Blackberries spilled through her front yard, lanterns full of dark sugar. She wore her pink skirts among the bushes till they bled. School was a different story every day: Balboa discovering the Pacific, Petrarch discovering love. When Madame Curie discovered radium she died of cancer.
Her name was Lúthien, and her feet twinkled like stars. Her name was Eva, and she got blamed for everything. Her name was Ann, and she lost her head. We use this phrase for love as well as murder. Her name was Portia, and Solomon was an admirer.
Oh, one day Virginia really did lose her head in the valentine sense, blindly. She loved everything. Her lucid hips and the way the salt ducked over the bow of her sailing boat delighted her. She loved men: they bowled straight at answers and their chins were like mown lawns. She loved women too, their smart hands, the hearts full of tiny rooms opening into other rooms.
Today she thinks: I too have such a heart. Mercedes walks a street made of billboards. She weaves a family from a spider web of compromises. Over her shoulder Madame Curie glows like a quarantined star, queasily brilliant. By that light she reads Aristotle and by it she comes home in the early mornings, stockings askew. Something hardens - anger or a barnacle. Suddenly she is always shouting. The doors in her heart close two by two by two. She loves everything, everything.
One day she will kill herself by walking into an oven with stones in her pockets.
Very busy sensing there’s nothing down the train tracks except remembering there are only five remaining speakers of Mohave. There might be a loose and rusted spike, a smashed bottle of Bud is likely if I walk long enough into picturing a basketball team of old men and women in a gym in Oklahoma bouncing an orange ball against a team made up of how the rest of the world can’t understand them. Coal trains come through here, taking across the mountains what we’ve taken from the mountains, I think this is like walking over cows while eating a burger, and feel filled up on the empty feeling night is good at bringing to me like flowers before a date. Here, night says, I brought you this bouquet of gone, and it occurs to me these are the flowers of negation the man who spent a night in a foxhole with a dead Viet Cong was handed over and over. He doesn’t talk about that, there’s not a single speaker I know of the language called “this is what it’s like to dig a hole and be alive in your death with the example of what that looks like.” Nor am I the last speaker of the language called “I will too often use crows to express my deepest self,” which it turns out is only centimeters below the surface, now that we’re trying to go metric. The gravel sounds like breakfast cereal eaten straight from the box. If night is crows touching wings somehow in place, stars their eyes and the moon a hole in the patient of crows to obliterate, only the air, with its high absorption rate for dead languages, could speak of this to the past, which I’ve been trying my whole life to get in touch with. So the last speaker of Mohave will soon be sitting on the edge of her bed, noticing for the last time the beauty of cups, the entirety of their existence the honor of holding and giving over, emptying fullness into the empty mouth, and she will whisper a word the cup has heard many times over, and when she’s dead, someone will take the cup away without putting it to their ear to listen to the last, the entire ocean of what is left of a people. They will be gone, the cup taken to a new life full of waiting for water to come. I understand that sensation most of all, feeling there should be something inside me there’s not a word for in English or Urdu or Wichita. In grunt, perhaps, in the language I’ve called “heat this blade upon the stove and press it against your forearm,” absolutely. If languages have to die, kill that one. Every time I walk it down these tracks and leave it, it drags its way back and kisses the neck of my sleep with its teeth.
“Maybe tomorrow will be the day everyone wakes up to write a poem. Or maybe just you and me, fallen asleep on duty, fallen asleep to duty forever. No one knows what will happen, but you and I at least, while the music of the murmur invents us, will have no part in anyone’s war, we will waste nothing, a signal going through us, like an inkling of god or a hunger for strawberries or the indisputable fact of love.”—
Dean Young, from The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction
Blacksmith in love hoists the 9-lb hammer, forges a coffin the size of her fist. When it cools, she sets two mice inside: bodies entwined, bones dried. She seals the box with barbed wire locks, a gift for her lover as he weeps for his sister: the Green River Killer’s next-to-last murder. Picking me up from the airport last August you drove the shortcut down Sea-Tac strip. Dozens of girls by the side of the road, bridges and brides in overgrown green. Remember the river and the names in the river. You drove for miles while I begged you to stop. That night a noise woke us, coyote or shot. Your flashlight led us through sharp grass, saplings sprouting where we’d gorged on cherries. When the stranger ran past us the sheet slipped her shoulders until she ran naked down Rural Road. This was not a dream of the river but waking life: the bloodstained mouth, a scattering of seeds, saplings crowding each other to breathe.
