Poets Against the War

On March 5th, 2003 governments all around the world received a copy of the largest anthology of poetry ever compiled. Over 10,000 poems were collected from poets around the world, opposed to the war on Iraq. Australian Poets Against War presented the Prime Minister Mr Howard with poems for peace by Australian poets, as well as the international anthology. I was the Sydney convenor for Poets Against the War and organised a dawn reading at the War Memorial.

 

This is how my epic War – the Art of Forgetting’ in 120 sequences began.

 . . . I alone was preparing as though for war
To struggle with my journey and with the spirit
Of pity, which flawless memory will redraw:
O Muses, O genius of art . . .

                        Dante, The Inferno, Canto II

Afghanistan                                       

The US commander of Operation Swift Freedom, General Mattis, said:
The marines have landed, and now we own a piece of Afghanistan. The New York
School of Ballet could not have orchestrated a more intricate movement more flawlessly.  (Sydney Morning Herald, 28.11.2001)

 

On the edge of town, emerald fields flatten the river valley
fighting bare vertical mountains. We leave as the curfew lifts
it’s still that early liquid cold, passing a tent beside the road

 

noises hook our curiosity, look through the canvas flap on a sawdust ring,
iron bars, a boy, younger man and older man (from Fellini’s La Strada),
muscles pumped – acrobats at morning practice

 

swinging on a low trapeze, loop elliptically like mortar shells
landing with a thud on shoulders just feet away
somersaults impacting intimately, film of sweat, muscles

 

twitching an acoustic of breath – argument for style I concede,
muscle’s rhetoric not the eyes concentrated, typically ignoring us.
Technique reconciles left hand with right, heaven with earth.

 

Have they all landed safely? The dust motes spinning the sharp
winter light shafting through a gap in the canvas, gnostic bosons
unique as grains of sand, angled to hit the ground.

 

The Mekong Delta

 

An itinerant lifestyle is suited to the delta

and its two seasons, wet and not so wet

with floods that enrich the soil and wash away

the bridges, 70 of them in 73 kilometres

loaded with refugees from the floods

and the funerals beating their drums.

-Three traffic accidents litter our way

and concrete blockhouses distressed enough

to be French but hurried American,

the war is as distant as the Loboc river.

Mangroves then palms and mud skippers

roaming the sweaty canal banks.

-On CoconutIsland our path meets

a beekeeper who lifts the frames one

by one, looking for the queen,

takes our hands and fingerprints

the honey taste from small bees

who refuse to sting – warning us of rain.

-I hear his eight year old daughter

sighing through a gap in the concrete

her photograph inscribes the tomb.

Well, what do you want to be?

the guide’s friend says, ‘teacher,

revered even more than a mother.

-The Coconut monk, named for his diet

studied science in France, found God

as the second war ended, imprisoned

repeatedly for preaching peaceful reunification.

Jesus and Buddha appear together

in his rusting theme park facing Mytho.

-It’s so quiet you can still hear the patrol boats

their powerful . . . engines,

and when they have passed

kids jump into the caramelised waters

as the cameras click and the fishermen

gripping their nets turn away from us.

-Clumps of water hyacinth drift by -

the souls of women who have led bad lives

or suffered bad lives, with language difficulties

I wasn’t sure.