Infinite Wealth

•April 23, 2017 • 4 Comments

[Poem I wrote seventeen years ago, in one of those moods we may all have now and again as the world burns. One of those rhyming, more accessible poems that could probably be put to music.]

Infinite Wealth

They say we’re all responsible
for screwin’ up the earth,
I s’pose that’s true
as far as it goes
if you keep your sense of mirth

coz some are drivin’ four litre cars
and some are walkin’ by foot
and some are eatin’ caviar
while many can’t get chook

some can fly to Bali
just for a holiday
and some can’t even get a roof
over their heads
coz they can’t afford to pay

and some make the investment decisions
and some just carry them out
and some create useful divisions
and some have all the clout

to destroy millions of lives
with a move of their mouse
to decide to sell derivatives
and empty the family house

to decide to build dune buggies
coz ya can’t make bucks outa the poor
ya gotta feed the greed
not what people need
and you’re trapped in a revolving door

the door’s called the market
a very free system we’re told
it’s even got an invisible hand
that gives more to the rich
and leaves the poor out in the cold

but the market’s even solving that problem
by heating up the earth
so rich and poor can now both fry
as history screams in birth

of a wider human spirit
that sees the other as self
that dissolves all fearful boundaries
and shares, protects, loves, enjoys
the planet’s infinite wealth

Three Elegies for the Unknown Man

•April 10, 2017 • 3 Comments

[Recent poem. The photo of the falling man on 911 in New York is by Robert Drew, the one of the man leaping at the Gar St Lazare in Paris in 1932 is by Henri Cartier-Bresson.]

Three Elegies for the Unknown Man

1

Factory worker, student,
were you coming home
from the specials
when you smelt
the gas & guns,
heard shouting,
screaming
as slo mo as
a dream,
tanks growling
along the Avenue
of Eternal Peace,
stretcher bearers
jogging the dead
& wounded past
the shot plaster
Lady of Liberty
standing surreally
in tatters

when you nonchalantly
went & stood
with you bags
full of vegetables
before a rolling tank?

Eye to eye
with a snarling grey
machine manned
by power & fear
you invented a little
dance step there
in Tiananmen Square
in perfect tune with
the troubled turret
as it swivelled,
uncalmly considering
its options re
this plastic bag man.

Arrested, free,
murdered by firing
squad, in Taiwan,
you’re dead, alive
as a flower
in a gun barrel

2

Sitting on the steps
waiting for the bank
to open, it’s 8.15
when nature ends
in a cosmic flash
of death growing
into a mushroom
above your city
& the Human Age
begins most humanly
with chaos & crime
& all we have left
is the eternal shadow
you left to remind us
of what is utterly
beyond & real

a real a million
cameras caught
& made unreal
fifty six years later
as another
unknown
missing man
leapt from
blazing
plane-sliced towers
in New York
now leaving not
even a shadow
to remind us
of the sheer
unknown nowness
of his unknown
life

3

Were you going home
after a day’s sweat
on the road
on the line
in the office
in the bakery
on the tracks
heading through
the cold drizzle
for a pastis & fag
in the bistro
with Jean & Michel
before Marie’s
warming pot au feu
& a cuddle
with the kids

when you leaped
that sudden puddle
at the Gar St Lazare
construction site
from a supine ladder
like a gazelle
a surrealTrickster
madly echoing
the flapping poster
on the nearby fence
of Josephine Baker
dancing in bananas
& Cartier-Bresson’s
casual camera froze
that wildly
improbable moment
of joy, hope,
suspended
for ever
in the watery
mirror
of the unknowable
now

We remember the rise and fall

•March 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[Sonnet about rhythm, the beat of history-from-below and of poetry, different and linked, evolution, hope and fear… Drawing of dancing peasants in 1514 by Albrecht Duerer, eleven years before the outbreak of the great German Peasant Rebellion, brutally crushed by the nobles to the loud cheers of Martin Luther, who the peasants had thought was on their side…]

We remember the rise & fall

of the metric foot arising from the rise & fall of feet
stomping earth in celebration of fertility, war

one step forward, two steps back, choric dance spiral
plods out evolution, calamitous ascent of the race, ah

