Three Poems

By Anita Patel|October 21, 2016


Image by Flickr Commons



You have not earned the right

to use this word,

a white professor said to the

Persian girl

as he ran his eye over her

poem.  And filled with shame

(at her own presumption)

she scratched out four letters

that she had not earned

the right to use.

The word disappeared

along with her mother’s laugh,

the sizzle of turmeric in a pan,

cool floors, lemon trees, the heat of

summer sand, a honey cake placed

tenderly into her mouth,

her heart dipping and lifting

like a wayward kite,

scoldings, kisses, anger, fright…

brushed away like messy crumbs

from a rich man’s table…

Then suddenly she saw her pen

remake the word (she had not earned)

And in the lovely shape of it

She felt her soul return…


Don’t Be Afraid (Jangan Merasa Takut)

Don’t be afraid of this new sky –

the vast blue blast of it over our heads,

Jangan merasa takut

karena langit ini sama dengan langit

di mana-mana,

Don’t be afraid because

it is the same sky everywhere.

Don’t be afraid of girls named

Cheryl and Belinda flicking their blonde hair

and looking disdainfully at the contents of your lunch box.

One day their children will be trying to make

chilly sambal and roti canai on Masterchef.

Don’t be afraid of new syllables,

scented with strawberry lip gloss

and vowels flattened like burst balloons,

Deadset as soon as you learn to speak Australian,

you’re in like Flynn. It doesn’t matter that

you look a bit different.

Don’t be afraid of living secret lives,

Hidupan rahasia.

The one where you are a good daughter:

Anak patuh yang belajar baik-baik dan

masak nasi untuk makan malam,

Studying hard and cooking rice

for the evening meal,

And the one where you sashay down the street with your friends

in hotpants and a boob tube

keeping a look out for Asian aunties…

Don’t be afraid of the lurid pink icing on finger buns or of

eating a pie and sauce while you yearn for sate ayam.

Don’t be afraid when coconut tanning oil,

on an Australian beach, starts to smell the same as nasi lemak

Or when you can’t quite recall the cicak sound of geckoes

scurrying on the ceiling in your grandmother’s house.

Don’t be afraid when you’re not sure if you prefer

a banana paddle pop or an es kacang on a hot day

Or when your memories fade like fallen rainbows…

Don’t be afraid because your heart is big enough to hold this new sky –

and your mouth will always know that the taste of

apples can never be the same as the taste of rambutan.

Jangan  merasa takut

karena ingatan  dan pelangi pasti kembali

setelah angin ribut,

Memories like rainbows will surely return after storms

So don’t be afraid…

This poem: Don’t Be Afraid (Jangan Merasa Takut) is a little letter to my teenage self – a skinny brown kid growing up in Cronulla (possibly the most insular and white bread Sydney suburb) in the 1970s. It does make reference to how things have changed in multicultural Australia from that very Anglo centred time. But mostly it reflects on the issues of identity that confront those of us who migrated here as children or teenagers.  An identity that is as deeply embedded in Australia as it is in our country of origin. We are not just caught between physical worlds but between imagined worlds and remembered worlds. Shifting from one world to another means that all the boundaries become blurred and we start to accumulate a different set of dreams and memories.

Peribahasa (Proverb)

Spilt milk cannot be drunk

or scooped back into a cup

tapi nasi yang sudah menjadi bubur

masih bisa dimakan,

but rice which has become porridge

can still be eaten

and fills my mouth with

pearly softness

and the salty certainty of

kecap scented hope,

(enak dan hangat)

the taste of morning comfort

in my grandmother’s

tropical kitchen…

Later in my childhood

I will cry over milk

spilt on winter hard asphalt –

an irretrievable white splatter

among shards of smashed glass,

I will cry because of angry voices

and because this milk

(unlike hujan yang jatuh ke pasir)

does not melt tenderly like rain into sand

but lingers maliciously in sticky trickles

on my shoes and books,

I will cry because this bottled milk

in a cold school yard is not a

bowl of fragrant  bubur

waiting for me

in a kitchen far away…          

I love the tiny wisdoms in proverbs and the fact that they reflect the human condition. So this little poem is based on two proverbs one in English and one in Indonesian which offer the same message. The English proverb is Don’t cry over spilt milk and its Indonesian counterpart is Nasi sudah menjadi bubur (The rice has already become porridge) which I think offers more hope than the disaster of spilt milk. I relished the savoury rice porridge that I ate for breakfast during my childhood in Malaysia and I hated the bottles of milk that we were forced to drink at primary school when my family moved to London. This poem is about proverbs, memories and food.

Anita Patel is a Canberra writer who has had work published in Summer Conversations (Pandanus Books, ANU) and in Block and Burley Journal. She won the ACT Writers Centre Poetry Prize in 2004 for her poem Women’s Talk. She was the feature poet for the Mother Tongue Showcase at Belconnen Arts Centre, June 2016.

More Pieces



Aditi Razdan explores indigenous Kashmiri multiculturalism, cultural traumas and the legacy of her community- the Kashmiri Pandits.