Login   Sign Up 



by James Graham 

Posted: 07 June 2010
Word Count: 2511
Summary: See below...way down below...below the footnotes, even.

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced


Welcome to Los Oscuros on this third
and so far most important day; you see
through our high camera at Convicts Gate
some late arrivals coming in, the folk
from Mindanao, West Sydney, and Cape York.
The Slaves and Womens Gates are busy too.

The main arena, Namatjira’s Bowl,
seems nearly ready; all the seats are dry
after an early shower; the microphones
are being tested; bands are warming up.
Not everyone will come today, of course
- the ceremonies last all week - and some,
some teenagers, will just lounge and graze
on biryani tubs and big naan breads,
drink Mexican beer and smoke the local weed.

If you were with us yesterday, or read
this morning’s press, you’ll be aware
the Megamex have pledged ‘substantial sums’
in aid to villages and neighbourhoods,
indeed whole peoples in some instances
- Saharan, Amazonian, Timorese.
No strings. The poorest first, and most abused.
This is the day of Jubilee, it seems.

The motive is the mystery: what possessed
this multinational mammoth, in the news
last year when it absorbed no less than twenty
smaller corporations (which include
United Pharmaceuticals and Processed Foods),
the biggest corporation of all time,
whose assets far exceed the USA,
Japan and Germany combined, to throw
this party for poor people everywhere?
And then to follow up with cash that makes
the IMF look like the Parish Board?

We shall return to this; but let’s look round
this busy garden city once again.
And once again, the Children’s Wonderland,
the Alice Garden with the Hare and Hatter;
the Dragon’s Cave; the Storytellers’ Street,
that makes me wish I were a child again -
in every house, a harlequin, a clown,
a minstrel, telling tales. And towering there
above the trees, the castle, full of secrets -
so many passageways and hidden rooms,
you never seem to find them all. And there,
below the castle wall, The Seven Dwarfs,
the children’s inn (there’s no MacDonald’s here),
just one of many free cantinas, inns
and diners, open day and night. There’s one
that’s not quite free. The cook at the Golden Gate
prefers his customers to pay in kind -
a song, a story. (There’s no money here.)

It’s not all paradise; there has been trouble -
a drunken fight, an ugly ethnic brawl.
We mustn’t overplay these, though, for it’s
the inner hurt - depression, grief, regret -
that must be cared for here. Among this crowd
are many who are hurt: child soldiers, land-
mine victims, torture victims, folk thrown out
upon the open road, their shacks burned down.

As to the motive, theories abound,
some, shall we say, more plausible than others.
A statue of the Virgin wept, and begged
the CEO to renounce his worldly goods;
the comet of last April, when it seemed
it might collide with Earth, gave pause for thought.
More likely, it’s an end-of-history stunt,
to tell the world the Golden Age is here
- of capital that is - that companies now
are richer and more powerful than the state.

There seems to be a problem in the Mall,
a missing child we think, or something stolen.
Oh, this poor woman seems quite overwrought.
The language helpers are amazing though -
these two are trying now to comfort her
and get her to explain what’s wrong; they won’t
give up until they find a language they
can use, or just communicate with signs.
If she’s West African, she may speak French.
In fact I’m hearing that she does; her child
has wandered off; we’ll let you know what happens.

The Bowl is filling now; the first awards
will be presented soon. (No speeches though.)
Instead of medals, every honoured guest
has chosen a gift - a book, a necklace, even
a hat - that might be personal or symbolic,
sometimes both, and each community
will then receive a more substantial gift
- a hospital or school, a system for
clean running water - just as a start,
much more to follow soon. ‘But none of this
can touch the invisible gift of power: the power
to take possession of the land, to sow
and reap, and have the management of crops;
to mother children whose ineffable eyes
and toothless, guileless grins are proof of health
and hunger satisfied; the power to need
no exercise of power, to choose to live
as if there were no politics.’ Thus
Peter Piper, Chief Executive
of Megamex. One commentator called
his speech ‘the same old windy rhetoric,
but with a heady whiff of Christmas Rose’.

