The horse moved quietly among us in the street
The giant head of this horse did not nicker or whinny
There were no thoughts behind its dark eyes when I looked into them
We talked about such horses being noble creatures but what is a virtuous horse?
It was bred to be a working animal and therefore we imagined it was like us
The horse moved away and climbed a hill on which there was a plinth
When it arrived there it adopted a fighting pose
Both forelegs tore at the grey sky
The halo of the sun shone behind the horse’s head
Immediately, the self-sacrificing horse jumped high into the light
It seemed to reach a very great height
Then, I admit I felt for a moment both sickness and fear
(I did not want to look
But look we all did, just in a glance)
The horse’s thick neck broke awkwardly underneath its fallen body
What was the ideology of the horse?
What was it thinking?!
It was tough then to look into its dead eyes
I remember it was a rainy night, and cold
For our reunion my father took me to his favorite restaurant
His Chrysler Valiant was painted pearlescent white
He drove much too fast of course on slippery roads, and parked in a dark street
When we arrived it was already very late
In this part of town theatre people, and prostitutes, were everywhere
A tall man with an ornate beard stood in the restaurant window’s light
My father was known here so, when we entered, we were seated immediately
One elderly couple had brought their little tan-and-white dog to dine with them
It was creating a puddle on the floor underneath their table
A large party had formed near us, several tables crashed together
There was laughter and shouting for more wine and bread
For a while the restaurant was a chaos of yellow light, food and noise
Tables rearranged themselves like Dodgem cars
And my father’s table crashed the party forming in the centre of the room
There were some people we knew—Susan, for example
She was relating the story of her assault on the base camp of Everest
And there was Thomas, the tiny but famous author with white stubble
I tried to listen to everyone, and even to Susan whose story I had heard before
Thomas tried to speak to me to tell me about something he thought important
I watched his mouth as it spoke to me
Then, unfortunately, Susan saw that I was no longer listening to her
She leaned forward, stared me down, tugging at her ear
Oh, Susan, I said, no one wants to hear what unrecyclables you left at the feet of the gods
So, she was hurt of course but I did not see any way of avoiding it
And Thomas and the secret he was whispering to me were gone
People had already started to leave before the lights went up
It was the time of morning bakers go to work
My father took his coat and headed out before me
He did not wait for me and crossed the road
His silhouette marched into a narrow laneway and then it turned a corner
That was where I also turned to follow after him
I found only wide, dark pools of water there
The steep road, winding along the edge of a city park, was empty
The early morning smelled shiny-wet, and he was nowhere to be seen
I walked in circles and walked in circles and then came back to where I’d been
I fell in a gutter and my skirt and shoes were soaked
The man with the elaborate beard was still standing there
Even after several hours he was still waiting though I didn’t know for what
And inside, I could see through the window the dining room being dismantled
Renovations that could not be started during service had begun
And workers were already atop of their ladders getting ready to paint
The old patron said, it’s cold outside come in
Thank you, if you don’t mind, I will use your restroom, I said to him
And slipping in, behind me, the strangely bearded man followed me
Me too, he said, pretending we were together
Behind a door from the dining room the bakers were on the morning shift
A beautiful young girl with the tray of sweets swept past me, smiling
Try, she said, and tilted the display toward me
I could smell the powdery confection under my nose
Warm, nutty and sweet, and ready to eat
And behind me the smell of my new, wet friend
His arm stretched over my shoulder to grab a treat
His beard, thin as a tattoo, sculpted into spirals, scratched my cheek
I could have fucked him then and there
It was what we wanted, but we threw ourselves into a soft sofa
In the family rooms there were other diners who also had returned, defeated
My wet friend wrapped his legs around me
I looked closely into his eyes, asking for reassurance but finding none
I kept one hand on his shaven neck and with the other painted his lips with sugar
In case you were wondering the quiet Australians
Won’t tell you what they are thinking. Their patriotic
Yowl is stifled by a kind of shame, or fear of shame
That in a plastic-colored world of money, generations
Of growth and privilege do not add up to much.
