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.
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