Beggars on Lambton Quay

Today I will not speak of my impotent anger,
my self-inflicted indignation
when I saw yet more beggars
hunched like open sores on Lambton Quay.
I will not ask this indifferent and
preoccupied crowd
to feel pity
(enough with this pity which gets us nowhere)
for the ‘victims’ of the iron laws of economics,
or the erosion of basic social services,
these ‘unfortunates’ who fell
through the ever-widening cracks
and landed hard on their backsides,
on the pavement
outside James Cook Arcade or Cable Car Lane.
No, I won’t ask for empathy
from the hard-headed, practical crowds.
I will only ask that you view these beggars
for what they are;
the unflinching mirror image
of the society we have chosen to live in.
There in the slick and glittering windows,
a reflection,
the incongruous, squat figure and his cardboard plea,
the apotheosis of our cynical and threadbare
social contract.

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Death of a Child

Gone,
probably too soon,
though we can’t be sure.
Statisticians mark you off
on a sheet between two dissecting lines.
Between two dissecting lines
he held you,
while his giant hands of flame
went to work.
Only moments before
you had been dancing
around the kitchen,
around the garden,
around the endless hours of your brief childhood.
What do we know,
we the well brought up,
of the secret language you shared
with the other breakable things
of this world?
Large men who assassinate themselves
over and over
with a disenchanted knife,
smear childhood across the walls.
Crumple of young years
in a pile of dirty clothes,
and a terrible innocence
that claws at the survivors.
Somewhere, a brief and sharp cry,
an accustomed outrage.
Somewhere, a statistician duly records.

Refugee

I cage a ride out of Africa,
a boat packed with war-torn emissaries,
a crew of blind, leprous kids.
Behind me,
only the afternoon of a broken sun.

Here, the sea alone, is sea,
time alone, can be without hours of dread,
air alone, without the indrawn breath,
and the sky, an arc into all directions.

Out here, what is state,
or territory for the unmoored?
What is symbol?
The ocean takes us all in her abundant folds,
like a flag or a body bag.
Here, at last, we are free.

But my fellow refugees
know no other way
than how to recreate ancient animosity,
and replay the whole hopeless farce
of our scorched memory
on this waterlogged plank.

Already the society of worms
breeds in our midst,
division of skin,
and words sharpened into toads.
Already the new world is old.

Those who die,
we slip into the quiet, waiting water
and watch them float like buoys
marking the failure of our diplomacy.
We could have rebuilt a country of love
on this raft lost beyond the dry earth,

a brief paradise
between the weapons we left behind
and those that await us.
Countries and martyrs revolve
in our starved minds.
We send our dead ambassadors
ahead to shore.