Mother, Curated by Jacinta Keefe and Latifa Elmrini
05.06.19 - 29.06.19
Wiradjuri Language words for:
Indigenous culture is matriarchal. We are the
bringers of life and the ones who move life
In my culture, being a baaydyin is a big
responsibility. You care for your own children,
like my nan, who had 10 kids. You never just
look after your own though. Through the forced
removal of aboriginal children, not just the
stolen generation but the new current ongoing
atrocities, baaydyin take the role of the mother
figure when their own can not cope with the
traumas of what it is to be aboriginal. In this
situation the duty of care they provide is more
than words can explain. They take on others
children in a desperate plea to keep them
with their families or even just in their home
community. A baaydyin is the glue the binds a
family. It’s all or nothing.
Hell has no fury, like a tired, old, angry and upset
My piece “The two Kalarie Sisters of the Lachlan
River” features my baaydyin Bonnie Merritt
(left) and Aunty Ev (right). Taken on a hot april
afternoon, they yarn about their life experiences
and how things are now. If I was to take away
anything from that afternoon, it’s that there is a
lot of love to be given in my family, and culture
in general. We have to find our own way to deal
with past traumas, but as my nan and aunt said we are
not our past and must move forward, we cannot linger on it, as
we get older it makes us jaded and sad, when that happens we
are no use to anyone. To be a Mother/Grandmother is to be
Tough, Strong and Hard. Sometimes this means the love
they give may be seen as not love at all.
Because of her, I can. Because of my baaymurbang I am
all of those things above and more.
- If my country should call
- Tell them that I’ve left
- For I always feel
- like I’m walking around with only half of myself
- Mother haunts
- Chases down to swim me
- Into the oceans of myself
- where the threat is not real
- and language searches its moist tip
- blindly into the corners
- for the other half
- Pick me up
- and put me back as a poem
- These fragments
- May glisten wanting
- May part their lips
- May moisten their eyes, solemn
- May hang crystal teeth
- off fingers in a sodden, chandelier
- Khadija, Maria, Zohra, Asiyya
- Khadija, Khadija, Khadija, Maria
- La Zohra, La Mora
- Lalla Walida
- Lalla, Sharifa, Hajja, Maria
- La Reina
- La Mora
- La mare mia!
- I am not mother
- But a piece of paper
- Poems never belong
- where we want place them
- So I want these to live in your ears
- In the vibration between your heart and your river
- Spray your arms out to receive
- Me here
- In the mess I’ve made
- After all of these years
- in survival
- I’ve grown tired
- And my beards
- They drag
- From stone breasts to my ears
- Dressed as Khadijas
- They strut in like royals
- crown topped
- Lift a slither in their skirt
- And flash a stone steel calve
- At my white deer teeth
- Say if I walk just as much
- Say I can too bear the weight
- Say of a life made of stones
- Say to the mother
- In the name of the father
- come at me, Arab in the night
- Stab feet strong into wood
- Carve obedience
- Dance over my cadaver
- Over and over
- with strums of a rhythm
- black in my eyes
- red in my ears
froth like a bull, Arab
stealth in the night
and every-time she smells
stronger of bread and peppers
rosary beads and knot rugs
deep fried potatoes and chillies
an’ wax an’ oil
an’ ringlets of onion black hair
I forget that those hands
massaged bread into men
Sometimes I forget that those hands
massaged bread into men
She is mother
I am paper
And this is no home for a poem
I release the latch on the letters
An’ let them find you
Wherever you are
to never let go of your heart
Settling in like a bee that just won’t leave
Your honey sweet
If I don’t want love
then I want nothing at all
I cut the strip
Seal the tips
An’ lick the ink
into the lids
That my face open
Paper is a no-place
Flush my cheeks into health
Press my heart into wood
Count the beads
Cut the beard
dress this floor
And at dawn
wait for hands
Back into bread
be aware if my country should call
I have mothered, and been mothered. Never smothered, no; that would
be out of character for my mother. But perhaps, I smother. My children
are reluctant, and so I mother them more. I know the desire for mother.
I learnt from him that to mother was artful; I learnt from them that to
be mothered was to be patient.
I was mothered so harshly. I only knew resent until I knew what it
meant to mother. Now that I mother, I ask my children to call me their
father; I hope that they think I am a cool Dad.
I am a mother, but I am not a mother 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I have respect for those mothers, I know many of those mothers, but I
myself, am an other mother.
I mother queerly. I understand that my gender does not impact my
capacity to mother and be mothered.
I do not ask my mothers to be soft, domestic or subservient.
I do not see mothers as only women.
I do no strictly align birthing with mothering.
I ask you, to remove and let fall the reductive signifiers
of the ‘mother’ the hegemony has burdened us with.
I ask you to mother.
An Other MOTHER
I’m afraid something tragic happened to me as a
there is a blankness there
I’ll give you something to cry about
hand smacked with palm
i was at a friends house
when your horse died
my horses name was rusty
you’d gallop behind me on baby up the earth
four of our dogs died from snakes
two of your horses from colic
four family members from cancer
maybe more that i don’t know
you’re afraid of my death i think
“are you eating well?”
pictures become veils for and of reality
who is there to take pictures of
who is there to interpret
these images of celebration they begin
the celebration is
there was a well known nobleman, each summer he
would harvest large amounts of hay and grass
—as part of their servitude, each year his subjects were required
to tend his fields, and collect his crop
in 1850 one of these subjects included a woman who had just given birth
she, of course, could not refuse her lord
so as she tended the field, the child rested on a nearby pile of hay
when she returned to nurse her baby she let out a piercing shrill
it howled inhumanly and suckled milk with such intensity—
this greedy baby was not hers
the lord said “woman, if you think this child is not yours,
then there is only one thing to do
take it to the field where you left your own child and begin
to beat it severely with a switch
then you will witness wonders.”(1)
if I am the monster
or the one you made?
if you made me this
queer monster faggot
what a fecund gift
to be perceived as less than fully human
thanks for that violent rage
that only a furious queer monster faggot can have
recognise your monsters
I’ve seen tenderness in you
in all creators
what if the (un)functioning hegemony
could categorise me?
like they have you,
it is rich with your labour
i’m afraid you have toiled
too regularly and in excess
let my earth heal
rest me in the hay as you tend to yourself
for us queer faggot monsters
—we had yours
and we denied it.
we had yours and we denied it
(excerpt for MOTHER)
Someone said suppressing emotions is difficult.
