Questions A Queer Muslim Boy Googles

when I hear half of this country
supports banning Muslim immigrants:
what about those already here?
must I send half my family away?
where will they go? it is reliably reported
the world is on fire & the smoke of it
is beginning to sting, to smother,
to make demons of us.

when I hear the government elected by just enough
wants to determine for everyone who can marry
legitimately: do I have to ask permission to love
myself or only others? who will answer?

when I hear the government elected by just enough
has not asked permission before jailing
refugees who look like me & have names
like mine: how long do I have before
they put me in a camp, too? how long god
will you be there with me
before your ninety nine names become
numbers?

when I hear people measure trauma
by statistics, by corpses, & I am
scared this healthy flesh is dead
inside: when did we stop counting
the spirit? look inside these bodies,
the mathematics of despair is staggering like

I am staggering desire into acceptable
parts, manageable bites. My eyes
are not bigger than my stomach,
I can swallow even men.

when I learn wanting is not prohibited by
god, just fucking men, & only then
if there are four witnesses:
where are my four witnesses?
will they come to my house tonight,
watch me feed men & be fed?

there is enough for all of us.

when I learn god
has borders & my passport is unworthy:
how do I bless my passport? I tried
soaking it in the rain. I let a horse huff
its hot breath on it. I kissed its worn
pages. Ya Allah, it is coded with my finger
print, and will never be holy

no matter how much I wash my hands.
And I never stop washing my hands,
these torn flowers           someday
will bloom again       I tell myself
as I am too afraid     to ask the question.

 

 

Saturday Stories: Heat, Poems, Passion, Religion & Rage

So, I’ve decided to share a few more stories this Saturday. To recap the purpose of this: these are the stories or poems or articles I didn’t end up sharing during the week, or which have only just come to my attention and would make for some interesting weekend reading.

1. 2014 Was The Hottest Year On Record – NY Times.

This is a fairly straightforward read, but in terms of importance, has to go straight to the top of any pile. Articles like this should be on the front page of every newspaper in the world. Every movie and TV show and song should begin with “by the way, we’re literally running out of time to avert cataclysmic climate change” so that we all collectively have to deal with the fact that we’re hurtling toward a cliff.

2. Musa Cerantonio: Muslim convert and Radical Supporter of Islamic State – John Safran

This is an interesting story about an apparently notorious radical preacher, Robert “Musa” Cerantonio, an Italian-Australian Muslim convert. I say apparently only because I’d never heard of him. He was recently living in the Phillipines before being deported back to Australia, apparently due to his radicalism, where he now lives with his mum and family in suburban Melbourne. This story doesn’t interest me because of his Islamic beliefs, or because of IS, the logical dissonance in his opinions or even the way ASIO tried to lean on him — this story interests me because of his family. His metal-loving brother, Nicholas, his fantasy-reading brother Steven, his put-upon mother who works as a cleaner at a medical centre, all of them living beneath the same roof, laughing, not just able but willing to accommodate their differences in belief and lifestyle. It struck me as so very beautiful, and human.

With that said, when the piece deviates from Cerantonio’s life, Safran’s opinions intercede, which soured the whole thing for me. I say that because Safran succumbs, as just about every Western writer seems not just willing but eager to do, to the idea you can hold up an individual as a standard bearer for a way of life, or for a religion. His view comes through in lines like the “regular hippies in the Q&A audiences who insist religion has nothing to do it” and the revelation that without a troubled upbringing to point to, “the explanation for Musa is a difficult pill to swallow. He believes.” Yep, it’s that pesky religion all right. Actually, the explanation for Musa is that he’s an idiot, but hey, that’s just my take on it. In any case, it’s certainly an interesting article, well worth a read.

3. Mike Rowe On Why Passion Isn’t Enough

This is a great read, in which Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” responds to a fan who questioned his declaration that ‘follow your passion’ was the worst advice he’d ever received. His response is interesting and articulate, highlighting the problem on an individual and societal level. For the former, he says:

Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though it’s wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?

And for the latter:

Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

It’s about hard work, about ugly work, about doing what needs to be done, yes, but despite that, he’s not advocating you abandon your dreams. Do everything you can to attain them, work your ass off, and if you’re talented enough at it, you will succeed. The key thing is to interrogate yourself, your aims and progress – to keep yourself honest. How long must you keep almost-drowning before you recognise that swimming isn’t your strong suit, and that maybe you should try something else? Just because something isn’t what you want, doesn’t mean it won’t meet your needs.

4. The Republic of Islamophobia – Jim Wolfreys

This is a truly outstanding essay which provides a thorough context to France’s relationship with Islam and immigration over the course of the past few decades, a relationship which has been thrust into global spotlight following the Charlie Hebdo attacks of a week ago, but which has mostly garnered only the most superficial of reporting. This essay is a truly necessary antidote to most of the nonsense being circulated in the media, and a deconstruction of far-right politics and strategies being employed not just in France, but all over the world. A must-read.

