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After viewing the Carved Trees Exhibition

Arborglyphs, Dendroglyphs
These are the scientific words
The white man uses to describe
Our tree writing, the sophisticated hieroglyphics 
Of an ancient culture, an ancient civilisation
These are the words used to describe
The arboreal classrooms on which
Our ceremonies & laws were writ large
The sweat & blood of the carvers impregnating
The DNA of our people into the
Limbs of the sapwood and heartwood
That lined the pathway of learning
For the young warriors & their teachers
 
Did giving them these cold, hard words
Calling them the tree carvings of a primitive people,
Make it easier for the scientist,
The anthropologist, the land coveter
To rip them from their belonging place?
To destroy the warriors’ classrooms or
Desecrate the graves of our lost ancestors?
 
Did they make it easier to rip
The memorial trees carved with
All the knowledge needed to
Provide a pathway for the
Spirit of the lost hero to
Find his way to the sky world?
Did they not see the rounded,
Almost fecund mound that was
The final resting place of someone
Whose loss caused such grief,
Much keening, wailing, & self inflicted
Physical pain to replace the deep
Agony of mourning?
 
Did those words blind them to the
Ancient knowledge contained
In the chevrons, the curvilinear, the scrolls?
Did they make them easy for people
To transplant them to their backyards
To stand beside the roses & grevilleas
And the transplanted weeds
Watered, & cut and tortured & tamed
Into green blankets to disguise the dust & earth
Of a land they could never really own?
Did they give them carte blanche
To place the trees in the dark, dank bowels of museums,
Those grand stone buildings, receivers of stolen goods
Repositories of not just ours
But other peoples’ plundered cultures?
 
And our people, herded onto missions,
Their possum skin cloaks & kangaroo rugs
Replaced by burlap, hessian & calico
Their bush food by flour, sugar & tea and
Their spirits, their beliefs by the single god
Of the conquering peoples?
Did they dream of the Yammunyamun?
The impending initiation?
The invitations sent near & far
The feasting, the dancing, the singing?
Did they long for the comfort of their own ceremonies?
Their own way of being now gone and now
Replaced by the unfamiliar bought by
Ships, and bullock drays and horses?
 
And do we mob, the ancestors of
The carvers, the teachers, the initiated
Take comfort from the return of our trees
or from the revelation of our lost
And forgotten ceremony
Or from the photos in black & white & faded sepia
Of a world and ways now gone?
Do we celebrate?
Do we own our anger
Or do we forgive?
Or do we let the tears
Fall where they may?

Go to Gayle Kennedy's profile to read more poems

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