A Poem & A Note

This morning, I was reading news about the “caravan” of desperate people trying to reach the US for asylum, and how Trump referred to their possible arrival as a national emergency, not because a nation should urgently respond to those who need its help, but because “Middle Easterners” are among the refugees. I am as familiar with this rhetoric as I am with breathing. It has been used in Australia these past two decades to justify the indefinite detention of thousands of innocent people, the expansion of police powers, the destructive and violent presence of our armed forces overseas, and so on. I am familiar with the spectre of my body and the spectre of my faith being used in service to extraordinary cruelties. Something about these kinds of arrivals triggers a fanatic, hysterical zeal in White people, and not just the consciously supremacist type, so this morning, I wrote a poem about it.



It is a national emergency
when people with faces
(like mine) seek refuge.

Nobody likes the desperate.
Nobody likes the poor.
How we abhor the wounded.

I understand the emergency.
If my victims asked me for help
I too might be alarmed

at the assumption of humanity,
the incontestable knowledge of theirs,
provoking an intangible attack

on everything believed before,
on all the lies told,
on all the invisible walls built,

registering in the moment
as a panic, a rising
heart rate at the sight of a face

(like mine) and the thought,
I do not deserve to save anyone,
that is a hero’s work and we

are no heroes.
Or maybe, once they are inside
nothing will stop me

from loving them, and God,
look how I’ve already failed
those I love. Or, less

poetically, these brown people
are monsters for making me feel
like a monster, for wanting

them to die quietly somewhere
else and to never speak
about the price of our comfort.


Sometimes I wonder why I bother, whether literature of any kind can make a difference against the kind of sustained hatred I see every day. I’m currently working on new fiction, thanks to the support of the Copyright Agency through an IGNITE grant. In fiction, as in poetry, I will explore all the things that have made me who I am. I didn’t read poetry growing up, I read novels, so perhaps here, in the building of a detailed world, a more immersive delving into self and narrative, I can reach more people and feel less alone in the midst of this increasingly routine hate.

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