Translated from the Ngarluma by Shon Arieh-Lerer

Pigeon Hand

The two old-faced gods spear an emu.
They carry the corpse away and singe him in the ashes,
pluck his feathers, pull out his guts, cook him.
Put him in the ashes! Put him on the cooking stone!
One big cooking stone!

Pigeon Hand is the star you see above – he once had two daughters.
For a long time he had disappeared with his daughters.
But one day he came back and gave them to the two old-faced gods,
one to each. And each god saw that his new wife was pregnant,
filled with many daughters.

They call to Pigeon Hand: “Old man, you will eat the emu!”
They bring out the emu,
lay him on a bed of leaves.
The stone is getting hot! Cut him up!

They tear apart the emu’s muscles.
“Here is the heart blood, old man.”
The cooking stone lies ready.
“Open your mouth for the heart blood.”
They push the cooking stone into his mouth.
Gulp. Finished.

He rises into the sky. He is a pigeon now.
The two gods feast on the emu’s body.
They take Pigeon Hand’s daughters up into the sky.
The daughters have become pigeons too.

Men who travel north now lose their way.
The gods have disappeared into the distance,
and the men can not find the stars in the sky.

How to Work Magic on Urine

The victim urinates.
The man watches.
Hmmm, hmmm, the man thinks.
The victim leaves and forgets all about it,
but the man walks over to the urine,
and jabs it with a sting-ray’s tail.
The evil tail
burrows into the urine.
He covers it with the wet earth
and leaves for another land,
frightened by the magic he has made.
But the victim stays in this land.
He can’t urinate.
only a drop.
He presses, again and again.
He gets the urge and presses.
He tries medicine, and a few drops come.
But the urine slows and the urge stays.
There’s a pain,
the pain grows.
He’s filled with urine.
Little drops of urine dribble.
He rests, takes medicine, comes alive again—
he’s a little better,
And then there’s a pain
and he sits down. He’s thin now.
His muscles have withered.
Now his pain will last till the end.

Parraruru, 1889—c.1975, was a leading poet and storyteller of the Western Australian Pilbara Desert. Throughout the 1960s he was one of the primary Yindjibarndi and Ngarluma language informants of the linguist Georg Von Brandenstein, who was working on dictionaries and recordings of the oral literature of the Pilbara languages. In addition to being one of the most prolific bards of the region, Parraruru was a leader of his people as well as a feared mawarnkarra (magician). His name Parraruru, means Smallpoxer as he was thought to have once cursed his village with smallpox.

Shon Arieh-Lerer is a writer and video journalist for Slate Magazine. His work has also appeared in The New YorkerPoetry International, and World Literature Today. He is a comedian, performance artist, and dancer, and has held shows at the People’s Improv Theater, the UCB, Dixon Place, and other venues across New York City.

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