The Visionaries (For the Children of the Documentary, Born into Brothels)

Sometimes things force us to see
this life’s intolerable enchantment,
and how far we still fall short
of its primordial command
to be everything,
to be all things.

I’ve seen something that
opened me,
like a blade of sun
slicing the unready fruit,
that glistened in its pain anyway.

I’ve seen children, in the ferocity of their small lives,
clutching at cheap cameras,
showing us how much we could still be,
how young time is, even in us.

I mean the children of the ghettos of Calcutta,
of the sunless streets that
narrow the heart,
and the dead ends like so many short lives.

I mean how, against the defeated wind,
they too find a brief time to bloom
in an explosion of arrogant youth.
Suddenly this trepidation,
the ancient, anticipated song,
the shutter that falls before a fearless eye.

Each one will show us something new.
Each with their camera, their lens,
and the rudiments of vision,
goes out into their broken world
to find its unsought beauty.

And there in their images,
the depth of poverty’s heart,
the dignity of each sudden colour,
unearthed by its children.

How we feel shaken
by these brutal eyes of hope,
how we feel like all things,
like everything in their lens.

There is no Housing Crisis

Last night, it plunged as low as four,
boreal palms of air puckered my cheeks.
Gazing up, a cough-lozenge moon,
a radiant bas-relief of stars,
I could believe in something
that was almost an ideal,
a palpable purity just beyond reach.

Ah, smug stars, I thought,
in the winter you shimmer in arctic richness,
while I pile on extra sheets,
another jersey for good measure.
But I don’t dare switch on the heaters.
Since when did heat become
an extravagance
to thaw the toes of the well-heeled?

At least I am one of the luckier ones.
There’s a roof over my head,
four walls that stop
grim needles of wind at my door.
Tonight kids cough behind frosty car windows
in some shady domain,
a four bedroom home
downgraded to four seats and a steering wheel.

The government’s just sold off
another round of state houses,
euphemisms abound,
the buzzword on corpulent lips is market rationalization.
Well, the dead hand of the market
spreads its icy fingers wider over the city tonight.

Toasty speculators in suburban gold
dream of never-ending spiral staircases,
dreams that go up-up-up
to penthouses in the chandelier sky.
Outside in the streets,
old and young bodies,
(the euphemism is market inefficiencies)
roll over on their cardboard mattresses,
pull useless hats over their ears,
while the temperature drops like a guillotine.

When My Father Was A Fisherman

In the lean years,
there wasn’t much work to be got on land,
so my father took work on one of the trawlers
that fished up and down the mouth
of the Tasman Bay.

When he came ashore,
he was like something out of a
romantic sea tale,
tattered woolen hat and gumboots,

the reek of fish scales,
sleeves rolled up,
sunburnt tattoos of skulls and flames,
salt in the creases of his smile.

I thought of his fierce arms
hauling up schools of mackerel and orange roughy,
and the angry sea spittle
lashing at his leathery face.

My mother wore her fear
in the strained, tired lines of her eyes,
this is the last time, she said,
after this, you’ll get a job in
the tobacco season,

promise me.
But she was a fisherman’s wife,
and he was proud of the living
he snatched from the teeth of a
capricious sea.

The captain was a real sea dog,
a missing tooth, a glass eye,
an anchor tattoo on his fist.
He was rolling drunk most of the time
and there was a sharpening in my mother’s voice
when he came round to drink with dad.

On good days he led his boat to
Eldorado,
but on bad ones he floundered
in used up hunting grounds,
where the big boats had greedily fed.

On good days
we were down the fish and chip shop,
dad hanging his tattoos out the car window,
on display,
thumping the door to ZZ Tops,
like local bogan royalty.
But too many bad days

and mum was at the neighbour’s
begging bread and sugar,
my sister and I would go off to the school bus
in mended crutches and mended knees,
skipping the cracks in our world.

And then the day came
when the Salvation Army people
pulled up at our house.
They handed mum and dad
brown paper bags,

a bounteous and bitter charity
of cans, bread, sugar and biscuits.
My little brother snatched up the ice cream,
bare-bum, ran out back with his catch,
my sister emptied a box of raisins in her mouth,
and whistled through it like a flute.

Mum was crying and wouldn’t look
the delivery man in the face
as she pushed a choked thank you from her lips.
Dad just stood there, fists clenched,
lips tight as wires,
and I shrank back inside,
cause I knew what he was thinking.

These were the lean years,
the nineties,
when the safety net was hauled up for good,
when my family got fed
if we could catch a break from the sea.