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From: Vol.09 N.01 – A Poetics of Rights


by Leni Shilton
We are taken to a hospital in the old part of town.
The building is tatty,
a crumpling colonial ruin.

Staff gather in the kitchen
lean against the benches,
around the wall.
Quiet chatting until the charge nurse begins.
‘All our residents have a gift.’
The staff nod and murmur.

‘They see spirits,’ she says,
‘And mostly spirits that are not safe.
In the olden times,
these people would have
talked to these spirits.
People paid them
in chickens, fruit, and vegetables
sometimes a pig –
to pass on messages.

The spirits told them stories about the ancestors.
Reminded them of ways to live.

This tradition worked well
until the missionaries came

and if they found someone with this skill
they were locked away.’

Later we wander about with the visiting families.
Watch as they share food, gifts,
show photos of children, grandchildren.
Tell stories of this one or that –
who has gone to live in Port Moresby,
Brisbane, Hong Kong.
Who is playing music,
who is studying.

The patients listen and nod.
But they keep their gaze on the forest
where they long to walk
among the trees of the ancestors
and the bird and animals.

It is a sad and beautiful place
held in quiet acceptance by the nurses.
Like time stopped and they are held in a dream.
The green paint peels from the walls
and the old cane furniture
has darkened with age.
Louvres are jammed open
the rain marks the wall
and geckoes run along the verandas.

And time slows as we become lost in
the forest language of the patients
and the kindness of nurses.


‘Spirits’ was been awarded the 2022 Inaugural Born Writers Award, an innovative writing initiative spearheaded by James Elazzi.

Published: August 2022
Leni Shilton

Leni Shilton is a poet, teacher and researcher. She grew up in Papua New Guinea and Melbourne and has lived in Mparntwe Alice Springs for many years. Leni has written two verse novels: Walking with camels – the story of Bertha Strehlow (UWAP, 2018), which won the 2020 NT Chief Ministers Fiction Book Award, and Malcolm – a story in verse (UWAP, 2019). Leni is a judge of national literary awards including the 2020 Stella Prize and the 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. In 2022 she was awarded the KSP Centre residential fellowship. She has recently received a major Arts NT grant to work on her third novel.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.