The Diggers

The rush had brought the worst kinds,
drifters, crooks, half-breeds,
men without nations or loyalties.
They’d followed the migrating gold,
the elusive, fast burning phoenix,
crisscrossing the Pacific,
not giving two hoots where they landed,
whose backyard they tore up.

These men, flung together
from a dozen sinking kingdoms,
burned and froze
in the brutal streambeds of the south,
clung to their earth, their rocks,
damned all efforts
to build an orderly colony,

poured their precious stones,
once they had them,
down the gullet of the grog shop,
the whorehouse,
spoke dangerously of rough democracy,
passed their gold
to the resentful patricians
along with their dysentery,
their syphilis,
their infectious social leveling.

And the powers that be,
fearing the civil breakdown
of this happy-go-lucky frontier
of diggers, whores and Chinamen,
imported shiploads of respectable girls,
wives and helpmates,
to entice them back to the farms,
to the serious business
of building a Victorian empire.

But they stayed away
and rode the river steamers
deeper, deeper into the interior,
where they made or lost their fortunes
in the thick silt,
in the muddy streets of the ghost towns.

For they had to take pains,
to be with their loneliness
in the lonely throat of the new country,
had to tear down
the moldered shafts of the old world,
seeking new seams,
cursing, spitting, brawling
with themselves and the earth,
so that something strong,
enduring, infinite,
could be theirs.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

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