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A series of poems by Yeena Kirkbright, recipient of the All About Women of Colour & Sweatshop Mentorship for creative writing

Yeena Kirkbright
Yeena Kirkbright

The Tea and Sugar Train

Remember we could see the river from the kitchen sink
Badhiin says now through pregnancy, tracks and Country
through mulga and saltbushed sparseness
lashes these quartz veins passing through red desert
lashes of hot metal memory, tethers binding up land
and somewhere at the other end is her endless Country.

Remember the matins song of dawn Kookaburras
who smelt day at the pit of night
prophesying the warmth would be birthing.
Remember the noontide Callistemon lanterns
hip-swaying sirens, sunlit
breeze swinging, then beak dropped.
Remember the scent of warming nectar wafting
the vespers of Welcome Swallows at twilight
telling the Cockatoos move off.

Or the hoop hoop hoop of the Wonga
trekking from feast to nest
the click and clack of the evening train
the rhythm of life passing in a river, in child’s-play splash
the hum of bees pollinating a woodfired water heater.
Remember the hush as a pipe smoked from evening
when tethers were kin, not railway sleepers.

Badhiin’s boys watch as tears make quinacridone of dust
inking out a rusted ball bearing grief, that scraps and whinnies
through dry ancient dust-blight and grease
across a thousand millennia
where Tea and Sugar bring home memories fading.

Ethel Mary Riley

Granny tells me black cockatoos predict the weather
they fly in front of rain clouds.

Granny moves the hogs out to pasture
we have to hide in the chicken coup.

Granny tells me my name is old
from a time before whitefullas.

Granny tells Aunty she thinks we are real blackfullas,
running bare feet with her chickens.

Granny has a white cockatoo in a cage
she says she never wanted to be trapped.

Granny tells me she doesn’t know
what happened to blackfullas before Jesus.

Granny is crying in the kitchen
she says she remembers what was lost.

Granny doesn’t have anything in the fridge
but what she has in the freezer she gives.

Granny says I shouldn’t pat Lady the cat
I pat Lady, she scratches me, I hate her.

Granny says I shouldn’t hate
that love is the only valuable thing.

Granny gives love to her son
later that son gives that love to me.

Womb and loom

My grandmothers are sun heat held fast
in a tombstone at the end of day
the monad on which I lean my back and wonder
what will grow there, where flesh meets stone
a labyrinth of Lantana, Old Man’s Weed
Patterson’s Curse, rose gardens
Grey Myrtle, Hakea, Acacia, Eucalypt.

A fetish for gum flowers and river she-oak
is one grandmother’s weft of wild flax
stretched taught from scapular to iliac crest
holding fast another’s waft
running left to right from
pubic bone to breast.

Cup, cup, cup my granny is water rhythm river
tap, tap, tap on rock. Telling the day her children
are precious and woven of hardier stuff.
Pica of gum stump charcoal
leather skin of softest paperbark
gift baskets of cycloid scales
sunset flying, the front step miracle
cleaning today’s catch for tonight’s dinner.


For Alinta

When I am with you, I am Aunty
where I am mob and ageless
where stories and trauma
and grief and laughter are one in the same
where brothers are remembered
and sisters are held.
We laugh.
I eat your stories till I am full and nourished
where our histories bump into one another.
We laugh about your cousin
who has a white Maltese called Fluffy
but she calls him White Dawg.
We laugh.
It is medicine,
being in the car with you feels like
ice creams by the beach
on summer holidays with our menagerie
feet up on the dash, watching Country pass.
Making fun of the kids’ serious protest
We laugh.
You teach a lesson to all of us
to me and the kids, to be good
to be kind, to live our truth
to laugh and to love while you can.
You adjust your hijab
tell me it’s your Muslim hands-free.
We laugh.

Yeena Kirkbright headshot

Yeena Kirkbright, a Wiradjuri poet, was one of two recipients of the All About Women of Colour Mentorship. The mentorship for women and non-binary First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse writers was presented alongside Western Sydney literacy movement Sweatshop, with Winnie Dunn and Randa Abdel-Fattah as mentors.

All About Women of Colour 

Mentorship program

The Sydney Opera House partnered with Western Sydney-based literacy movement Sweatshop on an emerging writers mentorship program for women and non-binary First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse writers. 

Four writers worked on short fiction pieces inspired by the themes of this year’s All About Women festival, under the guidance of Sweatshop judges/mentors Winnie Dunn and Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Read all the pieces

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