Guarded by birds | Judith Wright Poetry Prize, first place

When you go
as the spaces between 
say you must

at thirtyseven
or some other too soon
before old has a chance to grow in you
before youth has time to loose you from his claws

	    I will meet you at the edges of a body shaped like loss
	    and trace the outline of your absence with smoke

													  then take from the air
												the name of a man	   	
												who smelt like river		
												and spoke like distance	

Second surviving son to two generations
of fathers to buried boys
	      loved&beloved in your loudest lonely
by the daughter to what I swear
I heard you call 	     deliverance
				 	      too goodtoo good
				    	     this eloquent offering
				   	     of birdcage	  to gulls

There are knowings I cannot tell you
and things you do not know how to say
between tradition and trauma
there are nights when we meet voiceless
in the shadow of oncewas gum
	    the memory of leaf and branch
	    the place where you want to die

I know little of this ceremony
have only collected for the coolamon
carved from river red
to carry water to carry child to carry smoke
	   to carry you to those who watch
	   and hope there will be place for you

	    					   When you go
						   I will be the one to tell the birds
						   they will wait as I gather the eucalypt
						   and tell me
	    take them 				     still living
	    break the branch			     if you must




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Evelyn Araluen

Evelyn Araluen is a Goorie and Koori poet, researcher, and co-editor of Overland Literary Journal. Her Stella-prize-winning poetry collection DROPBEAR was published by UQP in 2021. She lectures in Literature and Creative Writing at Deakin University.

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