At first it seemed a trek of migrant ants
climbing the skyline of this great red rock
six hundred million years a stranded humpback,
a continent’s weathered navel.

    Closer view
identifies human forms, ascending, descending,
traffic of Jacob’s ladder
laborious pilgrims, breathlessly devout,
gathered from nations near and far, intent
to attain the summit, there inscribe their names,
press to the next objective.
    These are my tribe.
I too look up with lust
but, hearing wiser counsels, do not climb.

Around the base we walk with Pitjatjantjara.
They do not look up, but round, across, or down,
in sand, tree, scrub, see what we do not see,
grub, honey-ant, telltale tracks, medicinal gum,
from spinifex-seed distil a potent glue,
with kangaroo-sinew bind the quartz-tip spear,
show firestick, throwing stick, ancestral skills,
prehistory camp-fire smoke.

    They tell, we listen.
Before we board the bus, timetabled tourists,
programmed surmounters, scheduled for departure,
hear the survivors of forty thousand years.

Poems of Australia

Poems of Nature