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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...
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.
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
We are warm
in the house where winds
buffet the cold light;
a ruby song of life
sings in our veins.
In long afternoons
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