by Helen Topor
I paint my face all the time to meet the world.
Today my face is a canvas, painted by a Kamilaroi woman from Moree.
Her touch is cool and gentle, but knowing.
Not for her the rigid digit raised in anger and defiance.
With middle finger gently curved, she dips her brush into the white ochre pot.
She dots the bony ridges around my eyes, leaving her fingerprints on my skin.
A slash of wet clay streaks the hollows of my cheeks.
Each line points to the corners of my mouth – mute.
A final stripe cleaves my chin.
We silently enact this ancient ceremony of welcome to country,
Kamilaroi woman she, stranger me – anointed.
The first time I was anointed, I was too young to remember.
Over the baptismal font a priest poured water on my baby forehead
to cleanse away Original Sin and open the gates of Heaven.
Later, on Ash Wednesday, a priest marked the sign of the cross on my forehead, his thumb dipped in the ashes of burnt Palm Sunday fronds.
‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ A reminder of sinfulness and mortality.
For non-believers Ash Wednesday was Hell on Earth.
The ochre map stays on my face all day. Don’t know why.
Some people stare, some ask questions.
My spirit soars.
Ochre to powder. Powder to dust. All returns to the ancient earth.
Kamilaroi woman she, stranger no longer me – sisters we.
© Helen Topor, 26 March 2015