Homer’s warrior drone, Chaucer’s chop & change, Shakespeare’s rich
drive rolls through Milton, Whitman, Rilke, Neruda, as down-

stairs the roll & ruckus of class struggle, work holler, spiritual,
blues & jazz straighten spine, uplift hungry hip & heart

in sit-ins, boycotts, heads bared to fire-hose & hound,
yes, no ‘68 without chanson & rock-and-roll

no rise & fall of hope & fear in feet that move
us through history’s daily unknown drift

like leaves autumnal in the fraying wind
like Eden’s promise we cannot rescind

The Kiss

•March 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[Poem I wrote 2012. George Street is Sydney CBD’s main street. The painting The Kiss is by Magritte, 1928. My surreal and imaginary kiss happens to be between two men.]

The Kiss

A thin man stumbling
out of a pub door falling
onto a homeless man

behind his cardboard story
reaching for a pigeon
grey as George Street

it’s popped from like a
thought or puddle.
They lie a moment,

entwined like destinies,
superimposed pancakes,
then kiss like Judas,

a mother her child
the first day at kindy,
lovers weary of love.

For three seconds
the sun breaks through
the invisible net of flight

paths & five phones send
the scene to all the world’s
far-flung yurts & Vaticans.

Will some director
now shout Cut? Will
greasepaint be removed?

Have we been witness
to a revelation revealing
nothing but itself

a dream reborn
from our forgetting
opening on another life?

Scene Change

•March 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

[First official day of autumn/fall here, so here’s an autumn sonnet, plus the foggy photo I took a bit like an impressionist autumn painting…]

Scene Change

Calendar says late summer,
air the first day of autumn

this soft exhilaration
as the air shifts to silence,

cool soughing in tree tops.
Somehow the ocean’s now

present in more ways
than one. Somehow

the gentle breeze finds skin
like a seaside mother gives

her breast, lying together
under the tent of a towel

as wave womb sounds
prove some god exists.

And suffers and pains

•February 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

tragic-mask-royal-dramatic-theatre-stockholm

[The information for this poem comes from a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald: Michael Gordon, ‘On Manus, a small fish flounders’, 18-19/2/2017, p. 21. The image is of a tragic mask outside the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. Refugees or asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia by boat are kept in camps on the foreign islands of Nauru and Manus Island (PNG) where they live in abysmal conditions without any hope of EVER being allowed to settle in Australia, even if they have been recognised as refugees or asylum seekers. This policy has majority popular support.]

And Suffers and Pains

When plucked from the sea
on the way to Australia,
he says his name is Ali
but he calls himself Eaten
Fish when he draws cartoons,
like his friend back in Iran,
the one they’d taken away.

At the Manus Island camp
Ali confides something bad
had happened when twelve.

Before that he was good,
and then he became bad.

Under frequent showers
he scrubs and scrubs
until he bleeds, but
cannot remove the stain.

He wears plastic gloves
to keep him from the dirty world,
avoids touching people
and doors lest he be entered
and leave himself again.

Eaten Fish draws cartoons
of ‘How people die
in Offshore processing centre’
or ‘Happy Bloody Christmas’
when Faysal dies after falling
in the isolation centre and Ali
could feel the pain he had inside
but could not do anything
to help him.
Eaten Fish wins
an international cartoonists’
award for courage
in editorial cartooning.

The stench of ordained despair
fills the huts, turns rescued
fish into sexual sharks always
taking bites out of Eaten Fish
the diminutive young man
with long hair, soft skin,
all that reminds them
of what they now crave and miss
in themselves inside this
hot and fetid belly of the whale
built of fear and collusion
with all that is small in ourselves.

Ali is isolated from the sharks,
then returned when his
allegations are not believed.

Each time he is expected
to speak of what happened
in Iran to the good child
he’d once been, Ali collapses
in terror, and so, to coolly add
another layer of abuse,
is stamped ‘bad’,
non-refugee: deport.

Now he is on hunger strike.
He says he has no energy left
to tell us his stories, says
I think you should give me
the right to die and stop this
torture, and suffers and pains.

