Long Poem #2: Grasslands


LONG POEM

Grasslands
(for T.S. Eliot, 'the greater artisan')

I. A Fish Rots From The Head                                                                                 [1]

Slowly glides the Clyde, smoothly slides the tide.
The Wealth of Nations, 'an invisible hand';                                                                 [2]
The Stealth of Nations, and 'a promised land'.
Secret Ricardian rythms,
Silent Malthusian-isms,
Mute the tolling bell.
The bell tolls now (bronze-cast Clyde-side);
caveat emptor is no longer bona fide.
Few fat wool bales to crowd the rotting floor.
Few fat wool cheques grease the creaking door. 
Blank bluestone eyes stare down a listless lapping Bay.
Out on the Point, Old Grammarians mourn:
                                                 A cloth is torn.                                                              [3]  

Our consciences, on this score, must completely acquit us.
Man must be driven to his thrift.                                                                                    [4]
Behind every great fortune lies a crime.
La propriette c'est la vol.                                                                                               [5]

Up rode the Squatter, mounted on his Thoroughbred,                                                  [6]
Up jumped his youngsters, one, two, three.                                                                  [7]
'One day, my dears, all this will be yours --
Footrot and flyblown sheep, as far as the eye can see', 
And he sang to them an interlinear baudelaire.

II. First Generation                                                                                                       [8]

Australia felix, the Major said
To landed flocks at Indented Head.
Wool-greased fingers, stretching, spread.
           (Soft moaned the wind for the Wathaurrong dead.)
Sheep shit and Squatters squat,
Whispering voices plan and plot.
Arsenic flour or rifle shot?
           (A ring-barked Red Gum marks the spot.)
White Mary comes in the front door,
Black Mary goes out the back.
White Mary is the new whore.
           (Black Mary? Too fat. Too black.)

Two men for the paddock, one woman for the hearth;
Two men for the horse and for the saddle she;
Two men for the head, one woman for the heart;
Two men to command and one woman to obey.
All else is confusion.                                                                                                       [9]

As I stood, the first European intruder
On the sublime solitude of these verdant plains,
As yet untouched by flocks and herds, 
I felt conscious of being the harbinger of mighty changes
And that our steps would soon be followed
By the men and animals
For which it seemed to have been prepared:
   as if especially prepared by the Creator for the industrious hands of Englishmen
   as if it had been pointed out by Nature for the maintenance of stock
   as if clearly intended by Providence to grow Wool and sheep                                [10]           
And as we have been given,
So will we surely keep,
Amen.

'On the way, I met a Mr. Franks,
And got some lead from him
To make (what he called blue pills)
For the Natives,
Who were then very dangerous.
A few days after, 
Poor Franks and one of his men
Were murdered by them.
Their heads were beaten into the earth.'                                                                        [11]

III. The Flesh Is Weak                                                                                                    [12]

Remember when, way back then,
you said, and mother said,
and you said again...                                                                                                       [13]
     'Headmaster! What a lovely surprise.
      Do come in, won't you.
      You'll stay for lunch of course.
      We got the shearers here, but one more plate
      Will be no bother for Cook.
      Boarding school fees, in arrears?
      For Christ's sake man!
      We built your fucking Chapel.'
Will you still need me,
Will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four...                                                                                                        [14]
       'Merino money made me, undid me.
        By Barwon's course I raised my knee, 
        Supine upon the floor,
        Beneath the Cox's Four.
        Scream my soul, scream,
        For mother's well-bred careless breast.
        Unable to endure the wringing of hands,                                                                   [15]
        On Belshazzar's writing wall,                                                                                     [16]
        Bonsoir monsieur, je m'apelle APPALLED.
knights in white satin,
chevaliers du blanc passione,
riders through the storm...                                                                                                 [17]
         WELL DONE JANE! WELL DONE!
         How finely she sits upon her mount,
         How synchronised the rider and her horse.
                                                 Andrew's side I think
         OH WELL DONE JANE! WELL DONE DEAR!
         Those clinging creamy jodhpurs, don't they suit.
         Jane always had such a lovely seat.
                                                 What thighs. What sighs.
         WELL DONE JANE! OH WELL DONE!
         I do enjoy gymkhana, the floats, the frocks, the fuss.
         I thrill at every hurdle, I gasp at every jump.

Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck.
Sprawl is doing your farming by aeroplane, roughly,
and pissing prodigious amounts of Scotch Whisky
up against the wall.                                                                                                             [18]

IV. Bloated Carcass                                                                                                           [19]

Regarder une charogne infame,
Look at this foul carrion,
Les jambes en l'air, comme une femme lubrique,
Legs in the air,           like a lascivious woman,
Brulante et suantes les poisons,
Spoiled and oozing out poisons,
Ouvrait d'une facon nonchalante et cynique
Opening in a casual and brazen fashion
Son ventre plein d'exhalaisons;
Its fuming belly;
Le soleil rayonnait sur cette pourriture,
The sun shining on this putrefaction,
Et le ciel regardait la carcasse superbe,
And the sky watching the proud carcass,
Comme une fleur s'epanouir.
Expanding like a flower.
Les mouches bourdonnaient sur ce ventre putride,
The flies buzzed over that rotting belly,
D'ou sortaient de blancs bataillons
From which came white battalions 
Des larvres.
Of maggots.
Tout cela descendait, montait comme une vague,
It all fell and                   rose like a wave,
Ou s'elancait en petillante, enfle d'un souffle vague.
Or darted bubbling,               swollen by an undefined breath.                          
Vous serez semblable a cette ordure, a cette horrible infection.
You will be like this filth,                           this gross contamination.
Vous, mes amours decompose! Oui, telle vous serez!
You,    my decomposed loves!      Yes, thus you will be!
Dites a la vermin qui vous manger de baisers,
Tell the vermin who will devour you with kisses,
'Non, je ne regrette rien'.                                                                                                  [20]
'No,    I regret nothing'.

