Highly Commended: Mother(s) Native Tongue

we are thieves of sunlight

mother and i,

soaking in the seasonal 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.



Image: Ricardo Lago / flickr

Yvette Henry Holt

Yvette Henry Holt – national multi-award winning poet, academic and comedienne – heralds from the Yiman, Wakaman and Bidjara Nations’ of Queensland. Her poetry has been widely published and anthologised, both in print and online. In 2005 Yvette was awarded the Queensland Premier’s David Unaipon Award for her manuscript, anonymous premonition (UQP), a collection of poetry and stories seeded amongst memories and dreams celebrating childhood, social justice, feminism, motherhood, womanhood and love. anonymous premonition went on to win the Victorian Premier’s Literary for Indigenous Writing in 2008, Scanlon Poetry Prize NSW 2008, Kate Challis RAKA Award 2010, and has since been translated into Chilean Mapuche, Chinese Mandarin and French. Yvette now lives and works in the Australian Central Deserts, promoting financial literacy and community education across 500,000,000 square kilometers. She is currently completing a manuscript of poetry and prose – uncovering what lies beneath the desert skin.

More by Yvette Henry Holt ›

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