Towards Police State Australia

•February 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

police-state

[The post-liberal and right-wing shift in most western countries should concern all of us who care about freedom, civil liberties and human rights. This has been gathering pace since at least 9/11 and has now reached a new and dangerous level with the Trump presidency. This essay notes some Australian developments. Time to resist.]

Towards Police State Australia in the Post-Liberal Era

At least since 9/11 almost all western countries have been involved in a gradual slide to post-liberal, more authoritarian states. Some are gradually becoming outright police states. Australia is no exception, and is in fact in the vanguard of these developments in many respects.

Australia is the only democracy without a national Bill of Rights. This is also because there is almost no grassroots revolutionary tradition of autonomy in Australia at all. As a settler nation in which the government was responsible for much development, Australians in general are historically used to everything coming from above, from the government. Now this government executive is also becoming ever more authoritarian and powerful vis-à-vis the judiciary, and is actively eroding civil liberties, the moral cornerstone of liberal democracies. We are rapidly moving into a post-liberal and authoritarian police state.

Basic liberal civil liberties and human rights are increasingly under threat: the universal rule of law, the presumption of innocence, habeas corpus, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right to apply for asylum from persecution. As there is almost no resistance to such authoritarian developments, one may conclude that most Australians are either willingly ignorant of such developments, could not care less or else, like most Germans in 1933, are quite willing to trade in freedoms for the state promise of order and security.

Consider some of the details. In Australia Federal ministers are given extraordinary powers in areas such as immigration and national security. Without a Bill of Rights, the Australian system depends on these same ministers exercising self-restraint in the use of these extraordinary powers and on the quality of the people in the security agencies.

The following classic features of a police state are now in operation in Australia. The Federal Attorney-General can permit ASIO (Australian secret police) to ‘legally’ operate outside the law by conducting so-called ‘special intelligence operations’. Any journalist disclosing wrongdoing or that power has been used illegitimately in such ASIO operations may be jailed for up to 10 years. ASIO has the power to detain and question innocent people for up to a week. People can be jailed for up to 10 years for entering any area declared by the government to be a no-go zone. The government collects data on the location and activities of every Australian resident.

Since 9/11 the Australian government has enacted 66 anti-terrorism laws, a figure unrivalled by any comparable nation. These laws have transferred enormous power to the executive arm of government. Many of these measures cannot be found in the US because they would be struck down under the Bill of Rights.

According to the government’s own national security monitor, Roger Gyles, these laws are “the sorts of powers one would expect to find in a police state in which people can be detained without trail and journalists jailed for reporting on government activity. […] Australia has laws that contain ‘the potential for oppression’”.

As there is no Bill of Rights as in the US, an authoritarian Australian Trump and Bannon could rapidly change things, using these autocratic powers for their own oppressive purposes.

As Chief Justice Sir Owen Dixon said: “History, and not only ancient history, shows that in countries where democratic institutions have been unconstitutionally superseded, it has been done not seldom by those holding the executive power.

A proposal by the Attorney-General in 2010 for Australia to adopt a national bill of rights which would still have given the final say to politicians was vehemently rejected by both the government and the opposition because it had the potential to shift some power from the executive to the judiciary. The proposal had been formulated after public hearings across the country and 35,014 written submissions (27,888 for a bill of rights, 4203 against).

The erosion of basic civil rights and the increased power of the executive also pertain at a state level. Last year the Chief Justice of the state of New South Wales himself stated that there were now at least 397 legislative encroachments on three basic common law rights, including the presumption of innocence and the privilege against self-incrimination. 52 of these specifically encroached on the presumption of innocence ranging from reversing or altering the onus of proof [on the prosecution] for an element of an offence to removing the presumption of innocence for an entire offence altogether. Section 685 of the Local Government Act even renders someone guilty of a criminal offence by virtue of mere accusation by a local council.

George Williams, the dean of law at the University of NSW, also concludes:

“It has simply become common to treat a person as being guilty unless they can show otherwise. The consequences are enormous. It means that people can be imprisoned where once they would have been set free. Bail laws have been tightened, and prisons filled to overcrowding, on the basis that accusations should more readily allow a person to be detained before trial. […] we are losing something fundamental and important from our system of justice. A long-standing principle protective of individuals and the truth is giving way to a regime based increasingly upon assumptions and premature judgement.”

