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.”

The Sacrifice: part III of the ballit

All quiet in gentle slumber lies she, dream wrap’t, serene;
Gossamer veil shyly caressing breast and nipple;
As her very breath brings sweet disorder,
To hair now coyly playful, woken from its rest.

She sleeps on heedless, so it seems, but then,
Heedless of her mood, demanding nipples wake,
As to touch of silk; hardening they rise and breasts,
Gently swell in harmony with a murmured sigh.

She stirs, her movement wakes the night,
Where bardic lover drifts in reverie;
Conjuring softest melodies to wake the soul
Of those who long to hear his magic lay.

On strands of starlight glow he travels,
Seeking, ever seeking, that which desire,
Tells him awaits, where night’s velvet folds
Meet dream-conjured shore.

And there she lies, where phosphorescent sea,
Meets white crystal sand, and gently, gently
Lap the wavelets; where all is quiet, save for
The whispered longing of her heart.

Sly now, the bard motions with his fingers,
Plucking magic’s tune from scented air;
Notes of purest light around her ankles bind her;
Her breathing quickens, lips part in silent sigh.

And still with magic would he bind her,
Calves, thighs, the notes more urgent now;
The melody ensnares her sleeping senses,
And rapture now begins her siren song.

Like butterflies, the bardic fingers fly and flicker,
Swift at first, now slow, a stately minuet,
He conjures, around her navel dancing,
The light fantastic, as hips unbidden move.

And now, now the music quickens, fingers
Drawing rhythm from breast and belly;
The adored one stirs, lips parting,
As the wavelets of her dreams begin to rise.

More urgent now, they lap the shoreline,
Rising and falling with the tune,
Cadence, chorus, cadence, rising, falling,
Fingers soft as moonlight pluck at her soul.

Emboldened, bardic fingers pluck bravely now,
On Ishtar’s yielding hill a merry tune he plays;
Stroking, teasing, rhythm ever faster,
Waves louder now, rising to the moon.

With gentle strokes her cunny thus he teases,
To tempt the Goddess from her curtained bower;
He smiles, she moans, the Goddess quickens,
Yearning for touch of finger, for lover’s breath.

And now he draws aside the curtain, the Goddess,
Swollen now with longing, begs for his tongue,
Or any sort of worship – legs strive to part,
But bardic bonds bind fast, the sea rises.

Then, then, sweet rapture as fingertips,
Hard and smooth from tunes upon the strings,
Of lyre and lover pluck and stroke,
The Goddess from her sanctuary to entice.

The waves now sound a paean of triumph,
Victory in sight for bardic skill;
But look, the starlit bonds are broken,
Legs part, hips rise, breath quickens.

Breakers now, where once wavelets lapped,
Breath harsher as the bardic draws,
His swollen baton softly o’er her eyelids,
As fingers hold the swollen Goddess in their thrall.

And then, then, the sleeper wakes, thrusting
Hard with hands at lover’s chest;
She mounts him biting, kissing, moaning,
The Goddess must be appeased.

Crashing waves now would smother,
The sounds of her ecstatic release;
Her muted scream as bardic lover offers,
The sacrifice to Ishtar’s handmaiden.

Wet now her cunny, soft again her breasts;
The bard moans, and smiles; lips part,
As in supplication he offers a tender kiss,To Ishtar in her sacred bower.

The Dream: part II of the ballit

In soft of night, he wakes; gently roused from slumber
By visons which, like scented mist rise, and curl,
Like hair that is by lover’s touch caressed.

The magician bard stirs in velvet dark, naked, smiling;
His eyes part the curtain, star-pierced, the sky,
Becomes a pathway for his thoughts.

His thoughts soft whispers then become; yet unheard
Except by she, who languid in the scented night
Waits for that she knows is yet to be revealed

The playful one – this bard who keeps an ancient truth –
Stirs in his bed and with breath as gentle and as sharp
Her languid breast he teases into wakening

And though in truth so far from him, she feels his touch;
Nipples rise in union with his playful lust,
And then her toes his magic seeks.

Soft, soft, she feels him, stroking fingers drawing sounds
From within her very being; her heart begins to sing,
The paean of women through the ages

Soft at first, and faint, the murmured cadence, but then,
His fingers quicken, take melody from calf and thigh,
Her cunny, in all its scented beauty, sighs

And there in her sacred bower, the little Goddess stirs,
Lily-like she rises, peeking coyly from within,
Wicked fingers cease, he whispers…”Soon”

Lay the first

A cotton shift interrupts a bard and so is brought to life, a ballit of the oldest kind.

And what pleasure does the balmy air of autumn bring,
When breezes soft caress the thoughts and sing,
Sing low of nights of scented air,
And touch of lover’s hand?

Look yonder, over there
A vision walks, dream-floated
Into view, her cotton shift can scarce conceal –
From he with eyes to see – a want, a need, scarce real.

Yet there the bardic soul (he who sits and watches from the shade),
While deft fingers lift the lay his wish has made,
From strings stretched scarce as taut,
As the vision’s wistful thought.

Who knows, who sees, who feels,
Who smells in cotton’s grip the flower,
That longs to bloom to please those with soul to view,
And wilt when spent as lilies in the night, its vigour to renew.

Ah, see, at last she turns her head, perhaps she’s heard in song,
The promise of the bardic soul to make her strong
Yet soft, soft, soft as swelling breast,
That moves beneath her shift.

Look, near to him she draws,
In purest light her hair is bathed,
Though playful breasts would show their scant regard
For any but the music plucked from heart and soul of heedless bard.

‘Kind sir,’ says she, and sits demurely nigh, the shift tucked below
The fabric stretching, taunting those without the soul to know
For innocent, so innocent it seemed
For those without a song.

‘Kind sir,” she says again,
‘You play so well. You lift me up on air
‘Of longing, yet it seems that you, sir, live on dreams. If not,
‘What strengths have you? Or are love and longing something you’ve forgot?’

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.