Your next-door neighbor was always crying. One afternoon she stood in the grass cutting her hair, which vanished as it fell into the thick of green things. In case you’re wondering, I have a web cam. People pay me to have sex and then cry. She brewed herbal tea with leaves from her garden, mint so sharp it brought tears to your eyes.
My mother is laughing in the hallway with her friends I don’t like much, maybe the numbers runner who gives me dollars to go see movies while they fuck, a mattress blocking the doorway where there’s no door. I know what’s “fuck”, and “dick”, and “pussy”. They’re “tipsy,” she says, they’re having a good time. “Don’t I deserve a good time now and then?” I’m looking through the telescope I just got from a catalogue, while they break out the Tanqueray; I don’t know what that is. They’re putting on some records, it’s 1970, Nixon’s president; there’s a dock in one song and I don’t know how to whistle, but I know what’s a dock, and a bay. There aren’t many stars because of the streetlights, it’s the Bronx, and the singer sounds sad, he’s dead. My mother says, “you know, I went to high school with him back in Macon,” and everybody says "I’ll bet," and she laughs too. I wish I was his son, I wish they’d all go home. It’s late and I just want to go to bed, but she just wants to have a good time. I turn my telescope on the Puerto Rican couple fighting, kissing in a window across the concrete courtyard, three parrots escaped from the loading dock freezing in a trash tree, it’s November, neighbourhood kids throwing rocks at each other from bicycles, my mother standing in the hallway with a paper cup of Tanqueray, or lying in the hallway in a pool of her own shit.
He couldn’t help himself; there was too much laughter in the garden, too much lightness. And didn’t everything need a contrary, a counterweight? He’d come up with gravity so the birds couldn’t return to heaven, created hairless skin so the feathered and soft-furred wouldn’t feel envy for the man he made. Sorrow, God said, sorrow. He started small, a sparrow with a broken beak, flapping at the woman’s feet. Not knowing this was something new, she sat beside it, waited for it to rise and sing. A mole came next. Then from the lion a coughing that wouldn’t stop. He thought he’d gone too far with the dog and pulled back a little, concentrated on one more way to make a beetle. Finally Adam blamed her for all that happened next and turned from her touch in their nest of yellow grasses. God knew if he weighed their hearts at rest, they’d be heavier than before. Sorrow, he said, thinking. The lily pond grew fetid, the air smelled of rotting fur. For a year Adam wouldn’t say her name.
The Australia Day Tent Embassy Protest - was one of the Nation’s gravest political security threats? A bit of an over reaction? A media beat up perhaps? Or was there something deeper going on….
The protests were sparked by comments made by the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that those at the Tent Embassy “move on” after celebrating its 40th anniversary. Some 200 activists from the Embassy traveled to a nearby ceremony honouring emergency service workers, which was attended by both Abbott and Prime Minister Gillard. After several minutes of chants and window banging, the Prime Minister’s security team decide to bundle both Gillard and Abbott out of the ceremony, where Gillard tripped and lost a shoe in the drama. Both leaders were put into cars, allowing for their departure.
It didn’t take long for the moral panic to begin. The protests were “violent” and a “shame” on the Nation, lead by an “angry mob”. Countless column inches were taken up with estimates of how far the protests had sent back the cause of reconciliation. Was it 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? Some went even further. David Penberthy called for the closure of the Tent Embassy, as did Menzies House, apparently seeing no conflict between that and their defence of the free speech rights of Andrew Bolt last year. Speaking of Bolt, he saw fit to use the protests as an excuse to call an end to reconciliation altogether. As Amber Jamieson noted in Crikey almost every major paper led with the image of a clearly frightened Gillard in the arms of personal security accompanied by headlines like “Prime Threat” or the offensive appropriation “Sorry Day” (I’ll come back to that). Laurie Oakes seized on a handful of vile comments to label all those involved in the Tent Embassy as “morons”. Meanwhile, Bob Carr had my favourite piece, seemingly having a brain haemorrhage and going on a bizarre red-baiting rant:
Anyway here we have again the bankruptcy of the old Leftist approach: throw a demo. Every time some respectable body does this – the ACTU or Unions NSW or a pro-refugee group – the same thing happens: on the street the extremists take over. The Trots love a blue, “the worse things are the better they are” and by radicalizing everyone and breaking heads it all hastens the World October, onto revolution, comrades.
Must have been pretty bad right? The black hordes attacking our first female Prime Minister like a scene out of The Birth Of A Nation, right?
