we are thieves of sunlight
mother and i,
soaking in theseasonal crusts
of a south-east queensland winter.
layering shawls upon time
across the brim of our
cinnamon dusted yiman* shoulders.
hand in my hand
dutifully mother shuffles around
this garden playground,
her distant nursing home.
a place where deeply rooted terracotta pots
forge amongst crayon coloured flowers
giving rise to an inquiring ladybug
mountaineering forbidden brown skin
exploring just below the unthreading hem line
of mother’s inherent sculptured legs.
my ears hunt for a serpent butterfly echoing in distress.
my eyes miscarry.
edging toward her beloved garden bed
the one nearest the aviary
before a manicured mattress of flora and fauna
we kneel in faith
mother and i,
but not in prayer.
marigolds, snap-dragons, begonias, daffodils
and blooming pansies lotion my lean desert fingers
gently sailing up and down the oars of their urban throats
i tickle in delight
mother looks on
mother begins to scribble with her tongue in a language
i do not understand.
listening with borrowed providence to the spillage of her words
i am jealous.
what a recipe of speech?
you never offered me your language.
you only occasionally loaned me your aboriginal-english lingo
a thorough concoction of bastardy words if ever there were
along with conversations of the deceased
premonitions of the future
history of the Letters
mother you impress me
always in privacy
always without witness.
now your mind reclines into an abyss of natal sustenance
piece by piece,
your glossary so fertile.
i want to speak my mother’s tongue!
that same crossword dialect for which you were forbidden to voice
post 1945 (Woorabinda Settlement).
softly whispering to my first teacher,
“i know poetry |
i know stars |
i have also grown to
know the sting of bees |.”
muling away the curtains from
her silken aboriginal-afghan eyes.
leaning her ear toward mine
mother sighs with grand certainty
…i gave you all my stories!
sunlight now shifts from one shoulder
to the other
casting shadows over these handwritten notes.
for the lifers of this home
morning tea is now served in the adjacent dining room,
the one without a garden view.
i pocket a chrysanthemum
breaking its defenceless stem
between my fingers
inside my jacket.
still no serpent butterfly in sight.
a silent womb
a sacred tomb
a place that will forever unbolt me.
mother continues to hold my hand.
*Yiman / Iman / Yeeman / Jiman / Eoman (Nations / Tribe) Taroom, lower Dawson River region of south-west eastern Queensland.
Photo: Four Generations: Mum Marlene Holt (née Henry)myself, my daughter Cheyenne and my granddaughter Harper
Brisbane-born multi-national award winning poet, academic and stand-up comedienne Yvette Henry Holt, heralds from the Bijdara, Wakaman and Yiman Nations of Queensland. Yvette’s poetry has been widely published and anthologised nationally and internationally online and in print. Her first collection of poetry titled Anonymous Premonition won the Queensland Premier’s Literary David Unaipon Award (2005) published by the University of Queensland Press (2008), poetry from that collection has been translated into French, Mandarin and Mapuche Chile. Anonymous Premonition then went on to win the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing (2008), Scanlon Prize for Poetry NSW (2008), Kate Challis RAKA Award (2010) University of Melbourne. Yvette has lived and worked in the Central Deserts surrounding Alice Springs for more than nine-years, her work in the field of Australian literature more emphatically the bibliography of Australian Indigenous literature spans more than fifteen-years and outreaches in editing, mentoring, international writing agencies, judging of state and territory literary prizes and community grassroots facilitation of poetry and storytelling in Central Australia.
Yvette is Chairperson of FNAWN First Nations Australian Writers Network – the national peak body for Indigenous Australian writers, storytellers and poets.
About mother(s) native tongue: Returning home to Brisbane just gets that much more difficult each and every time. Mother’s regression into childhood frivolous sentiments echoes throughout her nursing home as she transitions from Alzhiemer’s to dementia at a most unforgiving pace. I wrote this poem after visiting mother in May, 2018, flowers always brought out the botanist, the protagonist, the inner child in her – on this particular morning, flowers as I witnessed also brought out the native tongue of my mother, speaking in a language which I had never heard her speak before. Where did your speech come from? Who are? You never once shared your native tongue with me!