'A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.'
Charles Darwin

Inside a structure
of rainbow loops and angles
spangle whirling
over a cellophane lake
is Mr. Darwin’s room,
exactly as he left it:
cards tucked in the mirror,
pictures on the wall,
a basket by the fire,
unassuming clutter.
And all around the mutter
as foreign children stop and count
his instruments and books
(microscopes and jars)
odd playthings of a lifetime.

Outside …
a blue untroubled sky
rustles gently in the water
antipodean parrots flit
and settle on the grass –
their ancestors are under glass
inside this unfamiliar place –

and an old man’s chair is empty.

Anita Patel

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Have you noticed
how the purl and plain of
women’s talk is tangled
and snarled
when a man enters the room?
Suddenly stitches are dropped
in the middle of a pattern
worked on for hours
and the cosy blend of colours
dark and light is
snagged and knotted
beyond repair.
The ropy twist
of mannish yarn
weaves its way
harsh and relentless
into the whispered silk
of confidences,
ruining the rich brocade
of spoken moments
(embroidered daintily
with truth and terror)
and the fine cobweb lace
of lies half told.
No deft fingers
can save the garment now
it falls
in a cambric crush
next to the broken loom –
the last threads hang loose
a ravelment of bombast
and vainglory.

Anita Patel

Published in Block 9

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Through damp drifts of umber
ducks parade past the National Museum.
A feathered armada,
flashing iridescent epaulettes,
they salute themselves
in plate glass windows.

And a flutter of parrots –
emerald and rose
hails their arrival ...

a flurry of silken scarves
flung in admiration
landing gently on the
ice pale grass.

Anita Patel

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  • Custom Article Title 'Winter Pageant' by Anita Patel
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Two words for face in my language:
Wajah from the Arabic wajh
rolls off the tongue sweetly
and melts like honey
in our mouths …
Wajah – a fitting sound for
the cherished tenderness of
a human face …
And yet …
I prefer the honest drum beat
of muka. An island word
harvested from salty seas and
fertile earth, blown through palm fronds
and tossed about in monsoon rain-
coconut redolent thud of pestle in
mortar – mu–ka
hammer hard syllables
chiselling the naked face
of my Malay ancestors …
When you lift the soft, saffron
silk mask of wajah
there is only muka.

Anita Patel

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Suddenly you accost me
with silent sepia eyes –
a sallow smudge of newsprint
hidden among weapons and bones.
You shrink and flutter
like a frightened bird
in the crimson mesh
of your wedding sari.
I am caught
in your dark gaze
in the tattered trace
of hands and face:
ragged remnants
of a fragile gift
carefully wrapped
and dispatched
with good wishes
to an alien land.

Anita Patel

Published in The Canberra Times, 29 September 2007

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Anita Patel States of PoetryAnita Patel has had work published in various journals including Conversations (Pandanus Press, ANU), Block 9, Burley Journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Demos Journal, Mascara Literary Review, and Not Very Quiet Journal. Her poem 'Women’s Talk' won the ACT Writers Centre Poetry Prize in 2004. She has performed her work at many events, including at the Canberra Multicultural Festival, the Poetry on the Move Festival, Noted Festival, Floriade Fringe Festival, and at Word in Hand in Glebe. She was the feature poet for the Mother Tongue Showcase at Belconnen Arts Centre in 2016. She was the guest editor for Issue Two of Not Very Quiet Journal.


'My poetry comes from lived experience and ordinary moments – from connections with nature, with people, with objects and with places. I have lived in Canberra for decades. This city, with its four seasons, perfect light, and soft-painted hills, is firmly embedded in my heart. I walk around the lake just about every day and there is always something (sometimes almost imperceptible) that stops me in my tracks and takes my breath away. 'Winter Pageant' and 'Mr. Darwin's Room' are Canberra poems.

While I am as Australian as a pair of sandy thongs, I am also part of the Asian diaspora. My mixed heritage (Indian, Malay, Portuguese) is tightly woven into my identity. 'Cane Cutter’s Bride: Museum of Fiji' and 'Wajah / Muka' articulate the bond that I have with my language, my history and my cultural roots. 'Cane Cutter’s Bride' and 'Women’s Talk' are poems about women. 'Cane Cutter’s Bride' was inspired by an old photo of a young Indian bride in the Museum of Fiji. I felt a profound empathy for this unknown woman who, like so many of my own female relatives, was forced to be resilient despite having no power and no choices. 'Women’s Talk' is about the complex, subtle, and textured relationship that we, women, have with one another. Finally, I simply love words – the sound and shape of them, the way that they sit on a blank page. Poetry is all about making words sing perfectly together. Honing a poem is the most joyful task.'

Anita Patel


Cane Cutter's Bride: Museum of Fiji


Winter Pageant

Women's Talk

Mr. Darwin's Room (National Museum of Australia)

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  • Contents Category States of Poetry - Poets