.

Gift for the Living

The life that he led is a memory now,
Subjugated by settled existence,
With old hunting grounds bearing the imprint of plough
And a musket ball hail for resistance—
Certain death the result of resistance.

He remembers the spark of the campfire bright
As the hunt was dissected at length,
And the stars of the night took undying delight
In describing their totems of strength—
How he longs to rekindle that strength!

Now the smoke from the stump of their sacrosanct gum,
With each wisp brings a tear to his eye;
Not from sting, but the sureness of losses to come
As his cultural markers fly—
From the sites that are sacred they fly.

His unguarded compatriots fall to disease
That is silent as white sails coming,
Till expressing itself as a terminal wheeze,
When the beat of life ceases its drumming—
One by one, kindred hearts cease their drumming.

From the depths of this pain, he will surface again
With the remnants of tribe like the shoots
To be seen on the fire-blackened boughs after rain
Signals growth to the weathering roots—
Those imperilled must look to their roots.

He will deftly adapt to a dominant force,
As the wattle tree bends with the breeze,
Or a waterway follows a torturous course
With fluidity, grace, and ease—
With a natural grace and ease.

But the learning acquired from an earlier time,
Placing kinship and land to the fore,
Will remain the all-powerful man’s paradigm
For his people forevermore—
For the present and evermore.

And when stories are told of survival mode
Through a time that was unforgiving,
We will hear of a people whose memories stowed
Those instructions essential to living—
There is no better gift for the living!

.

.

David Watt is a writer from Canberra, the “Bush Capital” of Australia. He has contributed regularly to Collections of Poetry and Prose by Robin Barratt. When not working for IP (Intellectual Property) Australia, he finds time to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of traditional rhyming poetry.


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15 Responses

  1. Jeff Eardley

    David, anyone who takes Cora Goosebury as his “principal” wife gets my vote. Thank you for this super poem which has led me to read about this fascinating character. Your work never fails to send a blast of culture from across the globe. I could almost hear the sound of the didgeridoo as I read this. Thank you for a splendid read today.

    Reply
    • David Watt

      Thanks Jeff for your comments, and for noting the distinctive name of Bungaree’s ‘principal’ wife. Bungaree seems to have been a remarkable person of great intelligence, and a skilled negotiator between tribes and cultural groups. There were at least eighteen full length oil portraits of Bungaree painted. This fact alone indicates that he stood out from the crowd.
      Bungaree also has the distinction of being the first native person to
      circumnavigate Australia.

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Australia had over two hundred indigenous languages in the eighteenth century, along with related dialects. Part of Bungaree’s fame lay in his amazing ability to communicate with every group of aborigines that he encountered, all over the island, and serve as an interpreter for the British.

    Shouldn’t the longer fifth stanza be divided by a line space into two?

    Reply
    • David Watt

      Joe, you are absolutely right in saying that Bungaree was famed for his communication skills. He was also renowned for mimicking the various Australian Governors, and did so with sufficient humor to get away with it.

      My intention was that the fifth stanza be divided into two after the fifth line.
      Thanks for pointing this glitch out.

      Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    As someone whose poems always require notes, I marvel that you didn’t even give the man’s name except as caption to the picture. That’s a tribute telling those of us who don’t know him that he is worth knowing. I very much like the point that a leader like Bungaree, even when departed from us, is a gift for all the living because he knew how to give a threatened people “instructions essential for living.”

    Would you please explain the “sacrosanct gum” stanza?

    Reply
    • David Watt

      Margaret, the reason that the name of Bungaree doesn’t appear in the poem is that I wrote the poem in reference to the adaptability, survival, and retention of culture by the first Australians. Evan suggested the accompanying photo of Bungaree, which was an inspired choice, as Bungaree really does stand as a perfect example of survival and adaptation to new circumstances.

      In regard to ‘sacrosanct gum’, I refer to either a hollowed out living ‘birthing tree’, where countless generations of women had given birth, or to centuries old scarred trees which served spiritual purposes.

      Thanks for your comments, and for your keen eye.

      Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    A fine tribute, David. ‘Bungaree’ would make a fine subject for an Aussie mini-series.

    Thanks for the read.

    Reply
    • David Watt

      Paul, I think the time is right for a mini-series based on the life of Bungaree.
      The events of his life would be far more interesting than that of most politicians or modern day celebrities.

      Reply
  5. Brian Yapko

    David, this is a wonderfully evocative poem which describes a history and culture which are quite unfamiliar to me but which I find intriguing. As Dr. Salemi pointed out, I also think that the elongated stanza five is really two stanzas which haven’t been separated — a minor technical fix.

    I’m fascinated by the form you’ve chosen — specifically the last line of each stanza and how it offers a variation from the penultimate line of each stanza. Is this your own form? It imparts a songlike quality — not quite like a call and response, not quite like a ballad — but more like an echo which is repeated back but altered. To me this suggests something rather exotic in form — a chant perhaps. It also suggests a lesson reinforced which I think strongly supports the educational theme of your piece. Well done!

    Reply
    • David Watt

      Hello Brian, thanks for your generous comment. The 60,000 years or so of Aboriginal history and culture has given rise to some quite distinctive features, and historical artifacts. For example, it’s pretty amazing to find 10,000 years old paintings in central Australia depicting Thylacines (long extinct on the mainland), and more recently extinct in Tasmania.
      I have requested that stanza five be separated into two stanzas.

      I can’t claim to be the first to make use of this poem’s particular form.
      Australian poets including Henry Kendall (born 1839) also sometimes used this echoing end of stanza technique. I think this form may come in handy, particularly in dramatic narratives.

      Reply
  6. Allegra Silberstein

    What a wonderful gift you give to the world and to me with this poem…thank you…Allegra

    Reply
  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    David, I love the title – it showcases your magnificent poem perfectly, with its repetition in the closing line echoing the sentiment. I love the forceful beat of the form as it imparts with cultural and historic wonders that are indeed a gift. This poem should be a lesson to us all in these divisive and destructive times. Our culture and our history shape us. It’s what makes us love our home and our kin. We are proud to share it with others. It is who we were and who we are. The powers that be are trying to rewrite and remove it… we cannot let that happen. We too must leave a gift for the living. Thank you very much for this powerful and beautiful poem, David – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every word.

    Reply
  8. David Watt

    Susan, you’re quite right in saying that retention of culture has never been more important than right now. Although my poem focusses on a particular culture, the message remains the same. We should be proud of our heritage and those regional/national differences which make the world more interesting and rich. Thanks for your appreciation of this piece.

    Reply

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