Nigel Milsom — Judo-House part 9 (birdland), 2021 | The Commercial, Sydney





Black and Yellow


My song is black and yellow

bees and tigers,

wattle in the burnt bush,

my singing is synaesthesia,

the colour of boxers dreaming
hope inside the mine


We all come out of the darkness.

We are the ore of the womb,

shell-less eggs arriving wary,

our cries lack melody and then we harden
as we must before we go down

as we must.  The canaries

are waiting in the pit, we pass them

frailly singing in the darkness

with our picks and drills

and whistle back to them
their yellow song.


I am yellow and of the sun

but in the blackness I am a song

until things go wrong, I am a song,

a yellow song of the sun
where there is none,

I sing the morning yet begun

with its darkened edge of grief and danger

into the dust and diesel air.


There are cages everywhere,

canaries primed for poison gas

and refuges from collapse,

the cages of the day to day,

the grind of destiny that can’t be tricked.


Down the mines, on the wharves, in the BHP

weekend boxers breathe the industrial revolution

their bodies labour, their brains hold onto birdsong.


On Saturdays, the singing of fists

bent in the service of force,

digging arms primed with gloved knuckles,

antlers, and hopes,

money for the seven kids,

another pound of chops,

a bit of lace to be sewed

on the Saturday best dresses

of girls so bird beautiful, so bird alive,

there’ll be weddings to pay for soon.

And, if they make retirement,

perhaps a caravan by the sea.


Men, fresh from the cannon fodder of the wars,

shadow desire, the whites of their gloves

are like fillings on dental x-rays,

their bodies angle for their fists to lead,

heads cock and shimmy, punch and sway, punch and sway,

the eye is faster than the fist is faster than the brain.


The yellow scowl of mates who spent their hope
with the bookie, their amber eyes

mine tunnels home guided by angry streetlights,

yellow so you can see them in the mist,
tainted angels, the horns of ships

sound the chords of other lives

far from Kooragang’s night-time Wonderland,

a flock of dancing canary ghosts

one hue short of a warning.


There will always be people scowling at your dreams,
so hang on, as the fists of Les Darcy come faster than you can see them.

It is the end, but not forever. The crumple, the jawline pain.

The purse will be split.  This wasn’t the one to bet on. You knew.

The ship to New Zealand will be leaving in a month

where a farmer from Invercargill is waiting.

The bruises will be gone by then, the wife is tender,

she knows why you do it, it’s your only chance, Billy,

to leave it all behind, to own the belt

to bust the cage, to be a champ.


poem by Ed Wright