mother(s) native tongue – Yvette Holt

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

half interested

half not.


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.




not once.


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 |.”


mother smiles

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

burying seeds 

inside my jacket.


still no serpent butterfly in sight.


mother’s memory,

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!

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