The quiet Australians want someone to wail for them
To sob about unfairness, suffering, their piece of cake
To blame, to tear down, to strategise retaking what
Was taken from the history their forebears vandalised.
The quiet Australians would stand up to be counted
If they had a leg to stand on. They would go to war
If war did not require a sacrifice they shrink from.
Fears aside, the quiet Australians sometimes speak
When martyrdom can be assured, when whistling
At a pitch that dingoes hear their words give voice
To pain they sincerely feel in the salty cracking
Landscape of their lives. There on the dusty plain
The quiet Australians cultivate contempt for strangers.
Not feeling for them, we pretend the strangers cannot
Feel. We, I say, since I am one of you and know that
Silence can be strength; I know what lengths my hate
Can go to. When we quiet Australians learn to speak
We might have something good to say. But, when?
I don’t know. I’m old. One day, I think. One day.
Sir or Madam, (which as I write it sounds really antique)
these lines began as a conversation about work, with news and images
of the maltreatment of children in the ‘justice’ system. Leviathan
has for a long time been the symbol of the Commonwealth
and a lawmaker. In the Tanakh (Job 41) this monster is a pride-killer.
So, I am only passing on the world as I see it, the job lot as they say.
There was a long gestation between 25 January and 1901.
Arriving under cover of darkness, the first work done on our plot
was chopping and clearing—not yet finished—followed by a great
deal of fucking that, in a ‘new’ country, apparently qualifies as work.
1966, when dad came to Australia he went to work in a spray painting factory.
He worked there for eleven years. After a while the foreman who was
ready to retire said dad should become the foreman. It meant more money.
He wouldn’t have to work overtime. He would no longer have to spray.
Dad turned it down. He could not write. This terrified him. He was stuck.
Later, we worked for a union and on a process line. There was a time
in a lighting factory when there was an engineer on your left and a doctor
to your right. It was the 1990s. It could have been now. Immigrants turning
screws on pieces of metal ten hours a day. The president of the union talked
about how a video cassette recorder could make movies play a frame
at a time or make time stand still. It was the 1990s. It could have been now.
Then the ‘workplace’ became a science when the continual improvement
of work could be the continuous improvement of ourselves. But
when we were waiters, when we were clerks, when we were cleaners, when
we washed dishes and when we sold shirts, we were too tired to think.
The process line workers were separate. The sales people, on the floor above
didn’t move, didn’t eat, didn’t smoke between the ringing of bells.
They had a different clock. Sometimes a person on the process line
would be given a promotion and leave the factory floor to work upstairs.
He would be trained in sales, arranging deliveries and acquiring new business.
He got a new haircut. He could see the sky. He wore shiny shoes.
These promotions were only for certain types: men without accents.
The owner was the main man at a football club. He had a promising junior
player working on the floor above. I say ‘working’, but he did fuck all
and spent his days sitting in a toilet and reading the paper, like a champion.
“The spot chosen” “at the head of the cove” “near the run of fresh water”
“the stillness of which” “for the first time since the creation” “interrupted by the
… sound of the laborer’s axe.”
Little children are sacred. Everyone agrees.
In order to protect me, a national emergency
cordons off one million three hundred and forty-seven thousand
five hundred and twenty-five square kilometres and
brings justice by taking my father’s land
a second time. I was inspected in the morning
and forced to speak English. I practiced this
new language counting times the law mentions land
and times it mentions me: six hundred to none.
Irony bridges what was said and what is done.
My people were the first here but I have no union. I am thirteen.
I spat in the face of the whale that threatened to swallow me.
The old men who put their knees in my back want to kill
my pride. When I am abandoned by my country
I am the Pip spat out in the desert, castaway and lost.
Could you use your vote now to put a hook in this monster’s nose?
Does it speak to us in gentle words or tell us to work and shut up?
Will it make us beg for mercy? Will we have to fight again?