5. Behind Anonymous’s Operation To Reveal Britain’s Elite Child-Rape Syndicate – Patrick McGuire

A chilling read about the rape of children and human trafficking as practised by British VIPs and prominent politicians/world leaders.

6. I Sought Solace In My Bookshelf – Daniel Josè Older.

Daniel Jose Older is an excellent writer, and here he explores the events of recent months/years/decades which culminated in the outcry of BlackLivesMatter, the necessity of which by itself is an incredible indictment of society and its comfortable acceptance of the murder and oppression of minorities.

And so, in the midst of a historically rooted, state-sanctioned attack on black lives, everyone from the president to the very police department responsible for Michael Brown’s death has demanded protesters avoid violence. This is like a pyromaniac telling a fireman not to smoke a cigarette.

7. Lines Written On A Splinter From Apollinaire’s Coffin – Paul Violi

I didn’t want to end on another depressing issue, so here is an utterly gorgeous poem as a palate cleanser. Read on, I promise it’s worth it.

Thursday Poem: Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Thursday rolls round again, and I am on hand once more to talk about poetry. This time, I don’t have a poem to share online – I read from an actual book of pages, if you can believe it, Derrick C. Brown’s Strange Light – but I started reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass again, and I have to talk about it. I started reading it some time ago, but stopped, as I am liable to do at any given moment and flick to any of the other half dozen books I’m currently in the middle of finishing. Sadly, however, I didn’t return to it.

Then, last night, in honour of Robin Williams, I watched Dead Poets Society again and Whitman is quoted liberally in the film. So this morning, I picked it up again. I’ve picked up a habit recently of writing out any quotes or passages from books I can enjoy – partly because I might write about it later, and so it’s of practical use to me, and partly because writing out great passages is both joyous and instructive. Ray Bradbury used to say that’s how he learned to write best, he’d write out whole chunks of his favourite novels, and thereby ingest some of the internal rhythm and structure of beautiful writing in an organic fashion.

So, as I began to read it, I started writing some of the things down. Very quickly, quotes became paragraphs, became whole sections of pages and now I think I’m hitting a point where I’ll have to stop, lest I transcribe it in its entirety. My goodness, this book is something else. I am not reading it; I am experiencing it – it’s like feeling someone light the stars in your universe, like a constellation map of my soul. He knew. He fucking knew, and wrote it down, and thank fuck for that, because in these pages – these universe spanning pages – he has written everything I hope to be, the delirious ideal to which I hold myself, to which I aspire. Of great poets, and expectation, he writes:

The land and sea, the animals fishes and birds, the sky of heaven and the orbs, the forests mountains and rivers, are not small themes…but folks expect of the poet to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which always attach to dumb real objects… they expect him to indicate the path between reality and their souls.

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Australia Day

Today, I’m taking a break from talking about writing & poetry, to reflect on my country.

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Our nation is one of paradoxes.

‘Australia Day’ / ‘Invasion Day,’ is only the first and most obvious: a celebration and condemnation rolled into one. Some of us decry the day that marked the beginning of our bloody, genocidal foundation. Others say, without a note of irony, ‘Why can’t I just celebrate my country?’

We like to portray ourselves as a progressive, liberal democracy, and yet the arrival of our first female Prime Minister saw a prolonged and vicious attack on her gender and a ludicrous, obviously biased media campaign to dislodge her in favour of corporate interests. We’re so progressive and liberal and democratic that we haven’t legalised gay marriage even though a majority, some 70% of Australians, are in favour of it.

We stand behind the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, and a growing number of American states on this issue.

Why? Because, although we like to say we are a secular nation, our politicians – even atheists like former PM Julia Gillard – stand staunchly with Christian lobbying groups and mouth, at best, nonsensical reasons like “tradition”, or talk about a “Judea-Christian culture” which doesn’t exist. At worst, they actively quote the Bible or devolve into hate speech or wildly inappropriate and dehumanising comparisons.

We also like to portray ourselves as compassionate, as patrons of the ‘fair go’, yet turn on the most needy and most desperate – refugees – to lock them away in island jails. Worse, polls suggest most Australians are in favour of crueller treatment of these women, children and families fleeing war-torn countries, countries we have more than ably helped destabilise in the first place.

There are two main components to this that break my heart: A) We are paying up to $1000+ more, per day, to jail refugees in such inhospitable conditions they will be forced to actively go back and face home-grown persecution, rather than process their requests within our community. For a political climate stupidly fixated on a so-called budget crises, you would think – in lieu of common decency and compassion – that such an outstanding fiscal cost would be enough to warrant a re-think on this issue, but no. We actively choose to pay extra just to be cruel.

