(a poem, by Claire van Ryn, written in response to Australia Day, 2022)
Speak, Dirt! Hold up your story! Dream-tell!
Etch your wisdom through the soles of our feet, drawing up through bloodlines.
We see your sigh in red dust clouds, rising. We feel your moan in the loam clods, clinging. We hear your rage in the cracks through parched and trampled plains, opening.
Your grit is no tabula rasa. It bears the scrawl of the ancients, scribbly grub pattination on the bark of time. You cupped the First Ones in your hands, made poetry of fire, wind, water. Their skin carried you as you carried them. Skin on dirt on skin.
And then. And then, Dirt, you became cup, became vessel for their blood. Grave for their bones. Urn for their ashes. The slurry of pain a war paint smudged across a once-free Southern land. Your grit was washed from military boots, bleached from aprons, wiped from the faces of blue-eyed children.
You lay vibrating with the footfall of the New Ones as they cut and divided, spilt and split you.
Possession lines slashed, your earth denuded. Old man eucalypt slipped through your grasp, and in his place Oak and Elm and Birch and Maple. You were stabbed with picket fences, footings, cattle hooves, gravelled roads and the harvest blades of mouths to feed.
We all washed you from our skin. The dirge of dirt on skin on dirt.
Soil be shaped. Soil be silent. Soil let us climb and claim you. Soil hold this building, bend this way, slope that way. Soil feed us. Soil pay us.
Still the red dust rises. The loam clods cling. The desert cracks open. You vibrate with the hurt of the First Ones and the slow awakening of the New Ones. Many are fresh to your hum.
We take off our shoes, wiggle toes in your texture. Allow wisdom to once more etch the soles of our feet. Do you feel it? The stories of generations, the rub of regret and the dreams of to-come.
Speak, Dirt. Hold up your story as we plant seeds of Sorry where you thrum. We’re ready. Dream-tell of a nation that carries One people. Dirt on skin on dirt.