The increased authoritarian powers of the national and state executives are also expressed in the increase in police powers and decrease in judicial powers on a state level. In 2015 legislation in the Northern Territory gave police the powers to arrest people for minor offences (such as ‘failing to keep a front yard clean’ or ‘playing a musical instrument as to annoy’) without a warrant. The law even allows the police to arrest someone if they believe that person is ABOUT to commit the offence, i.e. essentially punish people on the mere suspicion of committing an offence. The arrested person may not even have the right to apply for bail or contact a lawyer. Of the 731 arrests made under the law in first three months of 2015, 525 were of indigenous people.

In NSW the liberal-conservative government in 2014 even simply axed the state law officer’s, i.e. the Attorney-General’s, Department and brought it under the control of the police minister, thus essentially making the police responsible for the formulation of criminal law policy rather than its mere enforcers.

The police minister then introduced a new bill for so-called ‘serious crime prevention orders’ which further eroded the judicial powers of the criminal justice system (trial by jury) and extended and cemented police powers by allowing the Police Commissioner or the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to a court for new orders restricting the movements or freedom of association even of people not convicted of, or even charged with, a serious crime for up to five years.

A second bill introduced by the same NSW police minister would allow a senior police officer, rather than a court, to make a so-called ‘public safety order’ banning a person he/she deemed a serious risk from a public place or event for 72 hours.

This authoritarian shift in power to the executive is also advanced by stimulating fear and paranoia in the general population under the guise of Orwellian counter-terrorism policies. For example, in 2016 the Federal ‘Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism’ (sic) released counter-terrorism guidelines for businesses and staff operating in what they call PMGs (‘places of mass gathering’).

Recommending staff training in spotting potential terrorists, the guidelines point to suspicious behaviours to look out for. If you have ever engaged in any of the following in a ‘PMG’, you might have to really watch your step next time:

‘continuous scanning of an area, unusual perspiration, heavy breathing, fidgeting, rubbing hands, pacing, clock watching, exaggerated yawning, avoiding security/uniformed officers […] unusual video recording or photography, working in groups, taking notes/drawing diagrams, taking measurements (pacing steps out), avoiding eye contact, […] revisiting the same location, observing but not using a public transport system.’

That such paranoia and social trust destruction from above is having an effect on the general population can also be gauged by the increase in Australia in popular self-surveillance by the people themselves, a notorious characteristic of Communist police states everywhere . The number of calls to the so-called National Security Hotline doubled from 9,274 in 2013 to 19,192 in 2014, while referrals to counter-terrorism police from the National Security Hotline grew by 548 percent between 2014 and 2015, one year after the government raised the terrorism alert level to ‘high’ and more than 800 NSW police officers carried out sweeping pre-dawn raids on 27 homes in Sydney and charged one person with plotting a beheading.

When Hitler took over power in 1933 he also retained most of the existing laws and judicial system. All Australia would need is a right-wing Trump, Bannon, Duterte or Marine le Pen figure to do the same in order for Australia to move from a post-liberal police state with some important remaining safeguards and freedoms to some post-modern form of outright fascism. Any remaining dissidents could then perhaps be shipped to the hell-hole gulags on Nauru or Manus where asylum seekers are, with majority popular support, currently deprived of their human rights and severely abused.

[All information taken from the following articles in the liberal newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald: George Williams, ‘With no bill of rights, Australia is ill-prepared for a Down Under version of Trump’, SMH 13/2/2017, p. 16; G. Williams, ‘Australia’s problem with innocent until proven guilty’, SMH 16/3/2016, p. 19; P. Coorey, ‘Bill of rights looks dead in the water,’ SMH 17/2/2010; M. Whitbourn, ‘Basic legal rights are at risk: chief justice’, SMH 5/2/2016, p. 19; ‘Paperless arrests ‘unprecedented’’, SMH 13/7/2015, p. 10; M. Whitbourn, ‘Lawyers sound alarm over ‘erosion of powers’’, SMH 15/4/2016, p. 3; H. Aston, ‘ Security advice plants ideas to limit damage’, SMH 14/4/2016, p. 5; R. Olding, ‘Massive increase in calls to national terror hotline’, SMH 20/9/2015, p. 2]