Overheard on a bus in Aberdeen by Mandy Macdonald

– I have lost my travel pass!
– You’ve lost your tribal past?

Well, that too,
now you come to mention it:
I am so far from my ochre deserts,
my dawdling, tawny rivers,
my tangled harbours,
my thirsty grey-leaved eucalypts.

My history is smeared on the landscape there,
map and dream knitted in ages past but never gone
from rocks and stars, beasts and birds,
the yarn of songlines winding, binding past to present.

But I have no free pass to the past
where I must pay to go walkabout now,
not barefoot but hiking-booted in my own country;
I do not stride the songlines, tall and swift,
no, I creep in metal baggage, winged and wheeled
and new and safe
and paid for.


There is another history I know: I am writing it now,
on the cellphone flicking coloured light in my face.
I stand, writing, umbrella’d
in a rainy street at midnight, impelled
by some memory far older than i can calculate
urgently to set this telling down.

Inside this small, smooth tessera, shiny-beetle-black,
that fits the hand as well as a stone skinning knife,
there’s a grain of tantalum, older than all the songlines,
silent, latent under ancient rock paintings,

then, torn up from my land,
yanked, sifted, strained
from millions of tons of it,
from Greenbushes, Wodgina
upheaved, convulsed, raped.

And yet, without that scintilla
I could not write like this, standing
in the dark street, in the rain, half a planet away,
could not tell the story.

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