Well eyewitness accounts come across quite different to those of the commentariat. Melbourne based writer Wil Wallace was able to interview Embassy activist Sam Castro, who gave a very different account of the days events:
The morning started with speeches being made at the Tent Embassy on a range of subjects until one person stood up and explained to the crowd that Tony Abbott had remarked to the media that he believed the Tent Embassy was no longer relevant and should be packed up and moved on; information had just come through that Tony Abbott was at The Lobby, a restaurant near the Old Parliament House, and the suggestion was made that the group should go there and ask Abbott to talk to the crowd and explain himself.
A contingent of about 100 protesters made their way up the road to The Lobby and surrounded it. Though they were loud and noisy they were non-violent. Security blocked the protesters from getting close to the restaurant for a while but it didn’t take long for a few protesters to break the line and soon the rest had gotten close up against the restaurant’s walls. As the walls of The Lobby are made of glass the protesters could look in and see Mr Abbott and the others pretending not to hear them and, after about ten or fifteen minutes Julia Gillard’s white jacket was recognised and the protesters realised that she was in there along with Mr Abbott.
The conduct of the police and security team is also notably different in Castro’s account:
As more protesters made their way to the restaurant, the riot police charged out the doors, practically dragging Ms Gillard along, while the onlookers began to shout “where are you going?” and “why won’t you talk to us?” As the cars drove off, some people threw plastic water bottles and water at the cars.
At this point things began to get fairly nasty; one protester was knocked into the rose bushes and one gigantic cop started brandishing a can of tear gas or capsicum spray (reports differ on this point) in people’s faces and shoved Sam, another girl and a female photo-journalist in the head.
This account is supported by-and-large by another Embassy attendee, Amy McQuire, who detailed her experience in Crikey, as well as organiser Mark McMurtie. Writing inThe New Matilda, Ben Eltham noted that 3AW’s reporter on the scene, Michael Pachi, reported that the “violence” was in fact most loud chanting, whilst participants again reiterated that they only wanted Abbott to make a speech to the crowd. While these claims are obviously subjective, the authors at least have the benefit of actually having been there, something not shared by Penberthy, Bolt, Oakes or Carr.
On top of these accounts is the video of the event. Judging by footage provide by NineMSN, it’s pretty obvious that no protestor ever came close to either leader, and that the only civilians that did were those involved in the media.
Whilst protestors were banging on the restaurant windows, this video shows that it was still far short of anything violent.
Considering all of this, it’s difficult to see how the protestors formed a credible threat to either Gillard or Abbott. After all, not a single person was arrested at the protest, and as of yet, no one has been charged with any crime. That says a lot about the nature of the demonstration, especially when you consider 20 people were arrested during the crackdown on Occupy Melbourne, which was no where near any National leader.
The reaction to the Tent Embassy protest, by Gillard, Abbott, the Police and the Media provides a uniquely raw glimpse at how the powerful view and treat Aboriginal Australians. Firstly, serious questions have to be asked about why neither Gillard nor Abbott made any attempt to address the crowd. After all, that’s what Anthony Albanese did when a 500-strong crowd (i.e. well over twice the size of the Tent Embassy protest) confronted him outside his Marrackville office in September 2011 over his comments about the Convoy of No Confidence.
Then there is the question of whether the actions of police and security were even necessary. It is difficult to claim the protestors represented any clear physical threat to either Gillard or Abbott. The threat was at least no greater then the aforementioned Albanese protest, or another recent action against Immigration Minister Chris Bowen by Refugee adovcates. Neither protest attracted any where near the amount of Police attention as did the Tent Embassy action.
But then again, it’s not like the Police have the best relationship with the Aboriginal people. Earlier this month saw the death of Terrance Daniel Briscoe, a 28 year old Aboriginal man, within Police custody in an Alice Spring gaol. The official reason given by the Police, that Briscoe had sustained a head injury prior to being locked up, amounts to little more than gross negligence on the part of the Police. Sadly, Briscoe is just one of almost 300 Aboriginal persons who have died in custody the deaths in custody Royal Commission in 1991. As Igna Ting has reported in Crikey, deaths in custody have risen by 50% since 1991 despite some $400 million dollars being allocated to implementing (some) recommendations of the Royal Commission. Between 2000 and 2009, Indigenous incarceration rates increased by 50%, whilst non-Indigenous rates increased by 5%. The proportion of Indigenous people in prison system has nearly doubled since 1991, going from 14% to 26%, whilst remaining just 3% of the population. Indeed, based on the raw statistics, Australia imprisons Aboriginal men at 5 times the rate Apartheid South Africa gaoled Black men.
And this brings me to my main point. In almost all the coverage of the Tent Embassy protest, there has been a deafening silence about the social context it undeniably exists in. The fact is that the Aboriginal people have faced historical and systematic racism that continues to have consequences and is still well and truly alive. Is it really a surprised that this occurred on Australia Day? Despite the best efforts of nationalistic apologists, it still marks the day of the initial invasion of the Aboriginal people, sparking well over a century of attempted genocide and assimilation, all for the cause of starting a massive penal state. That might just be a little offensive.
