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05. Featuring: Dmytro Drozdovsky

Footprints

 

For Molly Craig, an Australian Aboriginal woman

who died January 16, 2004, aged 87. In 1931 she

escaped with her younger sister and cousin from a

mission station where they had been taken after

forcible removal from their families, and trekked

through 1,600 kilometres of semi-desert, following

the route of the rabbit-proof fence, to rejoin their

community. Their epic journey formed the basis

of a recent film, “Rabbit-proof Fence”.

 

When last she ran to your embrace

her feet could fit into your hands;

they nestled warmly in your palms,

two little quails that smelt of grasses,

pair of bare, pink heels that darted

shyly on your dreaming-trails,

quickening your heart alone in darkness.

Holding your daughter’s small, warm heels

like talismans against your fears,

you murmured in her drowsy ear

the stories of that epic trek - you, her mother,

child again, leading the two younger ones,

fleeing from the snares the white men set,

from drawn-out, living death,

beside the fence the strangers built to keep

the rabbit hordes in check. People who need

fences will imprison anything, you guessed.

Your feet remember every step - your feet,

those uncomplaining friends, who bore the thorns,

the bruising stones, the distances, as best they could.

Always to the south they led, to campfires

by the river-bed, the soft earth underfoot

that told you “welcome, daughter, welcome back.”

The stars that blistered overhead reminded you

how many steps - how many lay behind, ahead,

before you could enjoy your rest.

You crouched beside the sleeping forms

to guard them against predators,

your spine echoed the sacred chanting,

bones a dirge of weariness.

They tore your daughter from your breast.

You never saw her face again, nor held her feet

to feel them grow, nor watched them run

in wilderness. You waited all your life

to learn what happened to those tender soles

so like your own, to hear some shred

of news, learn where those footsteps led.

No tidings reached you from the earth,

nor mercy from the firmament.

The strangers stole your name, your child,

and told you it was for the best.

They took your home, your peace of mind,

but could not touch your innocence.

Now you see only plains of stars

in place of gibbers, tussock-grass.

They are the campfires of the heart,

the paths where ancestors once passed...

Migrant

 

You knew how it would be before you came:

your dreams take root in an alien sky;

wither; you watch them die -

and hark back to immensities of beach,

a light-sluiced tidal flat where mangroves

grasp the air tenaciously, and slow

waves creep; a faded dwelling-place, its timbers

bleaching like an upturned hull;

lament of gulls, the shriek of lorikeets.

Sea-wife’s Soliloquy

 

You enter the room

as a schooner enters harbour

unexpectedly, the furies

howling at the keel,

the captain tense and weary,

having sparred once more

with the sea and been spared.

You enter the room

and I think of an argonaut,

the inexorable oars that drained

his youth and vigour to the lees;

his sleep a labyrinth of shoals

and shores and unfamiliar ports,

a phantasmagoria of foreign ways.

You enter the room

with the aura of a mariner

who has worked his leave,

had his fill of the sea’s

duplicity and seeks reprieve.

You will attempt to compensate

for irretrievable nights and days

with barbarous tales, a plethora

of feasts; but I have inherited

the accursed mantle of Penelope,

her bitter, lifelong quarrel

with the waves...

Birds of Passage

 

‘Do migratory birds feel pain before departure, as we do?’

(Eleni Fourtouni - Greek poet)

 

They are like us: uneasy in their hearts,

knowing the glowing season cannot last;

sensing the small imperatives of temperature,

subtle fibrillations of the air,

flexing their will, their wings grown summer-tender,

resisting the nostalgic pull of place

where they cannot remain.

All earth’s creatures feel this kind of pain.

 

          *****

I sense that you imagine

us as brave: perhaps we are,

insofar as courage can

distinguish between death and flight;

an even greater irony,

you look on us as free,

as if we could defy our DNA,

or swim against the stars.

 

         *****

We leave the nests we built

with skill and care, to last a year;

when we return, the trees

may not be there.

Yet, fewer every year, we face

the same involuntary ordeal:

the maze of air, sea’s blinding wastes,

the labyrinth of guns and gales,

until no nests remain,

and no more song.

 

          *****

There will be no more

silhouettes of trees, their gentle presences

gracing walled cities, gardens of the dead

with domes of pine and spires of cypresses.

Mountains will bare their teeth in grimaces

where groves of beech and oak and spruce took root,

and birds will cry in warning and lament

circling the void where forest stood.

Greentime myths and songs

will echo winds embracing leaves,

spirits of the murdered trees - earth’s requiem.

Fleetingly inscribed across the sky

a wind-blown line of birds,

scribbling a message as they fly…

We Are Warm

 

1.

We are warm

in the house where winds

buffet the cold light;

a ruby song of life

sings in our veins.

 

2.

In long afternoons

after love,

watching a tortoise

nimbused in sun,

carapace-tomb on his back,

groping over the stones...

+Sharmagne Leland-St. John + Madeline Artenberg + Sonja Broderick +     Saima Yacoob + Mario Susko + John Brooke + Richie Mais