But for me, showing emotions is more difficult, because it’s
embarrassing to show emotions.
Showing emotions is showing my inner state, which I’ve been told is a
So when I was young, I naturally(?) understood that to be a professional
and perfect adult, I need to always maintain my composure without
showing my emotions and flinching my facial wrinkles when facing the
world and people.
So I have lived as “that bastard that wouldn’t spill a single drop of tears
if someone stabbed”.
This composure that I have long maintained had come to an end when I
Throwing rocks at the quiet ocean that I was hiding inside me.
At first, I ignored those small waves causing minor disturbance within
It was not long until these small waves became a tsunami,
And until I was vomiting out uncontrollable emotions. But why?
Is it because I did not know how to deal with that tsunami inside me?
I did blame for the change that made my composure no longer
Then things got worse when I visited Them.
When I spoke about my opinions, They shut me down.
When I felt my ocean was swirling with waves, I tried to remove myself
from Them by suggesting to return to the conversation later when
everyone calms down.
However, They suppressed and contained me there,
Because They thought it was “how daring and very rude for you to leave
when We are here.”
And They chastised me for showing emotions and stayed unprofessional.
Mother is a metaphorical place, sanctuary and identity that nurtures
Individual. The method of nurturing is Mother’s way of showing love.
And ‘in the name of love’, Mother provides full support, comfort and
safety to Individual. Such nurturing establishes special bond between
Mother and Individual that only these two can feel.
As time passes by and Individual gains more of their autonomy and
independence, the special bond turns into a ball and chain. Individual
stepping outside the boundary that Mother created is believed to be
weakening the special bond that Mother created through nurturing
Individual. Mother fears the loss of control over Individual and the
possibility that they will not necessarily feel the total sense of belonging
to Mother. Mother contains Individual in boundary by nurturing them
with punishment, forfeiting Individual’s autonomy and freedom while
limiting their choices. Mother reiterates to Individual that they are a
property and product of Mother; they must respect the laws and words
of Mother; and they must allow Mother total control over them. In this
respect, the act of punishment is the act of nurture due to Mother’s
‘fear’ of the Individual becoming an outcast in society, which punishes
anyone who deviates from the sociocultural norm.
Force, suppression and containment are justified by this ‘fear’ that
Mother feels. Mother believes suppressing Individual and preventing
them from stepping outside Mother’s boundary will guarantee
Individual’s safety from the dangers and impacts of being a social
outcast. Guaranteeing safety is often believed to be showing care, and
that ‘caring’ is another way of showing ‘love’. As the result, punishment
is nurture, in which force becomes the elements of ‘caring’ and ‘loving’
In the name of love, Mother performs force and containment on
Individual. The boundary between punishment and abuse become
more and more blurred. ‘In the name of love’ gives full entitlement to
Mother to gain full control over Individual, as Mother believes they are
physically her product and property via birth. So ‘in the name of love’,
Mother nurtures and punishes Individual, hoping that they will turn
around and come back for whatever Mother believes to be ‘love’.
Ellen Yeong Gyeong Son
When everyone forced me to apologize,
They told others lies about me to protect Themselves and make Them
look like a victim.
They said everything that They are doing is for my own good because
They love me.
What does it mean to be ‘for my own good’?
What is Their definition of ‘love’?
To make me look like an assailant, just because I am not ‘Them’ enough?
To neglect and refuse what I am and who I am in this present?
To throw away my trust?
Just because I am not ‘Them’ enough,
Do They have rights to suppress and contain me in the name of ‘love’?
Just because I am not the one that They have assumed,
Do They have rights to pick up a ‘rod of love’
To make me admit how my identity exists is at fault?
There have been times that They have warmly treated me with Their
And of course, it is very touching to hear and say “I love you”.
But at times ‘love’ can be horrifying, because
In Their name of ‘love’, I learned to not ___.
Ellen Yeong Gyeong Son
The mother is the bind that connects invisible ties that reconcile us as
one ongoing and infinite flow. It is in all of us and does not discriminate
through biological determination but is a constant murmur of origins
that continually generate and regenerate.
Mother can be the things that we protect and protect the world from,
it can be an encasement of ideals, a forging of motions of thoughts, an
obsession, a prison, and a force that no language can mirror.
We all come from mother: we are all mother.
1 D. Ward , ed., The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm, Volume 1 (United States of America:
ISHI, 1981), 98-99 1
2 Karen, Barad. 2015. “Transmaterialities: Trans*/Matter/Realities and Queer Political Imaginings.”,
392. https://doi-org.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/ 210.1215/10642684-2843239
Jacinta Keefe, Latifa Elmrini, Ellen Yeong Gyeong Son, Zea Rous, IchikawaEdward, Tess Landells, & Zara Sully
Curated by Jacinta Keefe & Latifa Elmrini
05.06.19 - 29.06.19