Similarly, little was said about the present day attacks on the Aboriginal people, the clearest example being the bipartisan Northern Territory Intervention. Started in 2007, the Intervention consists of a serious of policies implemented in 73 remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. There is little evidence to suggest these policy have helped these communities at all, but are more likely to have driven the people further in poverty and stigma.
Efforts to build housing has been notoriously slow, with up to half the funds eaten up by administration. Even with the program beginning to get on track, it is unlikely the Government will meet is occupancy rate (9.3 people per dwelling) without massive waste.
On top of these failures comes income quarantine. Those receiving welfare payments automatically have 50% of their income withheld and placed onto a “BasicsCard”, which can be used to purchase necessities at selected stores. The evidence suggests that the BasicsCard has had no effect on consumption patterns of food, soft drink or cigarettes. The cards can only be used in major supermarkets, hence many locally owned small shops have gone bust, whilst forcing people to travel long distances at great costs to shop in the larger towns. There is also evidence to suggest that people are pressured and humiliated into accepting the BasicsCard when they no longer have to. A study of Aboriginal women using the BasicsCard found people were generally confused about why they had been put under income quarantine, that they felt a loss of “respect and dignity”, that they believed Centrelink staff often had paternalist views of Aboriginal People and that many women had stopped reporting abuse out of fear of further quarantining. Income quarantine also uses massive amounts of funds that could be used for social services, with estimates that its administration costs almost 9 times the amount spent on aiding the unemployed find a job.
I mention these things because they must be acknowledged to understand what happened on Australia Day. The Aboriginal community continues to suffer the consequences from historical dispossession. Dispossession from the land, their culture, their wages and their families. Hence we have “the gap”, the massive disparity that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons in terms of wealth, education and health.
But the social context goes further than that. What the Northern Territory Intervention shows is that attempts to “assimilate” the Aboriginal people continues until this day. As a consequence, the racist and paternalist attitudes that justify policy responses like the Intervention are legitimised, strengthened and reproduced. This is especially the case when elements of the media are so explicitly racist. Take Mark Knight’s cartoon in the Herald Sun the day after the Tent Embassy protest, which uses genocide as a punchline. Or the aforementioned “Sorry Day” headlines; because losing your shoe is apparently on par with remembering the thousands of children stolen from their families. Both things are fine if you think the suffering of people based on their race is funny and/or insignificant.
That’s the key for understanding what happened this Australia Day. The harsh truth is that those in power, be they the Police, the Media, or Politicians, have consistently and actively disadvantaged the Aboriginal people ever since “settlement” in 1788. That’s why the Tent Embassy still exists. It’s also why Tony Abbott’s comments were so offensive and able to arouse such fury so easily, because 40 years after the first Tent Embassy, Government’s (and their megaphones in the Media) are content with rolling out policies that do so much damage to Aboriginal communities.
In such a context, is it any wonder that the protestors would be so angry and maybe, sorta, kinda actually didn’t at all harm our Nation’s leading Politicians? The fact that an action where protestors attacked no one and caused no property damage yet can still be labelled as violent displays a distinct authortarian political outlook on the world. While the commentariat cries crocodile tears for the state of the Nation’s political dialogue and the “dignity of the Office”, we should remember that these same centres of power have shown little to no respect for the Aboriginal people.
I’m glad Neil wrote this, because I am disgusted and furious about the reactions to the Tent Embassy protest. People who think that Aboriginal people have no right to be angry and should all “behave” so they don’t alienate us from their cause. The conservative tongue clackers (especially those that dare call themselves left or progressive, what a joke) are not helpful to any cause but that of white assimilation and watered down rights that are centuries overdue.
Neil clearly demonstrates here why people have a right to be angry and how little has changed for the better. Why shouldn’t some Aboriginal people be extremist about their rights? Let’s remember that in other countries, extremist means actions like suicide bombings. Instead we have an epidemic of Indigenous suicide and a small protest being called a riot.
I want our leaders to cower and be afraid, because no matter how many protests we have, nothing changes for the better. There are also a lot of people up in arms about the Australian flag being burnt. Really, if you’re more upset about a flag being burnt than you are about the injustices Neil has outlined above, you are someone I wouldn’t even piss on if you were on fire.
