Canticle for the Bicentennial Dead

They are talking, in their cedar-benched rooms
on French-polished chairs, and they talk

in reasonable tones, in the great stone buildings
they are talking firmly, in the half-light

and they mention at times the drinking of alcohol,
the sweet blood-coloured wine the young drink,

the beer they share in the riverless river-beds
and the backstreets, and in the main street –

in government-coloured parks, drinking
the sweet blood in recreation patches, campsites.

They talk, the clean-handed ones, as they gather
strange facts; and as they talk

collecting words, they sweat under nylon wigs.
Men in blue uniforms are finding bodies,

the uniforms are finding the dead: young hunters
who have lost their hunting, singers who

would sing of fish are now found hung –
crumpled in night-rags in the public’s corners;

discovered there broken, lit by stripes
of regulated sunlight beneath the whispering

rolling cell window bars. Their bodies
found in postures of human-shaped effigies,

hunched in the dank sour urinated atmosphere
near the bed-board, beside cracked lavatory bowls,

slumped on the thousand grooved, fingernailed walls
of your local Police Station’s cell –

bodies of the street’s larrikin koories
suspended above concrete in the phenyl-thick air.

Meanwhile outside, the count continues: on radio,
on TV, the news – like Vietnam again, the faces

of mothers torn across the screens –
and the poets write no elegies, our artists

cannot describe their grief, though
the clean-handed ones paginate dossiers

and court-reporters’ hands move over the papers.

Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.