Comfort, Christmas 2020

by KA Nelson

Wanting comfort from home to take back 
to a Manhattan winter, my daughter 
chooses a black and white dot painting.

‘What’s the story?’ she asks.

You’ve picked a good one. The artist is kin— 
a sister-in-law, elder and cultural leader
who knows all the stories, songs and dances. 

When Nampitjinpa dotted the canvas with a stick. 
I watched her hum and sing the story 
as she worked—she told me how the women 

gathered seeds, ground them on stone, cooked 
damper on coals. The cake fed her family. 
It’s a fertility story as old as time. See the damage 

on that edge? I don’t know if it’s black tea 
or dog’s piss, but the red dirt on the borders?
That’s her Warlpiri country, where we sat together.

My daughter turns the painting over. 
There, Nampitjinpa’s English name is written,
with these words:


and her birth date, a few years after mine

She had trouble at the time—a granddaughter
had run away from boarding school; a brother, 
stuck in Mt Isa, broke. I paid more than she asked

so she could travel along those roads. These days 
bush seed battles it out with buffel grass and broken 
glass. The painting is a celebration and lament.

She runs her fingers across the gritty edges
of the painting. I’ll hang it above the kitchen table,
think of you and Nampitjinpa when I bake bread.’

K A Nelson is a Canberra poet. In 2010 she won a major poetry prize. Since then her work has been widely published in the Canberra Times, Arena, Mascara Literary Journal, Rabbit and elsewhere. Recent Work Press published her first collection, Inlandia, in 2018. She has contributed to, and was guest editor for Not Very Quiet, Issue 4 in 2019, a Canberra-based online journal for women poets.

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