Thursday, November 8, 2012

kuu kuu kardiya

kuu kuu kardiya and the women who live on the ground*
                                                                   [Lee Cataldi]


australian museum october 1982

behind the microphone
pale face and hair
I was almost sure          sitting
in the same row of desks for ten years
one doesn’t forget
the toss of the head

black and gold dress          gold
handbag fat
as a bank account

in the draughty hall
the Warlpiri women wait
their painted breasts
delicate as earth

and into
the mismanaged white festival
miraculous and powerful
fine harmonies          the certain
feathery presences

the artists stop
discuss a point of style          the song
continues          it is
a continuum sometimes
they sing it aloud

the women move lightly          brown
skin black skirts in a ring
like a windbreak
          at dawn blue
smoke from cooking fires          bodies
stirring in blankets a warm
outcrop of earth


the white woman
comes out of the house          she says
          wash the clothes
          finish the job          wipe
          the children’s noses          we are
          taking these children away
          it’s for their own good

the women who live on the ground
disappear into the desert
stepping lightly
out of their regulation mission bloomers
their ragged jumble sale clothing

their voices fade as water
sinks back underground

jukurra jukurra they say
taking their children with them
into the heart of that furnace
where spirits rise whiter than clay


the women are in the school
with the children who
are learning to read
yirdi they say
wirlinyirnalu yanu marluku
we hunted for kangaroo
nganimpa karnalu walyangka nyina
we live on the ground

the white woman
riding her mop like a broomstick
screams about the building
          what a waste of time          they should be
          learning to spell must and ought
          they are filthy          look
          at their noses          look
          at the dust on the floor
          at the dust on the ground

outside the school the children
write warlpiri in the dust          write
kuukuu kardiya in the dust the hot wind
blows into eyes throats noses
into all the clean clothes

the women who live on the ground
watch the white women fade
after a few years
back into their motorcars
after one or two of those seasons in which
the spirits of the secret places
open their giant lungs
and burn the houses to ash

*The Women Who Live on the Ground: poems 1978–1988 (Ringwood, Vic: Penguin, 1990).