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: BUSH SEED USED TO MAKE DAMPER ROADS TO COLLECT THEM 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.