colours of her country

I ask an Arrernte woman to name the colours of her
country. She looks at me bewildered.
We have just walked into the land of her
grandmother’s birth – a place of soft green leaf,
terracotta rock, carmine earth (the dark ruby rust of it),
snow white bark, a breath taking swipe of blue sky,
hard yellow figs waiting to darken
into deep sweet burgundy …
She shows me the birthing cave high
above a sunlit shimmer of pale gold grass
This country hugs you, it knows you,
it talks to you …

We step into wallaby tracks – feet and tails –
faintly marked in rosy dust
(our mob sit flat – bums on the dry earth,
digging sticks ready, or walk with our eyes
planted down, no use looking in the sky,
no tracks in the clouds)

I learn words for country (apmere), for
water (kwatja). I learn of them old camel
men, Afghan mob who stayed, became part
of Arrernte people, became part of the families
I learn of Caterpillar Dreaming and Undoolya
Eagle Dreaming. I see an old man’s face carved
on weathered stone. I hear of spirits in the caves.
So I ask her again – to name the colours of her
country … cerulean, scarlet, lemon, bronze, jade,
russet, verdigris, chocolate, cream, charcoal …
No need for them words.
Them words don’t make sense to us.
There is this dirt, these trees, this water, this sky …

Anita Patel


Anita Patel’s work has been published in: Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Backstory Journal, Not Very Quiet and Mascara Literary Review. Her poem ‘Women’s Talk’ won the ACT Writers Centre Poetry Prize in 2004. Her poetry was selected for Australian Book Review’s States of Poetry ACT, 2018. She was the guest editor for Issue 2 of Not Very Quiet.

© 2018