Written Words – Yolngu Matha

The words of a foreign tongue are slow to leave my lips,

the unfamiliar sounds tangling and thickening on my tongue.

I shake my head as if to dislodge the pesky mosquito-buzz of my own words

and stare down at my page again, the words slipping out of my mind already.

Dark, expectant eyes watch me intently, heads nod, lips smile as I clear my throat one more time.

“Djamarrkuli, wandi’wandi walal,” I say hesitantly, and they urge me to try the second phrase.

“Djamarrkuli, bhurrku walal dhipungo.” Children, move away. Clear some room.

Broad smiles spread around the group. “Again,” they urge. “More loudly.”

I say it again, first one phrase, then the other, more clearly than before.

I still feel hesitant, the sounds tangling my tongue, but they cheer.

“It sounds clear when you say it,” they tell me, urging me to try and try.

I shout it out. They call for more witnesses and I say it again.

It’s nothing much, a simple phrase, one of the many I need to know.

It’s the happiest I’ve seen them since I arrived in their town, their homeland.

It’s the first time I feel I may be able to speak some in the words of this new place,

of these people who have taken me in so wholeheartedly.

I brush against the immeasurable power of language, and I smile.


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