Runner-up, Nakata Brophy Prize: sweet smoke


it starts
                      with smoke
it always starts             with smoke

mothers burred at the belly
                   swollen as the great trees
come to                  this place

        painted and slow           with a gasping gift

          canopy medicine
to welcome
       the person on hands and knees
             whose new blood makes magic
                    makes the earth anew
the grunting sweat almost terror
                    turns to

        as sweet cries
              wake the bush                   wake first eyes
sweated face becomes pure
                                     like rain
                                     like day break

   when the world shifts
                                     from two set
wet heartbeats the wet orange womb glow
                                     to bright white light

and the gasping bub of day
                                                  break cries

there is white smoke

to clear the bush to cleanse the air to welcome
       wrinkled and furled
                                       as a new leaf

      sweet medicine
in the coolamon                 carried wet and green
                     and old hands
                        born here too
know the way to ash tie belly knots
        clever hands
                      don’t forget                     this place
where life begins

tell it to the bubs to pass onto theirs
                      when strangers come
                      when other trees fall

here in a vast hollow medicine tree
             this is where life begins

        a tree so great
        has a memory so long
can feel the way the air           has changed

hard rivers have formed in this bush
       black flat tar
where great steel fish swim
                       smoke turned dirty

and the river of destruction
                                                 comes closer

white hands white hats white clipboards
         avert their        gaze from her
mark on gridded maps
                                             to bring death here

to a place of life

                                  and so it starts new

with smoke
        and familiar camp fire sweet smoke
                for birth for fight
                                 textures change and
                                 languages combine
the old words remain      return
                    medicine remembered
                                  fires built the proper way
people gather
       paint bodies paint signs

she waits                 she sighs
remembers the thousands she birthed here
       sees them return
carrying ancestors
carrying bubs
                     carrying the weight of
                       police and policy and time

carrying sweet smoke
                    to keep her safe


*this poem is dedicated to the humbling work of the Djab Wurrung Embassy, with their blessing

Image from Justin McManus. More information on how to support the Djab Wurrung embassy can be found here:

Jazz Money

Jazz Money is an award-winning poet, filmmaker and educator of Wiradjuri heritage. Her poetry has been published widely across Australia and reimagined as murals, visual art and video art. Jazz is grateful to live on the beautiful sovereign lands of the Darug and Gundungurra nations.

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