Paper Tiger Daughters

Turn it back to Year Zero –
My mother shuts her eyes;
Says her rice fell with her foot
And her heart stretched south
Like a reed upon reeds.

She tells me she must’ve been six,
Maybe ten – filthy foot; ten
Hundred grains afloat, but hey,
Today the floodplain fish will eat.
A tin a day, no more

Or less, you see, the less you see –
Struck, her matchstick pupils saw
What the men who weren’t looking saw:
Baby watermelon torn from tendrils
No, you cannot ask for more.

They strapped the tendril-bodied thief
To a stake while the rest of the children stared
Down empty tins. Mouths aren’t juicers and
Melons don’t fit but my mother saw them

Squeeze until the child shook slack-jawed,
Ground straight to the core.

Two zero zero zero:
Brother, disavowed son;
I saw father crack a modem
Over brother’s bloodied brains and I heard
A small voice yell, Please, somebody

Dial zero zero zero –
But nobody came and your lips
Unspooled. Wound a web between your ribs.
I sat until my hands fell from Daisy’s tiny ears
Then I shook, shook, shook slack-jawed for years.

And how I wish I were powerless, but mother – please,
I am not; you know, father never saw the mummified tongue, But the inert thing would twitch and curl toward the sun.
I smothered it with shadow, kept it tame beneath my feet,
But it wormed until it danced, broiled barefaced in the heat.

You laid out our futures like fossils; a full-blown
Cardiac archaeologist. I dug, too –
For twenty-two Decembers; uncovered
Four chambers crusted with the belief
That we were paper tiger daughters. Here now –

Mother, take the trowel, I don’t know if you’ll find
That your chambers look a little like mine.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.