On August 31st I was invited to be one of the participants in the inaugural ‘Words from the Surf Coast Arts Trail’ where writers were asked to respond to one of the works of art on show over the weekend of August 12 and 13.
I chose a work by artist Kylie Prothero of Black Lab Art, Torquay
entitled In the Steps of Eugenio, a reflection of my time in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines in the 1970s.
In the Steps of Eugen
1.A man walks down a path,
a disappearing sort of path,
maybe a path going nowhere,
but a path we can’t avoid.
I’m bright-eyed and just arrived in 1972,
nervous days, always the smell of Martial Law.
- You’re a tenant farmer,
snared by unjust landlords,
lockstep with Church and State,
they hate how you resist them.
- That first day we met, your ragged shirt,
under your nails, dirt, your feet bare,
left mud prints on my stair,
that you never saw,
your mind on unjust law,
children dying without care.
- Now I call that memory back
as a tide-rush up a beach,
I’ll not forget
you leaning at the table just on dusk,
your hands sketched plans in air,
and all you ever asked of me
- Fast forward on the days
you stand in court with unbowed head,
the judge complaining, looking down at me,
‘who is this foreign, meddling priest?’
- Have you ever followed footprints on a beach,
tried to fit your feet to someone else’s tread,
examined each step, scruff, skip or twist,
each print a trace of hope of fear, regret?
Who owns these steps we follow on so blindly?
- Your steps move on from court to goal,
no crime but locked up just the same
So I brought books into your cell,
King’s ‘Why we can’t wait’
ignited fire in that small space
then baton-like passed back to me
its pages stained by a farmer’s labouring hands.
- King’s words burned on the page for you
His letter from Birmingham goal proclaimed
‘I am here because injustice lives here’
Your eyes alight repeating,
‘oppressed cannot remain oppressed forever.’
- For a moment you hesitate, contained
in that small space of hope,
released you broke free,
looked back just once and smiled,
me struggling still to match my
feet into the tracks you’d left behind.
- Unused paths soon vanish,
un-followed footsteps fade.
We rush to remember that place, that time,
the saved places in our hearts,
the places we can never revisit,
spaces where we once lingered,
the friends who walked with us
who made us who we are.
Saved now for all our future rememberings