imagine Brunswick underwater, an Atlantis for somebody someday. All the pieces of our lives just fish food. A stingray the size of our coffee table where our coffee table used to be. All our cutlery suspended, floating in concert, flashing like a silver school.
Below us Lygon Street moans like an orchestra tuning, disparate notes all reaching for that clarity, that unity of A and nearly getting there. As soon as you concentrate on the noise it becomes noise again. Beauty diminished by focus. I think the comet is the same. Moving fast but so far away that we can’t see it moving at all.
Travelling the same path for centuries, and for centuries allowed to pass us by. All of us congregated now on our balconies gazing at the sky. Our machines held close to the comet’s flank, fellow dancers for the moment but really just enemies seeking to exploit its heart, to take a piece of it and bring it back for someone in a lab to examine and name and put away. Soon we will know everything, and we will see nothing. This is what we have not yet learnt. We think we love infinity; really we just want for it to recognise us. But we’re wrong. Beauty is in the not knowing.
When we stand near each other our skins hum. It’s because you first kissed me on a night like this. A night with theatre in its skies. You first kissed me under a lunar eclipse. A hand on my cheek, a shine to your eye I hadn’t seen before. The baking night. What heat our bodies wore. You said baby and you meant me. You said baby and your breath stopped halfway through, caught on something like a thread. Your voice a thread, you say baby now and you mean me. Your hand on my hand squeezing tight. I think you are afraid.
I had been walking the rivers for weeks. A river is never rushing nonsensically. It is flowing according to a specific seasonal pattern destined to support a unique ecological system. I had an inbuilt hydrological knowledge of country. I could sing in no particular order the flow time, flow path, flow rate, temperature and volume of our waters.
Maybe I wasn’t taught all these things. Sometimes what you know is simply there because it belongs to you.
I was hungry. Boobialla seemed to be about the only plant with fruit. I had really wanted to taste the crisp sour lilly pilly because I had been eating the water bush fruits every day. But it confirmed what I had been recording on my survey. Boobialla water bush were drought resistant. Precipitation levels had been falling again this season. Almost none.
I was following a particular curve of the catchment dotted with fleshy leaves of the water ribbons. I wondered if they had yams ready and started laughing. There hadn’t been fruit on the water ribbons for generations. The sound of the lone laugh echoed off the banks. I hadn’t seen any of the dome travellers or water miners on this walk. I wondered if that meant they were getting sicker. The rising temperatures meant they couldn’t stay outside for that long.
I saw one dying once. An illegal water miner in his tempsuit. Dying of thirst, the cracked lips couldn’t even swallow the water I poured from the coolamon. I attempted to push the acidic paste of casuarina nuts in his mouth to stimulate saliva. Too late. I shrugged and left him near the edge of the rising sea at Wallan. The others probably wouldn’t look for him. Since the coming of the salty mother that crushed their seawalls they mostly kept to their photovoltaic-powered domes.
It was getting dark now and I needed to head back to my recording site. Soon I would travel home to report on the progress of our waters. I was slack for this river walk though. Regenerated areas seemed to have faded in osmotic shock. The water allocation for the domes was getting lower.
Our treaty meant no systems of dammed or diverted water should restrict our cultural flows. We quarantined proportions for their use in return for them not trespassing on our lands. If precipitation levels didn’t rise we would cut the water to the dome communities. They claimed refugee status, but it was an unsustainable lifestyle.
Following my own track back over the banks I noticed the yellow flower and splitting bark of some mulga trees and stopped confused. I hadn’t realised it was becoming brighter like day. Immediately I knew. Back home it was the season of the dhinawan sitting low on the horizon and my father had been telling me to expect the arrival of the water spirit. I lifted my gaze to meet her.
Her pulsing energy, like a moon with rings around it, was over me. Like a dull light in the middle then another big ring and a faint tail of her thirsty family behind it. It was her drinking our rain clouds. I sunk to my knees and sang for her family to save our water for our children. All the river walkers across the land would be doing the same and preparing for ceremony, hoping to Biami she would release her tears while she stayed in our skies.
It rained for three days.