Look! From out of history’s darkening skies
A kaleidoscope of amorous, witty butterflies
Comes to save us—from fatuous liars
And deceivers, from ‘fake news’ and perdition’s fires.
Welcome them, friend. Let them land
Their gaudy wings upon your hand,
Or head, or nose, or knee, or bum.
Let them flit and ‘do their thing’ until the job is done!
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 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.