Even now I see him at it,
up late working at his screen.
deleting, adding, printing off,
remembering where his party’s been,
the arrows swooping up and down,
this closing on ‘a form of words’;
some dark survivors of those years
are called to back-rooms to be heard.
He knows it can’t now not be done
for each side must improve its dreams.
‘Half-caste’ children were ‘removed’
but nothing quite deletes the screams
that mothers and their children made.
A staffer’s shown him fathers’ letters,
ill-spelt, to the ‘Great Protector’
who thought such brats should serve their betters
by donning pinafore and cap
or mustering more distant stations —
girls and boys, well-trained and smiling,
as per official illustration.
He praises, too, the pioneers
who bore two wars and a depression.
People did the best they could;
let no one form the wrong impression.
He mentions his own father briefly,
taken from a teenage mother
despite her being white as white
and offering no sort of bother.
Pressure from some dour backbenchers
prevents his growing sentimental;
he points out lives were often saved
by being quietly departmental.
He mentions, too, the alcohol,
the sniffing and the child abuse,
the need for trucking in police
and experts who might be use.
He knows his team must be ‘on board’
though no one’s really running scared.
‘A form of words’ not money is
the most the government has dared.
He knows the party room complaint
about their stainless generation.
‘We didn’t do it! Why should we
disturb the sweet sleep of a nation?’
Yet somewhere still the words are waiting.
He knows if it were done to him
the pain would ruin sleep for good.
There’d be no sort of requiem
that might in any way console.
How is it that he feels so stirred?
Deeds are more important, yes,
but first he has to find the word.
Geoff Page is a Canberra-based poet who has published eighteen
collections of poetry as well as two novels, four verse novels and
several other works including anthologies, translations and a biography
of the jazz musician, Bernie McGann. Selections from his poetry have
been translated into six languages. He has also read his work and
talked on Australian poetry throughout Europe as well as in India,
Singapore, China, Korea, the United States and New Zealand.
His most recent works in print are: Agnostic Skies (Five Islands
Press 2006), Lawrie & Shirley: The Final Cadenza (Pandanus
Books 2007), Seriatim (Salt 2007), 60 Classic Australian
Poems (UNSW Press 2009) as well as the CD Coffee with Miles
(River Road Press 2009).