News of the building of the wall – a response to Jacqui Shelton

She is looking into my eyes. She doesn’t stop looking into my eyes. I feel too conscious of how my face is moving. My mouth twitches as I try not to smile. I feel the muscles in my cheeks. My tongue feels heavy in my mouth. I keep looking at her eyes. They’re green. I look at her eyes for what feels like a long time. I think of all the other people whose eyes I’ve looked into for a long time. Maybe it’s not a long time. Maybe it just feels it, time slowed and stretched. I look away from her eyes. I look at her eyebrows, soft and furred. I look at her nose, at the way the freckles are sprinkled over the bridge of it. Her pale skin, how I’d be able to smell her breath if I leaned in, feel the heat of it.

Watching her face, I think of my face. My lipstick, is it smeared? Today, it’s red and clownish, and up close the colour bleeds, tiny rivulets in the lines, the wrinkles surrounding my lips. I think of my grandmother. How her lips looked, the smudge of them worsened with her glaucoma. A surge of schoolchildren surround us. We are rocks and they find their way around us. A man recites scripture, yelling it over our heads and over the river. Actually, he doesn’t recite, he reads from a tiny bible. Jacqui Shelton recites.

I watch her mouth move, the shapes it makes of the words. I laugh. I listen but I can’t get a sense of the story. Just images that stand out: a father running his hand over a child’s cheek, a long and slender pipe, a gold, silk embroidered holiday coat. I look back into Jacqui’s eyes and she hasn’t stopped looking into mine. When she does stop speaking and when she looks away, I feel it with shock.

“Is that the end?” I ask.

The shock is not so much about the end of the story, as the end of the intimacy. Although it was unwanted and unexpected, I feel it as a loss.


We pace and I try to remember each sentence of the story. They stack upon one another; the clunky physicality of the sentences. Bricks. Remembering them gets easier, the rhythm of it, but harder as the text I’m remembering lengthens. I miss remember, my brain preferring my own phrasing to Kafkas. Jacqui pulls me up, corrects me, and each time I feel the child and there’s a sternness to her face that’s not there at other moments. I want to remember. I want not to stumble. The remembering swallows me, swallows time. Time in the remembering rushes past. There’s the almost painful churn of my brain. There’s the thickness of thinking. There’s a looking inwards, a falling into the words – and I’m only brought out of it with my mistakes. I ask her to recite the story again, but this time she recites it over my right shoulder and doesn’t look at me at all. I try to catch one of her green eyes.

When I think of it later I think of her face, not the story, like the story and her face have no connection at all. In my memory it’s a silent film. It’s her face that stays with me. I could draw it: the wisp of hair escaping her ponytail, the line of her lip, the colour of the inside of her mouth.


Romy Ash

This piece by Melbourne-based writer Romy Ash is a response to Jacqui Shelton’s performance News of the building of the wall as part of The City Speaks (2016).