1. The original in the English
This version was first published in Lemons in the Chicken Wire (Magabala Books, 2016).
Wattle in the Dykes
pest wattle juts from the dyke
waxy pollen firework; intervention on the flood plain
draining the mould from home
the death flower perched within the garage dykes
to curse the whole damned house
I put it there
and there it burns
cocky and daring, and caught by flame
bright, then ash in the gutter
house damned all the same
2. The Gamilaraay translation
Gulgulay-ga nhama Dykes
Gulgulay dhuwi-ngayi-li wirrigaal-DHi gundhi-gu
Ngandanganda, yuu-giirr, gagan.gagan dhidhilan – baayangali maaruma-laa-nha warrambul,
Mubal dhiyama-laa-nha baadjin walaaybaa-DHi.
Bula burrii wana-y-la-nha dhuwi nhama wirrigaal gundhi-gu
Ngaya wiima-ay burri marrama –
Yalagiirma, burri gudhuwa-lda-nha marrama
Biiwanbiiwan ngaragay warranggal –
ngaragay dhidhilan, dhuu, wii!
Bamba gudhuwa-lda-y, baluwaa gudhuwa-y-la-y, girran-laa
Yaluuyalii gundhi, ngaragay yaluuyaluu balal muyaan.
3. The translation back into English
Gulgulay in the Dykes
Yellow wattle’s been jutting out
from the navels of the house
Glistening, dusty-colourful sparks – healing the overflow and
Gutting the poison from home.
Dead wattle perching in the house’s bellybutton
Cursing it all. Everywhere.
I sat that wattle down in there
And just like that, there it burns
Puffed out like a bird, and powerful –
and sparks, smoke, flame!
Burning bright, smouldering slow, ash.
The same house, and same dead tree.
I am monolingual.
So are most of my people; the English language settled on us like a wet blanket. I face language barriers in meaning-making. Ideas that are structured out of the English language vaguely stir but evade articulation. This translation took place because of this internal language barrier – I wanted to see if, unshackled from the language so burdened with colonial ideology and its little race-blind ‘neutralities’, my poetry could leap over the awkwardness in meaning-making that all poets face.
I translated this poem, ‘Wattle in the Dykes’, into my language, Gamilaraay, to try to find the meaning I missed, and to undo the meaning that the English language made for me. I then translated it out of Gamilaraay, back into English, to see what changes might carry over.
As I began to translate, I noticed that the poem’s meaning transformed from one of queerness as inevitable conflict and suffering to one of queerness as that natural reclamation made by nature to restore itself, linked with death, but also necessarily with rebirth. Leaping over language is complicated when I don’t have the words of my own language to think with – it represents a gap not only in how Aboriginal poets bereft of our languages can poet (v.), but in how we live. I can now explore new ways of making inferences, which has the potential to reroute patterns of thought because inference draws on that insider knowledge of language and shared, implicated meaning. For instance, warrambul means an overflow channel or watercourse, but it also means the Milky Way. Marrama means ‘there’, but with a degree of proximity and observation, situating the reader and subject close to the proceedings. Meaning is gained holistically in the syntax of Gamilaraay, which makes it a wonderful vehicle for surprise, deduction and unveiling, but it also means I’ve had to be painfully specific.
It is always a vexed exercise to write in a language from which you are diasporic, particularly when relying on texts that are mediated by white institutions and authors, many of whom obtained the knowledge contained within those texts via dubious means and contaminated it with their own misunderstandings. Can I escape colonial meaning-making through my language if my linguistic skill is bound by a gubba dictionary or passed on by a university? I fervently hope that I will, one day.
Because I am monolingual and for the most part have relied on archival audio and written dictionaries, this is not a literal translation, and it defies many established, informal rules of Gamilaraay grammar. I have taken some lyrical licence in allowing this kind of meaning to fragment, syntactical ‘correctness’ to take a back seat and disjointedness and chaos to be present in meaning-making. As a learning speaker, even I can tell you it is not far from nonsense. Luckily for me, so is most poetry.