Welcome to November —
National Novel Writing Month
American Indian / Native American Heritage Month
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|Kath Walker / Oodgeroo Noonuccal (born November 3, 1920) – Australian / aboriginal poet, activist|
Read a biography of Kath Walker here
Read some of her poems here
Ballad of the Totems
My father was Noonuccal man and kept old tribal way,
His totem was the Carpet Snake, whom none must ever slay;
But mother was of Peewee clan, and loudly she expressed
The daring view that carpet snakes were nothing but a pest.
Now one lived inside with us in full immunity,
For no one dared to interfere with father’s stern decree:
A mighty fellow ten feet long, and as we lay in bed
We kids could watch him round a beam not far above our head.
Only the dog was scared of him, we’d hear its whines and growls,
But mother fiercely hated him because he took her fowls.
You should have heard her diatribes that flowed in angry torrents,
With words you’d never see in print, except in D.H. Lawrence.
“I kill that robber,” she would scream, fierce as a spotted cat;
“You see that bulge inside of him? My speckly hen make that!”
But father’s loud and strict command made even mother quake;
I think he’d sooner kill a man than kill a carpet snake.
That reptile was a greedy guts, and as each bulge digested
He’d come down on the hunt at night, as appetite suggested.
We heard his stealthy slithering sound across the earthen floor,
While the dog gave a startled yelp and bolted out the door.
Then over in the chicken-yard hysterical fowls gave tongue,
Loud frantic squawks accompanied by the barking of the mung,
Until at last the racket passed, and then to solve the riddle,
Next morning he was back up there with a new bulge in his middle.
When father died we wailed and cried, our grief was deep and sore,
And strange to say from that sad day the snake was seen no more.
The wise old men explained to us: “It was his tribal brother,
And that is why it done a guy” – but some looked hard at mother.
She seemed to have a secret smile, her eyes were smug and wary,
She looked about as innocent as the cat that ate the pet canary.
We never knew, but anyhow (to end this tragic rhyme)
I think we all had snake for tea one day about that time.
Watch / Listen to Kath Walker explain the relationship between
her poetry and her civil rights activism
They were all trying to get possession of the aboriginal people.
They talk about the aboriginals as “our blacks.”
So I stood up and said,
“Why don’t you just stop and ask the Aborigines what they want?”
That night I went home and put down in draft form a poem, which finally became “The Dispossessed.”
Jewish Book Month – 30 Days, 30 Texts