Wednesday 21 September 2022

Poem A Present from the Past

 The following poem was written by Ruth Inglis following her attendance at the May 2011 BIHS meeting. At that meeting a stone axehead, which had been found on Bribie Island in 1935, was shown to those present. 


Today I held a fragment of the dreamtime in my hand
A glimpse of how life once was lived by people of this land
How long? Too long to count the years it undetected lay
Buried in the sand, revealed by tide and wind today.

Stone axehead held by Betty McDermid, May 2011.
It was found in 1935 on Bribie Island.
Estimated to be 15,000 years old.

Photo: Barry Clark

And as I held it time rolled back (that formless thing so vast
its insubstantial curtain dims our knowledge of the past),
I saw a black man kneeling, he was chipping at a stone
To form a sharp-edged blade - sharp enough to cut through bone.

And chip by chip he deftly shapes the stone to his design
As patiently he crafts each flake so they will all align.
The surface is like scales of fish to give a rougher grip
his hand can hold while cutting, and will not let it slip.
The back edge has been sanded - round and smooth to fit his palm,
A weapon or a tool? his knife is fashioned to cause harm.

Did the man make many knives or this, his only one?
Was it perhaps a special knife, the best he'd ever done?
Was it used to feed his family, or was it a surgeon's knife
for initiations only - the sacred act in a boy's life?

How did it come to be mislaid upon a sandy beach
Or did it fall in water, lost beyond its owner's reach?
Was it buried in a midden with the shells they'd feasted on
And accidentally dropped there, unnoticed it had gone?
Was he sad when it was missing - did he even really care
The stone is mute - its story is not one that it can share.

Written by Ruth Inglis, 2011.

We thank Ruth Inglis for sharing her poem, which she gave to BIHS president Barry Clark at the BIHS meeting on 14 September 2022.