Oodgeroo Noonuccal Prize 2020 Winner | Choice cuts

I got a bone to pick with capitalism and a few to break.

Refused, ‘Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull’



my blood is worth bottling, so I’m told                       as though

                                                                                    I’m made of gold


                  as if          I’m worth my weight in clinking coins—


                   but I tiptoe around this auctioneer’s fairground, quietly,

                   acting as though there’s nothing of value inside me


cos all these sly salespeople size me up like this is a meat market    

fetishised flesh up for auction, or slaughter   

sleazy leers that weigh me and measure me         butcher me


                                                        I’ve seen the gleam on every licked lip

                                                       concealing carving knife tongues                        


lifetime of little remarks mark and re-mark me


I got thick skin but it’s no good thing—scar tissue as sensitive as tough—

maladaptive trait from poking and prodding

and wondering and weighing

my blood against their knowledge

of a curated culture—a pale imitation of what lives and breathes—

concocted by experts in ivory towers,

                                                        published in papers without our permission,

                                                         bound up in books we can’t afford to read,

                                                         sermonised by grifters inside stolen sandstone walls

under whose scrutiny

I WANT TO MUTINY              

                                                                          I scrunch myself up like waste paper instead

and chew on life-long meditations, like:


            – how to lease my labour in balance, with dignity

            within a market monetising indignity and imbalance


                                                                           – how to talk about my culture

                                                                                           without the vultures

                                                                                    descending on my words,

                                                                      to pick and flick and peel and pull               

                                                                     so the sores just keep on weeping


                        – how to say the things I-need-to-but-shouldn’t

                        or they’ll attract wights like flies,

                        like feral camp dogs

                        sniffing round and humping the corpses of my ancestors           


                                                                     – how to hold onto my integrity

                                                       when cold neoliberal logic drills into me

                     and the colonial vacuum sucks the marrow from me as fodder


I want to be sustained but the terms are extractive

      for an early casualty of late-stage capital,

                     dreaming dead desires—



                                    upward                           through                 

                    of                                                                  trickle-             



this pyramid schema is not so classy,

reducing us to fucking tiers                           

& if I don’t laugh I’ll cry



                                        poor me!


                                                                           I’d sell my soul to speak a language

                                                                            that doesn’t commodify the sacred

                                                        or express despair and disdain in economic frames


                                                       but here I am—


speaking words that colonised our old people’s tongues

same time their babies and wages were stolen


                                             bit rich!          


                                               (well. Uncle David’s on the fifty dollar note now

                                                but I never get to look at his face for too long)         


            no free rides here

            the only inheritance I’ll ever get

            is all this trans-generational baggage I never wanted                                      


and these precious bones get heavy

and when you’re poor—can’t eat or dream—

all you wanna do is slip a femur from your thigh

pop it out the way a black bean slips its skin

crack him clean open, pour

the bright rich marrow

into a bowl

and offer it

to whoever is sniffing around


                                                             for a meal ticket

                                                                                                                     or even just a meal



Mykaela Saunders

Mykaela Saunders is a Koori and Lebanese writer, teacher, community researcher, and the editor of THIS ALL COME BACK NOW, the world’s first anthology of blackfella speculative fiction, forthcoming with UQP in 2022. Mykaela has won the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize, the National Indigenous Story Award, the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Indigenous Poetry Prize, the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Prize and the University of Sydney's Sister Alison Bush Graduate Medal. Of Dharug descent, and working-class and queer, Mykaela belongs to the Tweed Goori community.

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