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)
The forty-fourth issue of Otoliths is available, free, online. Several of the poems concern the emerging situation in the USA after the election of President von Clownstick. As usual, the issue contains interesting visual material and experiments. My own contribution, ‘Auguration,’ was a reaction to the imminent inauguration of the new POTUS. I was reading a part of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy at the time. A note in this work uses a quote from a novel by George Sand: “Le combat ou la mort; la lutte sanguinaire ou le neant. C’est ainsi que la quéstion est invinciblement posée.” Fight or die. A bloody struggle or nothingness. This is how these questions are inevitably posed.
I don’t think we will be able to say we were not warned. I watch «Star Trek». The official narrative of Earth’s past, as told from the future, tells us that in 2024, in San Francisco, there was a series of bloody riots that changed the course of human history.
Senator Cory Bernardi, Liberal member of the Australian parliament, has weighed into the marriage equality debate by saying that businesses—any businesses—should be allowed to refuse service to whomever they want. This means that, even if the marriage equality debate ended happily with an agreement of a majority of Australia’s elected representatives to permit marriage between two people regardless of sex, the question of ‘business freedoms’ would still need to be resolved. Why should anyone be forced to provide goods or services to anyone else, Senator Bernardi wants to know. It conjures up the prospect of future legislation to protect businesses from legal actions: a ‘Pâtissier Freedom Act‘ perhaps? I would like to see it, to tell the truth. Pastry chefs deserve this recognition. And those gays, they just want to have their cake and eat cock, too.
While we are waiting for these events to unfold, I’ve created a register for businesses wishing to announce they will refuse to supply goods and services to Senator Cory Bernardi. There are fairly broad options for classifying the kind of services: everything from catering services to psychotherapy to resuscitation.
I encourage you to add your business to the register, and to pass on the URL to any business-owners you think may be interested.
Please note: The registration website has now been closed. Thank you to the thousands of businesses and individuals who participated.
- Cory Bernardi says all businesses should be free to refuse service to anyone
- Freedom to refuse must be defended | Bernardi’s website
- Warren Entsch rejects conservatives’ call for ‘right to refuse’ gay weddings
- Marriage equality: Christian lobby backs legal help for businesses refusing gay couples
The numbers are important: it has been twenty years,
more than twenty years. Still, he is always home at six, exactly.
I have prepared the table, and the vegetables. Something
has been cooking all afternoon that we will finish together
later, but before that he throws his arms around my shoulders
and kisses me on the neck. We have a drink and talk.
Like all companions we have a secret language, and a world
within the outward world where characters, known only there
sub-plots, imaginings, laughter, have private lives and meaning.
Then, when it is time to eat, we go to the kitchen and agree
on how to serve. Did you know that in the Bible it says
be subject to each other? It means, I think, he is first, always.
It means, he thinks, I am always first. We assess the wine.
He is better at this than I am. At this, and many other things.
I am better at the jokes, I think, but we share a taste for the absurd.
Everything and everyone is discussed. No one has the final word.
Then there is a handful of hauntingly beautiful scenes, a girl
in a red coat, a crumbling beach house, the installation
of the finished bell, to be recounted later in a dream, music
and poetry piling up in a great heap of life.
For us there is nothing ever new under the sun.
In the place beyond the city where we escape
debates and news—where it is useless to mention
politics because there are no roads or pathways
and there is no right or wrong—people like us, lie down
in the grass, and for a minute there we lose ourselves
the sky too quiet to talk about, and we can be nothing
actually nothing, nothing at all, if not together, not as one.
One of Brecht’s very famous poems is ‘Years ago when I,’ written in the 1930s, and published in English by Methuen in the 1976 collection Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913–1956. It opens with the lines:
Years ago when I was studying the ways of the Chicago Wheat Exchange
I suddenly grasped how they managed the whole world’s wheat there
And yet I did not grasp it either and lowered the book
I knew at once: you’ve run
Into bad trouble.
Brecht makes a harsh moral judgement of the men of the exchange: “These people, I saw, lived by the harm / Which they did, not by the good.”
The place he referred to in this poem was, insofar as I have been able to determine, the Chicago Board of Trade, established in 1848. In 2007 the Board of Trade in Chicago merged with the Mercantile Exchange to form the CME Group.
In 2009, Rick Santelli, an editor of a business news network in the USA, famously delivered an extraordinary ‘rant,’ from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, in which he accused the Barack Obama administration of “promoting bad behavior” through its attempts to avoid foreclosures on the mortgages of nine million homeowners with the ‘Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan’. He said that people who had obtained bad mortgages were “losers” and that the foreclosed properties should be available for purchase by people who “carry the water” rather than “drink the water.” He mentioned the possibility of a Chicago Tea Party. Out of this confused nonsense the modern Tea Party movement was born.