Nothing in our dreams is its equal. It swallowed me up
and I wait here for the ones who made the law to free me.
Sincerely, from all of us
(a wog, a Welshman, an immigrant, and those kids in the centre)
I woke this morning from a dream in which the future
had been laid out before me like mathematics. All the assertions
of economists and other soothsayers about the sickening movements
of markets could be denied; and everything will be denied
everything—except that two plus two equals four.
The animal used in this auguration was the self-acting mule, a machine
that has arms and pincers, and can be made to perform
routine tasks tirelessly, without complaint except that it might
give a kick now and then. This animal, this algorithm without feeling
has been shitting in our society for years—and now we have found a use for it.
The dream did not turn out at all how I expected it to turn out.
That is how you know dreams have turned into nightmares.
We are all going to find ourselves crouching in a dark space
not together—that is, not acting in unison, as a group—but separately
and individually responsible in the fight that is coming.
The rulers, however—the presidents, governors and the rest—
who have always united for the purpose of our repression and
do not like to share any ground with other people
will be onboard their yachts and planes at the crucial moment
when promises are made and broken in the same breath, and things fall apart.
It is just then that the failure of truth will be its own punishment
and facts will stand out in stark relief, like someone screaming
on a cold night. It will be fight or die. A survivor will be left standing
covered in blood and it will not seem proper to talk about right or wrong
because some questions have always been answered this way.
Note: This poem represents ideas in ‘Chapter Two: The Metaphysics of Political Economy, Part 5’ of Karl Marx’s «The Poverty of Philosophy».
Published in Otoliths, 1 February 2017.
There have been reports of a ‘mountain lion’. The danger
that came down from a reserve and waited crouching
in grey grass at the side of the road had eyes
emitting rays to hypnotise hunters and children.
The announcements paralysed us. We did not think
that in our despair we gave everything we owned
to the rich and scientists who perfected lying
for theorems whose only purpose was deceit. The voters
got up to no good at night in parks set aside
for the betterment of us all, dressed up as crazy beasts
as celebrities, symbolists and as fortune-tellers
and let the animals loose. In Celebration Park
there are no super-heroes, and not even any heroes
in this dire plot: we are the wildlife, it is our nature
stripped and bare-ass naked. There is a map for everywhere
except the private places of a few who can afford silence.
When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their ántique pen would have expressed
Ev’n such a beauty as you master now.
Neither gods nor nature suffer our insolence to be unrestrained.—Sonnet 106
And, so, they made a plan to humble our pride
and improve our manners. To diminish our strength
they cut us in two, and gave us, each, a neck that could be turned
to contemplate the part of ourselves that was lost.
Through this we were to learn humility.
—the fable of Aristophanes
- «Chronicle of wasted time» [contents] | October 2016
- People like us | August 2016
- [There lies Peter Clutterbuck now] | June 2016
- [Years ago, when I was reading] | June 2016
- Sr Pessoa | September 2015
- Protected: The rays from my eyes | August 2014
- [cathedrals in their middle age] | March 2000
- the dear departed [lovers that have gone] | March 2000
- In museums of beautiful art | November 1999
- Dinner at Whistler’s | June 1999
- The whole truth | April 1995
- Flowers for the dead | December 1994
- Exposed | December 1993
- Middle life transcribed for ’cello | December 1993
- Fentham | December 1992
- Advice to myself | February 1992
- Prayer | April 1990
- [Ask as if to extract admission] | February 1990
- [When he is leaving] | March 1989
- [Mostly there is just this] | February 1988
- Love | February 1985
- The king of hate | January 1984
- The breach | January 1983
- Egg | January 1981
Poems in this book have been published previously in Family Ties: Australian poems of the family, Melbourne Chronicle, Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets, Overland, HIV Here and Now and TheBody.com, The Oxford Book of Australian Love Poems, Perseverance Poets’ Collection 1991–92, Walking the Dogs: the Pariah Press Anthology, and on ‘A First Hearing’, ABC Radio.