Poetry

Custodian

 (in response to Ngapa Jukurrpa (Water Dreaming) by Peter Jangala Ross, 1986)

Shut out
in envious frustration
from language
my culture never valued
never learned.
Drawn
in magnetic fascination
to sinuous flowing lines,
mesmerising circles,
infinite perfect pin-points
of patient execution.
Secrets?
Subtle resistance still uncolonised?
I ask
and I am told
of waterholes, great floods,
ceremonies, song cycles
and journeys of ancient ancestors.
The great rains speak survival;
floods make dry rivers run.
But why, whispers my soul,
do your raging rivers
run red?
I don’t want to ask!
No…
perhaps what I don’t want
is to hear the answer. 

Ngapa Jukurrpa (Water Dreaming) by Peter Jangala Ross, 1986

The Activist

“I don’t know how you do it!
Fund-raising! Meetings! Rallies!
I wish I could be more like you!”
She looks around and sighs.
Her home, I’m sure
Is dust and cobweb free.
Mine is not.
Potatoes are flowering in the pantry
Amnesty candles
Splash sculpted wax
On floors and furniture
Books and papers everywhere
No matter.
I’ve been blessed
By the First Holy Ghosts
Gunditjmarra, Yorta Yorta, Wadawarung, Wurunjeri
And invited to the long, long fight.
Dark deeds remembered
Chains, terror, rape,
Desecration, massacres, blood-soaked ground
And mothers whose tears made rivers in the dust.
I listen and learn.
I study public speaking
And civil disobedience
Attend lectures, hold rallies
Write passionate letters
Make banners, petition governments
And design a flag
Without a Union Jack or Federation Star.
ASIO has a file with my name on it.
At a cold winter vigil,
Police warm their hands
Over the flame I hold.


Parliament House, CANBERRA 13 February 2008, the day of the national apology to the Stolen Generations

Sequoia

Up, up, up!
Where whispers soft
Hint at things ethereal
The great Sequoias rise
Inviting spirits
Soar on wings of pure delight
How many years?
How many sheltered?
How many held in awe?
Full fifteen decades done
Safe here
When in their native land
Others shattered to the ground
In futile harvests
And bursting
Filled the splintered air
With ghostly clouds
Of redwood dust
Match-sticks to make
Addicted
I now must come
In every whim of weather
To witness
Your great strength against a raging storm
Or catch my breath in awe
To see you
Swirled about in morning mist
Or thank you
For dense shade
On a hot and sunny day
Lost
But happily
In an overwhelming world
Of consequence and grace
Untethered now
I fly!

The Tree

An old man looked
And saw a legacy
Felt gratitude
To the grand vision
Of generous souls
Who dreamed but never saw
The gift they left to us

A small boy looked
Excitement felt
A Faraway Adventure saw
What fun to climb
And meet the Folk
That wriggle under wrinkled bark
In twisted branches aged with grace
Then reach the top
And shower us
With cones and seeds saved
Since our world began.

I looked and saw
Your great strong stillness
And in your permanence
Your solid promise
I felt safe
And I found peace.

Ballad of the Superdome

My child! My child! What frenzied cries
Chill all our souls tonight
Rising above the Superdome
At dying of the light?
My child! What shadows long
And wretched screams too near?
Katrina stalks the Superdome
The least we have to fear.
My child! What tears? What fear
Haunts the sleepless night?
The mark of Cain has sealed our fate
By blind men still with sight.
My child! The waters rise
The nation sits and waits …
First Lady safe as Abel’s Child,
Speaks fear and teaches hate.
My child! Your hungry cry
Falls on deaf ears tonight
The value of your soul is less
Because you are not white.
My child! See here the boat!
No more the time to weep.
Wake up! Wake up!  Why now?
How could you … fall, at last … asleep?

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