Chorus of Crows by K A Nelson is quintessentially both difficult and classically beautiful to read. To distinguish the writing from the subject matter is impossible, however the meter and language of this powerful piece means it is indispensable viewing: such as putting a hand to the forehead and looking bewilderedly into the distance.
As for the content: to have people living in such profound deprivation in our wealthy country, is, by anyone’s measure, an indictment. The reason for it, of course, lies in the history of an invaded continent – history many close their eyes to. After existing in such proud circumstances for so many millennium in Australia, the finger of blame for situations such as the poem depicts, is often pointed back at the peoples in those situations. But blame must be accorded to the hand of racism, theft, abuse and short sightedness from a wealthy-based governance. For in the short span of less than 250 years, means without conscience, power without intelligence, and dispossession without recompense has and continues to wreak havoc for those who possessed the land we now know as Australia, before it was invaded.
Presently, for the most part, we no longer see (unless we look closely) the destructive forces that Australian Aboriginal people endured. Those forces, along with the laws, language and knowledge that people lived by before Europeans came, have been eradicated. Thanks to resilience of indigenous peoples, semblances have risen in their place, and we are starting to learn things we thought lost. In locations where dispossession is more evident (often in the north of the country, but in fact in pockets everywhere if one looks carefully) there seems only two responses. Either ennui or full-fisted authority that shows little nuance, little respect and little will to make any real difference. Even patience is missing as programs run by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people – often after finally finding their legs – are disassembled, and others hurriedly implemented. This is why we should never forget. And why, other than its exquisite structure, this poem is extremely important.
Chorus of Crows
When she saw Top Camp
(humpies made of corrugated iron/slabs of bark
people and dogs living together
children discharge running from nostrils/ears
like sewage seeping from the broken pipes next door)
she didn’t wince.
She learnt to overlook the rubbish
caught on broken fences
blown by westerlies that brought the dust
and the haunting sound of crows through
When she met Topsy
(her husband used a star picket
punished her tribal way even though everyone knew
thatwhitefella contractor got the better of her)
she didn’t faint.
It wasn’t the first time she’d seen human flesh
open to the bone or held the hand of a woman
being stitched up.
Outside the clinic the crows seemed to sing
that white man
When the Land Council mob
said no to a drink in the back bar
(the publican would only lace
their beer with Worcestershire Sauce
customers would stare/whisper behind cupped hands)
she bought a carton.
They sat in the yard yarning and laughing
at the crows as they burnt their beaks
scavenging for scraps
on the barbecue
When she walked across the Harbour Bridge
arm in arm with friends
(black/white and brindle
as her Nana used to say)
mothers pushed babies in their strollers
fathers shouldered children waving flags
people carried placards
and a breeze billowed out
that ‘sorry’ word above the crowd for hours.
Not a crow in sight!
Well into the New Millennium
it wasn’t the daily press releases
or claims the ATSIC experiment
had failed (miserably)
but another order from a minister
and a mandarin
carried out by men in overalls
that did her in.
When they took the dotted/cross hatched worlds
off all the office walls to hoard them
in a secret storeroom somewhere
when each piece of art and artefact was placed
(without bubble wrap or due regard)
in Woolworths shopping trolleys
that lurched along the corridors
their wobbly wheels protesting to the last
when workers sat transfixed to telephones
and screens (like crows on a carcass pecking
pecking unperturbed by passing cars)
she hurried to the women’s toilet
locked the door/flushed
Later she stared at her blank wall
where Rover’s Universe used to hang.
Without him she felt so far removed
from Top Camp
Topsy and the mob
from the fly speck she said she was
in a far flung corner of his print
near one of five gold dots
(or sacred sites)
and as she stared
she thought she heard him say
Gardiya* might like ’em
might learn ’em
might read ’em right way
But beyond the blank space/concrete wall/double glass
it seemed to her the crows guffawed
(as if they foresaw
the NT Intervention).