poems
by Jeanine Leane

 

Cardboard incarceration

This cardboard prison they call an archive

is cold, airless and silent as death.

Floor-to-ceiling boxes contain voices

no longer heard yet wailing within

faces no longer seen yet still missing in

a jail of captured snippets, images and memories

among the severed heads and bleached bones

of dismembered bodies tucked tidily away in vaults

and museums and universities of the world

in the name of science

or history or anthropology or

something else trendy at the time

justifying the collection of our bits and pieces –

as the Other.

Reams of records demonstrate how you measured

our heads with every Western yardstick –

examined us through voyeuristic lenses,

scrutinised our children’s fingernails

long under microscopes to find them remarkably pale –

gawked inside vaginas where that rosebud is

pink as pink is pink

despite the otherwise hypothesised differences

between black and white

intellect, industry and capacity to settle.

We are the inmates incarcerated within

cardboard cells where every neatly dotted i,

and symmetrically crossed t screams out:

Read this Black angst against

these white pages.

 

Colour of massacre

A new century dawned and white Australians got urged

to feel comfortable and relaxed about their history.

Shake off that irksome black arm band – legacy

of radical lefties who can’t leave well alone –

their tiresome chant that white Australia has a Black history and we all have blood

on our hands. We’ve got a new song

to sing now!

Right-wing historians hummed this new tune

set about to write Aboriginal massacres clean

out of the record, history books, out

of the classroom.

There were not truly fifteen thousand Palawa people

in Van Dieman’s Land before the arrival of

white Christians. They said. There weren’t

five thousand! Only a few hundred naked savages

roamed here and a meagre hundred or so killed

in self-defence – of course.

Perhaps they were stealing?

Darker still – they were cannibals –

weren’t they? Think about it!

What happened to the remaining?

Nobody wrote it – no history of

massacres here.

Perhaps saved by Christian charity?

Blended in with the rest – maybe they died of

natural causes, or perished just because

they couldn’t adapt. The rest is hearsay – oral history’s

words in the air!

Nothing on paper – so who remembers?

The Aborigines didn’t count in numbers –

why bother now?

Nobody recorded those other syllables in time,

full of sound, fury, punctuation

of blows, blood and screams.

Wasn’t their blood red?

Didn’t their loved ones wail?

Late in the twentieth century, a population

of eighteen million, the shootings of

thirty-five settlers went down in Australian history

as the Port Arthur massacre, prompting a prime minister

who denied Black massacres to buy

back the nation’s firearms to minimise

the chance of another white one.

But, wasn’t their blood red too?

Didn’t their loved ones wail?

What is the colour of massacre?

 

Remote community

In 2007 by the colonial calendar commands

were given from afar.

Suspend the Racial Discrimination Act

for Aborigines –

they can’t handle their rights

anyway. Troops marched in,

then –

Alpurrurulam, Anmatjere,

Bathurst Island, Bulman,

Elcho Island, Gapuwiyak,

Gove Peninsula, Gunbalanya,

Haasts Bluff, Hermanusburg,

Imanpa, Jay Creek,

Kaltukatjara, Kintore,

Ltyentye, Maningrida,

Melville Island, Mirrngadja,

Mount Theo, Mutitjulu,

Numbulwar, Palumpa,

Papunya, Ramingining,

Titjikala, Tjunti,

Utopia, Wadeye,

Wurrumiyanga, Yarralin,

Yirrkala and Yuendumu –

All shoved under the dictatorship,

a remote community on Capital Hill

called Canberra.

 

Child

On a winter day, against a pink streaked sky

we walked to school.

You clung to my hand like

I knew the world.

Grey clouds hung low kissing eucalyptus blossoms –

red and green king parrots clipped the skeleton bows

of frost-glazed trees like brooches. Your peals

of laughter swirled in the chilly breeze

across the empty park.

We stopped to look –

birds, sky and flowers – but not long,

I worried we’d be late. You grew up amidst demands,

busy timetables and hectic schedules.

Now I have the time

to think of that day.

Should I have the luxury of raising you again,

we’ll stop and look at all that catches your eye –

let the day go slow – watch the sun on your

face shine gold –

hold your little hand longer.