On visiting Elizabeth in the Western Australian Wheatbelt Mary sings a song

     after Luke 1:46–55


Tyres hold to gravel. She
takes her    breath

sings    each revolution’s puff
            of dust. Middle road

a snake suns and wheels’ ambit
accommodates her line. Look

back    she chants    see
the reptile still    against

tales she’s heard of serpents
clinging to the rim    and found

alive    next stop down
the local access track.


All that’s left of the school
her nanna ran    and where

married    a lady could
not    hold a teacher’s job   

is a sign in a paddock. Here   
forebears learnt their names.

She reads them now    on
honour boards and on a street

and sings a partway song
of women    white and wanting.


This is Ballardong land
where her mother watched

a woman    maybe a girl
work laundry in a copper.

This was a person of Country
in the gaze of a settler child.

She sings recompense
sufficient to the labour

for all unpaid
she lives because.


What woman assisted her
nanna    with births at home

on the farm? She sings
their favour    a wisdom

shared on Country    once
more usurped    when a child

is born to inherit. Can
she carol    the

sorry gifts that
made her mother?


She psalms a longing
to undo    that cannot

be. She sings to tell
a truth:    this colonial

cultivar    this ripped
space    this cleared out

orbit-visible belt whose
indentured labour shames

her family    but does not
threaten their lives. She

takes a breath    sings
out of an old    frontier.


She stops, she     

This poem first appeared in Rabbit Poetry Journal 30 (2020), pp. 108-11. It is also included in my collection Obligations of voice (Canberra: Recent Work Press, 2021). In Reading the Magnificat in Australia: Unsettling Engagements the poem appears as an example of a creative response to the Magnificat from a settler perspective in the context of the ongoing colonial invasion of Australia.

The epigraph, ‘after Luke 1:46–55’, refers to the biblical text of the Magnificat, spoken/sung at the end of the Visitation episode (Luke 1:39–56), when the Lukan Mary, on hearing that her older kinswoman Elizabeth is pregnant, journeys to visit her in the Judean hill country. The poem transfers this journey to the Western Australian Wheatbelt. I first read about the visibility of the Wheatbelt from space in Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt (UWAP, 2017), p. 1.

Anne Elvey