Selections of Poetry by Huldah M Turner
Huldah Turner was a talented poet, winning the third prize in the Roland Robinson Literary Award for Poetry in 1994. Some samples of her work are reproduced here with the permission of her family.
Mootwingie - Snake Cave
Mootwingie – Snake Cave
You will find the place.
Leave the level plain
with furrowed shallow dunes,
sand-smoothed wind-blown gibbers
and speckling clumps of salt-bush
baked to brittle hardness
by the desert suns
Walk into a long and narrow valley
carved out man million years ago
from steeply tilted beds
of the Bynguano Range.
Dry crevices and crumbling edges
feed hungry roots
of prickly wattles,
and stunted cypress pines.
Through this lowly scrub
a curving line of river-gums
will mark the way —
deeply slashed with dyes
of purple, grey and indigo,
from roots thrust down
to moister sand below.
Follow the dry creek-bed
till the loose red sand
washes the feet
of wind-scalloped rocks;
climb past the seven terraced pools,
gouged by cataracts from sudden rains,
mirroring weathered tessellations
and slabs of hard blue sky.
Above the seventh pool
a level time-crazed ledge spreads out,
worn to dull mosaic
by water, wind and rain.
Your feet now tread that ancient ground
where once the Wilyakali men
held secret, solemn rites.
Walls of jagged rock
around the sacred crouching Cave,
across the sky.
Over the concave fire-abraded wall
the dreamtime Rainbow serpent coils;
it weaves a way
through upturned ochre-stencilled hands.
Etched and carved
from base to arch,
on a painted web of lore and ritual,
warriors hold high
long spears in battle victory,
bringing home the kill —
kangaroo and euro,
reptile, bird and dingo.
If you listen to the quiet
you may chance to hear
an eerie bird call —
message to the living from the dead —
slicing sheer through time and silence.
Rest then beside the Mushroom Rock,
close your mind against the day,
surrender will until the Snake spell
takes you back into the Dreaming;
till your pace throbs to the measure
of the pulse of other days;
till the ashes of Wilyakali
rise before you
from the mists of Dreamtime.
You will see
angularly dark against the night
naked dancers leaping all together
in ritual corroboree;
awesome complex shadows
flung in quivering patterns
over watching walls;
the coiling Snake
flickering life-like in the light
of flame-coloured smoke.
You will hear
uttering tribal incantations,
initiating tribal laws,
teaching tribal myths and legends
to the young men and children;
you will hear
voices raised in singing exultation,
dark feet beating
in the steady rhythm
of warrior dance.
You will smell
the smoke of campfire —
sharp scent of eucalypt
from crackling leaves and twigs —
and pungent burning flesh
of hunting spoil.
You will feel
abysses at the edge of being,
time like water flowing,
distance rolled out endlessly;
you will know
the bonds of sacred tribal rites
through the tapping out in unison
of dancing rhythms
with the clacking beating sticks;
you will touch,
hands carefully exploring,
cut into the cave-face —
incised texts of ripened wisdom,
books in stone,
lore for all Wilyakali generations.
Here they learned the yearly promise
in the seasons and the stars,
in the spring sap of the eucalypt,
in the flight of a bird
winging to water,
in the ripple of sand-dunes
lipped by the wandering winds,
in creek-beds gently flowing
then soon drying after rain,
in sullen rivers snaking
sluggish over sand-bars
to sink into an inland salt-sand sea.
The vision passes —
day and sun return.
You will go back
the way you came,
past the pools
and the dunes,
numbed by a dimension
not known to those you know.
You will make your way
weighted by sadness
and scape-goat shame;
on pilgrim shoulders you will carry
the crime-burden of desecration:
alien crashing into Dreaming,
insolent probing into sacred mysteries,
wanton carving of level boundless vistas
into finite crude divisions,
idle parcelling of smooth timelessness
into crisp hour-glass precisions,
into ticking clock-wedges,
brutal shredding with uncaring hands
of the oldest, longest, wisest
childhood of the earth.
In still moments
you will see again
the Cave and coiling Serpent:
into the quiet of a falling dusk,
into a sleepless hour of the dawn,
guilt-torn wondering will come.
Can the Wilyakali
ever know again
the mellow flow of time,
the singing freedom of the Dreamtime,
the vintage wisdom of their fathers,
the peace and wholeness
of a people living
one-ness with the earth?
Landscape near Madura, Western Australia
No Gruner landscape this.
White sharp-edged rocks and fossil-shells spill
steeply down the long escarpment:
mid-day haze blurs lazy clumps
of squatting summer-dusted salt-bush –
ink-daubs on a crescent canvas
stretched taut and dry
between the escarpment and the ocean.
Sand-whipped by winds from the south
low bushes bend in twisted nakedness
or wear old wigs of matted leaves
in dusky green and olive.
All lean to the north.
Out where white scalloped dunes
fold in the land
a thin pure line of emerald sea
pencils off untainted blue of sky
streaked with one wisp of sleepy cloud.
That is the landscape now.
once live and free on the ocean floor
now choked with alien sand
no longer sings into my ear
its legend of wild waters:
but deep beneath my feet I think I hear
the muffled pulse of a kinder earth
and the faint surge of forgotten seas.
Winner of the Third Prize in the 1994 Roland Robinson Literary Award for Poetry.
A Late Love Song
(excerpt from poem, on the death of her beloved husband) by Huldah M Turner aged 93
Our bright day closes in:
The long night will soon begin.
Then you and I, separate handfuls of a remnant dust,
swept by the uncaring flow
of ceaseless rhythms of earth and sea and sky,
inert, unaware must
sleep through time.
A stanza from Elegy
The spirit has slit its drab cocoon
to shed the clinging web of flesh.
Wearied and bruised, it rests; awaits,
fragile, alone, but free,
the drift on a mounting tide
that will ferry it down through a silent tunnel of dark
to radiant birth
in the blinding shock of perpetual light.
What am I crying for?
(on approaching blindness)
I cry for the sheen that has gone from the day
for sharp slant of sun and soft silver moon
for diamond night canopy spread on the sky
nuances of light.
I cry for colour washed out of the world
for scarlet poinsettias riding the breeze
for heaped saffron sunset clouds slashed with vermilion
blue of the sky.
I cry for loveliness misted and blurred
for intricate tracery veining a leaf
for rhythm and dance of a branch blowing high in the wind
bird on the wing.
I cry for song-words singing now lost on the page
for music of phrase flowing over the mind
for notes on a stave starting echoes and dreaming
sounds from the deep.
I cry for gentleness clouded in haze
for dark of your hair on the pillow beside me
for tenderness welling in grieving grey eyes
curve of your smile.
That is why I am crying.