“DO NOT EMAIL PEOPLE PRESSURING THEM TO RESPOND TO YOUR EMAILS
When interacting with someone, or thinking about interacting with someone, assume that your existence does not benefit them, that they don’t want to interact with you, that interacting with you is not one of their evolutionary or existential needs. Doing this will cause you to be more considerate, more inclined to improve yourself so that you may become more desirable and have a larger chance of being reciprocated, and less likely to resent the other person when they don’t reciprocate your affection or communications in an equal or—in especially belligerent cases—greater manner.
Be aware that if someone has not responded to your email or Facebook message they either don’t want to or simply haven’t done it yet, naturally and without ill-will, due to the nature of time and space, that one unit of matter cannot occupy more than one space at one time and that time is unidirectional, which results in “having priorities”—an unavoidable method of existence for non-schizophrenic humans that, in its more deliberate forms, is inherently considerate, in part because it decreases the chances of misleading people. Be aware that someone may not respond to your email even if you are amazingly considerate to them (via never pressuring them to respond to you, continuing to support their endeavors in a non-pressuring manner by participating non-pressuringly in their projects, never expressing or implying they’re causing you to feel sad or lonely or abandoned or unimportant) for 15 years after sending your email. If this happens do not feel negatively toward the other person; try to focus on liking someone for reasons that aren’t “because they like me” or “because they’re giving me attention.”
Accepting non-reciprocation quietly, without suddenly and nonsequiturly “hating” the person, is not only considerate but also productive, in that it’s probably the most effective, if not the only, way to “convince” the other person—some day, maybe, in some form—to sincerely reciprocate. If you feel jealous of who or what has been prioritized over you, or if you begin to feel resentment toward the person who isn’t reciprocating your affections, then you’re operating on the assumption that you own someone or that you’re defaultedly owed things and are being “cheated” out of those things—that the other person, or the universe, is “wronging” you. Behaving in this manner is illogical (in part because if people owned what they desired you would need to continually relent your desires to be someone else’s possession) and will cause people to dislike you and want to disassociate from you, increasing the amount of emails you send that receive no response.
“I knew from the first or second time we drank that I’d always remember the way liquor brushed her face with the seamless colors of autumn, as if she were home from a day of sun, eager perhaps, to see me. With calm eyes she often told me about her dreams. Sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes morning, or many days after. I was always featured. She said it took time to find the right memory of us to combat the perception of me her mind forged in sleep. I was a fascist, a petty tyrant, or a frightening hobbled animal that spoke in translation. I was anxiety materialized. When she found the right memory of us, of me, to pit against the form I took in her dream, she would let the two loose in a back room of her consciousness. She was the only member of the audience, a position that put pressure on her, and a burden I couldn’t share.”—a hum by spencermadsen
I have been a bee-keeper for six thousand years And for the past hundred years an electrician. Once I retire I shall keep bees again. Something should hum for me, oh hum for me, Hum and hum and hum Just for me.
not the bone between my elbow and my wrist that sometimes aches from breaking years ago
and not the plumb line from the pelvis to the knee
less ache than hum where in my nineteenth year a knife blade slit through nerves and nicked a vein
leaving the wall intact the valves still working so the blood kept flooding out till Eleanor a nurse on evening shift
opened the wound and made me whole again.
I have no words for chambers in the heart the smaller bones the seat of gravity
or else I know the names but not the function: ganglia the mental foramen the hypothalamus the duodenum.
Once in our old school library I took a book down from the shelf and opened it to stripped flesh and the cords of muscle ribbed and charred like something barbecued
the colours wrong the single eye exposed: a window into primal emptiness.
I sat for hours amazed and horrified as if I had been asked to paraphrase this body with the body I possessed: hydraulics for a soul cheese-wire for nerves a ruff of butcher’s meat in place of thought.
I’ve read how Michelangelo would buy a stolen corpse to study in the dark the movement of a joint or how a face articulates the workings of the heart
how Stubbs would peel the cold hide from a horse and peer into the dark machinery of savage grace
but I have never learned nor wished to learn how bodies work other than when they move and breathe corporis fabrica
is less to me than how a shudder starts and runs along the arm toward the wings that flex and curl between the shoulder blades
- so I will lie beside you here unnamed until my hands recover from your skin
a history of tides a flock of birds the love that answers love when bodies meet
and map themselves anew cell after cell touch after glancing touch the living flesh
revealing and erasing what it knows on secret charts of watermark and vellum.
A little more than a week ago a friend of mine suggested that we do a cover of The Weeknd. The idea was definitely a stretch for me but I figured it would be an interesting challenge. The end result of our version of The Weeknd’s “The Morning” is like a forensics TV show soundtrack mets sleezy lounge jazz mets saskatchewan. I hope you enjoy.