V. A still small voice                                                                                                       [21]

When the son and his bride were newlyweds
They came here first, in painted carriage
With matching pair. And the boss said, 
'To honour the father that sired him,
We'll unhitch those nags, and haul the boy
in style, up to his marriage bed'.
And so we did, we men.
We stepped into harness and hauled
That shiny bastard up the hill,
From the bloody front gate to the bloody front door.
He kept his job, the boss,
And so did we, we men.

'During the Visit to this Station of Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of Cornwall, all employees will report for their normal duties wearing a collar and tie.'                                                                                                                                             [22]

Where grey cloud sky meets unending plain,
there squats a double-storied bluestone pile;                                                                   [23]
Blind windows look through a wrought-iron
necklace of rust blisters, indifferent
to peeling facia paint, or the broken-mouthed
grimace of missing roof slates, or the bales
of hay rough-stacked on the kitchen floor.
There sat, perhaps, 'Aunt' Austin in her widow's
weeds, waiting for the next royal progress
beneath her chandelier, out-waiting her nieces
and nephews waiting for her to die.
There sat, perhaps, 'Lord' Ffrench,in his jilted
groom's attire, cursing a well-bred lady's heart
(that spurned his new-built bluestone hearth
for older, nobler stones, nearer Home).
Where sat spite, malice still sits;
Dark thoughts that seep through darkened
mortar veins,to sow the ground around
with stinging nettles and rank Scotch thistles.

When brown backs bend over brown stones,
building brown stone walls,
And white backs bend over white sheep,
shearing white sheep wool,
The common denominator is sweat.

Legions of sugar gums
Stand sentinel to grass
Long lines of gravel road
Modern 'motors' pass

Silk top hats with whalebone corsets instinctively parade,                                               [24]
Discreetly and sedately, according to one's trade.
Wool money is 'old money', manor-borne, not made.
No point in shearing thousands if not to promenade.
            (Indigo's Italianate amidst Italian toil,
             Grandiose pise-ornate midst Smelbournian Soil.
             Fragrant fields of faeces, spread by Spottiswoode pumps,                                 [25]
             Febrile fecund flowers, fattening Hereford rumps).
'I met a traveler from an antique land                                                                                          Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
 Stand in the desert.                                                                                                          [26]
 And on the pedestal these words appear:
 Our Name is Chirnside and Werribee our Seat:
 Look on our Mighty works, and despair!
 Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
 Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
 The lonely western plains stretch far away.'



Marginal Notes:
[1] Folklore. 'Corruption starts at the top'. See Isaiah 1:5-6 
[2] Adam Smith, 1776, Scottish economist. A tale of two cities (Glasgow and Geelong) and the journey of an ideology that joined them.
[3] The tearing of the Temple veil at the moment of Crucifixion signifies the end of the Old Covenant with the Jews. See Matthew 27:51.
[4] Patrick Sellar, 1815.
[5] Pierre Proudhon, 1840.
[6] Fr. L'approprier un terrain.
[7] A.B. (Banjo) Paterson, Waltzing Matilda, 1895.
[8] Folklore. 'The first generation makes it, the second generation spends it, and the third generation loses it'.
[9] Lord Tennyson, The Princess, V, Introd. Song, l. 427.
[10] Major Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General, Colony of New South Wales, 1836, with the assistance from Patrick Sellar, 1815, and James Loch, 1820, two Scottish Improvers.
[11] Robert Steiglitz, Ballan, 1836.
[12] There was a moment when Christ doubted - 'Listen boys, are you with Me on this?' - and they answered him with snores. See Mark 14.38
[13] To the tune of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Noel Coward.
[14] Paul McCartney, 1966.
[15] Macbeth, V, 1, 38.
[16] "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsim". 'Numbered and counted, Weighed and found wanting, Divided and dispersed'. Daniel 5:25.
[17] Jim Morrison, 1971.
[18] Les Murray, The Quality of Sprawl, 1983.
[19] The much promised Interlinear Baudelaire, Une charogne, 1857, Les Fleurs du Mal.
[20] Edith Piaf, 1935.
[21] 1 Kings 19:10-11
[22] Yallum Park, 22 June 1881.
[23] An amalgam of Barwon Park (Mrs Thomas Austin) and Monivae (Mr Acheson Ffrench) mansions, still in their unrestored state, circa 1983.
[24] The Chirnsides held their own race meeting at Werribee Park, chartering a special train to bring their invited guests down from the City.
[25] The construction of the Western Trunk Sewer under the Yarra River to Spotswood Pumping Station relieved Melbourne of the annual scourge of Typhoid Fever.
[26] Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias, 1819.


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