Three Poems by Ali Cobby Eckermann

by    /  October 13, 2014  / No comments

Photo: Renee Rosensteel.

Influenced by both her Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha Aboriginal origins and the contemporary Australian society in which she was raised, Ali Cobby Eckermann’s poetry is a means of connecting two worlds. Cobby Eckermann is a part of the Stolen Generation, a period of Australian history during which Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their birth families and either adopted into non-Indigenous families or placed in government institutions. Despite having a loving adopted family, Cobby Eckermann grew up feeling alienated from others in her small town, where she was often confronted with racism. After meeting her birth mother at 34, she began to heal, and has produced incredibly moving literary works to make sense of her story and connect with her Aboriginal roots.

This is the poet’s first time taking the stage at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh’s Jazz Poetry Concert. Her published works include two books of poetry, two novels, and one memoir, and deal with the confusion she felt throughout her life as she tried to piece together who she was and where she belonged. She has received critical praise for her work both in the Aboriginal and Australian communities, as well as from her increasingly international audience, and has won many literary prizes. In addition to writing, she recently opened Australia’s first Aboriginal Writers Retreat at her home.


Mallets pound fence posts
in tune with the rifles
to mask massacre sites
Cattle will graze
sheep hooves will scatter
children’s bones
Wildflowers will not grow
where the bone powder


Mum can I cry at your funeral, can I wail
Like I do out bush, can I walk the aisle in ochre
Can you tell the other kids that this is okay, this is
What I need, the way we grieve, proper way out bush

Mum can you explain that I need my sisters from Yuendumu
And Haasts Bluff by my side at your funeral
Can you tell the other kids that this is okay, this is
What I need, the way we grieve, proper way out bush

Mum can you understand this is the only way I know
To mend my aching heart when you pass away
Can you tell the other kids that this is okay, this is
What I need, the way we grieve, proper way, out bush


My friend was at the A & E, he wasn’t feeling good
I was at the barbecue, just like he said I should.
The phone call from the hospital shocks me with fear and fright –
‘You better come to ICU, he might not make it through the night.’

I stand silent at his bedside, he looks so dead already,
I try comforting his children as their lives become unsteady.
‘Please don’t go away,’ I whisper. ‘Don’t leave us behind.’
I pray then to my Ancestors, I ask them for a sign.

We sit all night like statues, on each side of his bed,
The thought of losing him is really fucking with my head!
The nursing staff fuss round with looks of deep regret.
But I was waiting for a sign that he won’t leave us yet.

The morning light creeps slowly across red desert sand
His eyelids flicker open and he fumbles for my hand.
‘Hello,’ he whispers, ‘how are you?’ and then falls back to sleep
My eyes stare at the monitors, the bips, the dots, the beeps.

‘He’s out of danger,’ the doctor says, ‘you should get some rest.’
And as I walked along Gap Road I look out to the west
2 pelicans fly overhead, floating on the breeze,
‘It’s the sign,’ I cry and thank the Spirits watching over me.

I return to the hospital, he is much stronger now
And the nursing staff all smiling as they too wonder how?
I share the story of the sign, the pelicans in the sky
We hold each others hands and smiles are in our eyes.

I drive out to Amoonguna to tell family he is right
I sit down with his Aunty, round the campfire, in the night
I ask her to explain the pelicans and the meaning of the sign
She laughs and whispers, ‘Arrangkwe just 2 pelicans in the sky!’

Poet’s Note: arrangkwe – (arrente word) means no, nothing, no-one

These poems appeared in Love dreaming & other poems, published by Vagabond Press.

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