B) Hundreds of kids are self-harming and are trying, or have already tried, to kill themselves while in our care. War and sustained persecution wasn’t enough to break them, but our cruelty was more than up to the task. Some of these children have known nothing but warfare; are more familiar with the sounds of bombs falling than an ice-cream truck rounding the corner, and yet still hadn’t faced such poor treatment as they receive at our hands on a daily basis.

We like to relentlessly champion our rugged masculinity and promote our binge-drinking culture, but decry the violence that spews from the resulting unbalanced-youths and the recent spate of “king-hit/coward-punches” without addressing either the underlying culture or the far greater and more insidious rate of violence against women. “Every week in Australia, a woman dies at the hands of her partner or ex-partner. In Victoria, it’s the leading contributor to preventable death, illness and disability in women aged 15-44 years.”

Unsurprisingly, this issue hasn’t received even a fraction of the media coverage being given to alcohol-fuelled youth violence, and our Prime Minister, a man with a long history of sexism and misogyny, has said nothing about it, despite also being the Minister for Women. Just writing that sentence made my head spin.

Our multi-cultural nation, ridden with racism; our progressive liberal democracy, kept consistently stagnant thanks to entrenched corporate interests and religious institutions; our beer-crazed advocacy of two dimensional masculinity coupled with hysterical disbelief to the resulting violence of young men against other young men, a violence which has been statistically falling while women are killed every day by men without so much as a collective blink.

Our fair-go mantra is a hideous joke in the face of our sustained and illegal mistreatment of desperate and downtrodden people seeking refuge. Everywhere, I see hypocrisy blighting our values. How we can say one thing and do another so often without the resulting cognitive dissonance blanketing reality with static or else splitting in two is beyond me.

Often, when speaking out about our continued systemic failures on the treatment of women, on indigenous rights, on gay rights, on human rights, people will say, “Well, if it’s so bad, go live somewhere else,” or “It’s better than fucking Sudan, right?” Yes, by all means, let’s engage in a race to the bottom. Therein lies the death of progress. Imagine if someone had said of the horse, forever and always, “Well, it’s better than walking, right?” Sure. But we wouldn’t have bothered with the wheel, with cars, or trains or planes then. With progress. And we’d have a helluva lot of shit to clean up, too.

We can always do better. We should always do better.

We can always aim higher and we always should – if it’s not being done elsewhere, we should lead the damn way. Not hide from our responsibility. Not shirk our duty of care. Not live such a blinkered existence, beholden to now, unable to look to later or constantly distracted by the latest spin.

For a nation as bountiful as ours, as stable and full of opportunity, there are no excuses. Every year, for me, this is neither Australia Day or Invasion Day, it’s just another day in a calendar of failures to move forward. Some years are better than others. Some are worse. It would seem – with a few exceptions, like gold strands in an otherwise rotten tapestry – the latter type are the trend. While that remains the case, I just can’t muster the will to care about what we call this day. What matters the label if the product is so faulty?

As the Albatross Flies (poem)

A few months back, I wrote a poem about asylum seekers for a competition. It was ultimately unsuccessful and I forgot about it.

Until I saw a post on Crikey from poet John Kinsella talking about the same issue. As well as providing his own poem on the issue, he says, “I think we’ve reached a low with the ‘turn back boats’ stuff. The situation is deplorable, and poets should be speaking out on the issue.”

Now, I previously published a poetic take on the situation several months ago on the ABC’s The Drum website but I absolutely agree with John that we should be speaking about this issue and speaking often. So here is another, newly updated.

As the Albatross Flies (circa 1788 – 2013)

The ghosts of ships haunt the horizon
of our doors-shut window-locked home.
Frayed sails hang limp on their masts
like dead flags waiting for dirt graves.

The ghosts of ships haunt the headlines
of newspapers and broadcasters. They slip behind the eyes
of media pundits and peek out from their white smiles.
You can find these lost vessels listing in supermarket aisles

and the local convenience store, dashed
on the reefs of small talk. “Reckon they can stop
the boats?” Or tow them back, or buy them off,
or fling them into space?

The ghosts of ships haunt our hoods, the creak
of seasoned wood, the hollow boom of metal hulls
rusted into shape. Walk down the streets lined with debris,
and filled with the songs sung between a mother and child

grown apart. In Cabramatta, Burwood, Auburn, Villawood,
Leichardt. In Port Douglas, Liverpool, Manchester, Dublin,
London and Cape Cod, listen to their familiar watery cries
if you can hear them above the whipcrack of war

the desperate drumming of sweat-drenched fear
the harsh caws and demented glee of shock jocks
the sweet humming of the tides after a squall
or unresponsive static to radio calls. Their mistake

not ours, to come on the ghosts of ships
and not fly as the albatross once did.
Lodged between their third and fourth ribs
weathered feathers rustle, pin-prick edges

henna-tattooing skin with aged blood
in their eagerness to be freed –
by ocean or man. by friend or foe
it remains to be seen.