Suffer The Little Children

Written at the height of public interest in Australia’s Royal Commission into the institutional abuse of children

For the first couple of lines I wish to acknowledge my admiration of Joe Hill, who influenced them.
Your altars are of marble, your plate of beaten gold,
But your souls are of base metal and your hearts are stony cold;
Your bells are cast of finest bronze and they peal your man-god’s name,
But all the bells in all the world can’t drown out years of pain.

Gentle jesus meek and mild, look upon this weeping child
Please let me die before I wake…

You march to your salvation, with tambourine and drum,
And say you’ll be uplifted on a day that’s yet to come;
On judgment day you will be saved, and bathed in holy light,
While those that you have raped and flogged remain in dreadful night.

Onward christian soldiers, marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus, crushing all before

You took the dark-skinned children, and stole both tongue and mind,
Defiled their bodies and their souls and left just shells behind;
You scoured the streets of England for the children of the poor,
And gave them into slavery, then locked and barred the door.

Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world;
Black, yellow brown and white, they are precious in his sight

At least that’s what your hymnals say, the ones you make them read,
To sing your holy songs of praise, to spread your blighted creed;
But all the hymns and all the psalms, shouted at the sky,
Will not erase the wrong you’ve done, and know that when you die

Washed in the blood of the lamb

Your prayers and praise of jesus’ name, your blinding faith in god,
Won’t serve to straighten out the path, the crooked road you trod;
It seems a pity, really, that one day you will die,
For if you lived for ever, you might just learn to cry.

Your father, who art in heaven;
Blackened is his name

To Ms L McC

Written after the 2017 Gulgong Folk Festival. It never did go any further
than friendly conversations on social media.

Well, at last I’ve plucked up courage,
My spine’s no longer slack;
No more prevarication,
Straight in – no holding back.

So here I go, chin tucked in,
Fingers curled and tense,
Poised above the keyboard,
And hang the consequence.

It was easier on Friday,
Before I knew your name;
I could stare and think more freely
The words more eas’ly came.

I was taken by your outfit –
Your trilby and your top –
And the cheeky way you bagged us,
The men you gave the chop.

And your face was springtime raindrops,
Gleaming in the sun;
Your smile lit up the pub yard,
And spoke of endless fun.

But then, on Lawson Sunday,
It became a little hard,
Just as I was leaving,
I asked you for your card.

(That’s poetic licence,
It had to be I fear,
To repeat the “conversation”,
Wouldn’t fit in here.)

Actually, you offered it,
For which I’m very glad,
But just before the giving,
Things went well – or bad!

Depend which way you want to look,
And how you make it twist;
If the looker’s always hopeful,
Or a die-hard pessimist.

But I’m dodging round the subject,
I’m drifting right away;
The boots that once would jump right in,
Are now on feet of clay.

You walked right up to talk to me,
But didn’t slow your pace,
And gently bumped what I’d admired,
Into a touchy place.

A sort of ero-wotsit zone,
On my middle chest,
Just above my diaphragm,
And just below the rest.

And so comes the great big question,
The reason for this mail;
Strewth, the very thought of asking,
Is making me quite pale.

Was it, I just want to know,
An action of intent,
Or misjudging of the distance,
Completely innocent?

See, I really fancied you,
I really like your smile;
The way you looked and acted,
This musician to beguile.

But I’ve never been an expert,
At signals from the girls;
I’d never ask them face to face –
The thought my toenails curls.

So that’s the reason for this poem,
This bland, pathetic verse;
To get from you an answer –
For better or for worse.

An e-mail would be lovely,
In poesy or prose;
’specially if it didn’t read:
‘You’re getting up my nose’.

But if you dialled the number Oh
Then four eight eight, five zero seven,
And followed up with four one four –
That would indeed be seventh heaven.

Literacy and the feral goat

This was written while at the 2016–17 Gulgong Folk Festival. In addition to my musical performances, I was moderator of a Henry Lawson celebration that was part of the festival and thought I had best contribute, so I dashed this off the night before. As usual, it’s rough, but as I am with recording music, I hate going back over what was spontaneous. Poetic licence has treated the people of Bourke unfairly. Since the day I arrived to perform at the 1000 Stories Festival in September, 2016 and lobbed again in November as soon-to-be managing editor of their newspaper, ‘The Western Herald’, they have shown me nothing but kindness and warmth. However, the goats do seem to have vanished. On two long trips down the Mitchell Highway since I have taken up residence here, I have seen not one. When I drove up from Tasmania for the Festival, they were everywhere.

 

“Goat abattoir for Bourke”, it read,
In letters bold and black;
The headline in our paper,
That serves the great outback.

The Western Herald’s never slow,
To print the latest news;
And this, I thought, will lift our town,
From its economic blues.

There’d been no decent crops for years,
But now with soaking rain,
There’ll be cotton in, this year at least,
It’ll help to ease the pain.

Those Dorper sheep have helped a bit,
They’ve saved the situation;
An economic boost to life,
On many a western station.

But unlike goats, those feral goats,
To whom life’s just a breeze,
The Dorper doesn’t do so well,
At climbing up in trees.

But “abattoir”, that magic word,
It made the townsfolk gloat;
An economic miracle,
Wrought by the feral goat.

You see, there’s goats in great big heaps,
Along the roads out west;
From Nyngan on they’re everywhere,
A proper flamin’ pest.

They treat the blasted countryside,
Like some caprine supermarket;
And in droughts that stiffen camels,
Goats never seem to kark it.

But since I wrote that headline,
Things have somewhat queered;
From all round Bourke and elsewhere,
The goats have disappeared.

Drive from dawn to dusk each day,
You’d see ’em by the ton;
But since that paper hit the street,
I haven’t seen a one.

And townsfolk, who a week ago,
Were glad to see me there;
Now cross the street to dodge me,
Or simply stand, and glare.

They look at me as if I’d crawled,
From some dank and smelly ditch;
And this from one young cheeky kid:
‘Me gran says you’re a witch.’

Had some superstitious citizen,
Spread the word about;
That I’d tempted fate and providence,
When I let the news leak out?

But I’ve hatched a scheme, a good one,
I’m going to lift my game;
The town on even keel to set,
And restore my honest name.

I’ll pen an editorial,
“To whom it may concern;
(I won’t pursue identity,
The name no-one will learn).

“Would that scoundrel, name unknown,
Of dubious mongrel breed,
Desist, forthwith, instanter,
From teaching goats to read.”

In a past life?

We once swam together, you and I;
In some viscous, tropic sea, aglow
With phosphorescence; corals spread
In vivid chaos, like rumpled bedding
Beneath our naked bodies.

I felt your legs brush mine; soft
As the touch of lapping wavelets and so
I stroked your stomach, watching
As your wriggled, magic sea-thing
Beckoning me to follow as you swam to shore

Where, caressed by wavelets, you took me
Into your being, rising and falling with the sea
And as you came, you cried in joy, to feel
The wavelets lap us, claiming what we’d given…

The moon smiled and earth turned once more.