by Ellen van Neerven

mob of pelicans big way here crowding that jetty like a family photo
don’t feel it? it’s bad air
from the top of the lake to the mountains 
is tree war country
light catches pink throats of conflict
make a boat traditional way and cover this lake make a desk traditional
way and cover this page we want something back from this water 
taste the salt
but not
the tears
    the pelicans are leaving us like a line of words
 quicker than
the tongue drift glide sail waft fly   
fly away 
 something happened here.



Ellen van Neerven is a Yugambeh woman from South East Queensland. Her debut work of fiction, Heat and Light (UQP, 2014), won the David Unaipon Award, the Dobbie Literary Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize, and was shortlisted for The Stella Prize, the Queensland Literary Award for State Significance, and the Readings Prize. Comfort Food (UQP, 2016), her first poetry collection, was published earlier this year to positive reviews. She was the winner of the 2015 Nakata Brophy Prize for Young Indigenous Writers and named Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist of 2015. 


‘Flight Feathers’ was previously published in Cordite’s special issue of Dalit/tribal/Indigenous poetry in translation which is the happy outcome of a 3-year long project undertaken by Dr Mridula Nath Chakraborty titled Literary Commons: Writing Australia-India in the Asian century with Dalit, Indigenous and multilingual tongues. Co-edited by Kent MacCarter and Mridula Nath Chakraborty, this special issue, which was 14 months in making, includes 25 Indigenous Australian writers, 25 Dalit and tribal Indian writers,1 Nepali indigenous writer. There are 51 translations by 40 translators. There are 24 languages appearing in the issue.

The publication was made possible not only through generous funding by the Australia Council for the Arts, but also an immense array of volunteer resource people and translators based in India, who gave their time, energy and passion to this project. The translator, Kamlesh Gayakwad, lives in the remote Dangs, the dense bamboo forests of Gujarat, where internet connectivity is almost nil. He was contacted via phone by our resource person, Rupalee Burke, and expressed great delight at the prospect of re-publication. From micro-level engagements involving multiple partners and logistics, to being featured in the UNECSO Creative Cities Network, the project Literary Commons! has demonstrated how translation can bridge enormous gaps in distance – cultural, geographical, linguistic and national – and make our world a small one indeed.