The lady who had lost her child - if we
could take a look - ah yes, they brought him back,
but he’s in tears. He won’t be comforted.
I’m getting something on my headset now -
Lapin, he says. Mon pauvre lapin. That’s rabbit.
I hope it’s been inoculated. What?
It was his favourite toy? Ah, that’s too bad;
they’ll put a message out. But now, at last,
I think they’re getting started; there’s applause.

No speeches, as I said, but just before
each honoured guest steps up, in simple style
his story will be told - translated too
in whispers through the audience. Then the band
- today a street-band, Chico’s - have to play
for seconds only while the person walks
from front row to the stage. We’re hearing now
of Joseph from the Congo, who was known
when he was twelve, as General I-Can-Kill;
fired up on gin and coke, he knew the spell
that made the bullets miss - ‘Forgot it once’,
he says, and bares his shoulder with a huge
and sassy grin that almost salvages
his childhood. Sadly, since his soldiering days
he’s murdered on his own initiative;
in fact, he’s on parole, a privilege
bought and paid for, so the gossips say.
And yet, like others here, he represents
the infant water-carrier, the maimed,
the mined, the children shot for cowardice.

Now listen. Chico plays...and stops. I don’t
know what to call these little masterworks;
not fanfares, certainly; a brand new genre;
laconic jazz perhaps. Applause and cheers
for Joseph. Many here today are young;
the luckiest has had a greater share
of grief than you or I. A young man next
from Sao Paolo, who insists his name
should not be used; he says his mates, whose deaths
he witnessed, are the real celebrities.
‘Fernando would have been a famous man’,
he told us - but one night, to try to ease
a two-day hunger, they were sniffing glue.
A cop, on this excuse, had seized the glue
and poured it in Fernando’s eyes; that night,
behind closed doors, they finished him. Two more
are named - Ramon, Alberto - and their names
are honoured here. Now Jennifer is next.

No person - and that’s saying a lot - can have
a better right to be here: GI child
from Subic Bay, her childhood commandeered
and sold, her body wounded and her youth
laid waste, to please the tourist paedophiles.
Like many others; but when she was twelve
a fire destroyed the house where she was kept,
and she is badly scarred. She wears a mask.
Now, like a champion, she holds up high,
her chosen gift, an autoharp, and waves.
There’s constant tension here - so many armed
against a lifetime of invasion - but the most
surprising friendships suddenly emerge.
Jenean, survivor of the 6th Street Whores,
and Jennifer, and Ann who had to learn
to keep a secret, and be good, or else
the bomb the doctor had sewn into her
would go off bang and she would go to Hell;
her father raped her while her mother filmed.
These three have got a real affinity.
They know they are the ancients of their tribes,
they have outlived so many of their peers.

Tuyet is next. She’s one of seven hundred
sweatshop workers, who’ve elected her
to take the honours on behalf of millions.
She stitched up sweatshirts fourteen hours a day,
one cent a piece, and many overnights.
She was bawled out for smiling once; her name
was always on the Talkers Board (a half-
day’s pay deducted). She shared the plastic bag
the girls all peed in when a toilet break
was cancelled. (They knew how to multi-task.)
She was a tool; her friends were tools; they were
machines to operate machines. In this
she is no different from her peers; but she
was chosen by them for a special reason.

Machines do not get pregnant; but Tuyet
got pregnant by a supervisor who
had promised not to have her sacked; she worked
all through her term, and never smiled or talked;
gave birth, too soon, on a toilet floor. The child
would not have lived; but scared and desperate
she drowned it anyway. And there she goes.

And now, we take a break. This is Dubois
and Lester, of the Church of John Coltrane;
Lester on tenor sax, Dubois on drums.
They’re playing at the Polly Baker Club,
they call themselves the Tygers Burning Bright.

We’ll let you hear them while we take a look
at the Memorial: the crystal tower,
refracting, lucent, changing as you walk,
shedding the sunlight on the grass like flowers.
In certain lights the names seem carved on air.
Frutas de sol a todos los oscuros,
‘Fruits of the sun for the forgotten ones’,
the motto reads. Someone at Megamex
is taken with Neruda. Women’s names
outnumber men: there’s Polly Baker, brought
five times before a Massachusetts court
for bastardy; for bearing, as she said,
fine children, and maintaining them without
recourse to public funds; her duty done,
‘the duty of the first and great command
of nature and of nature’s God; encrease
and multiply’, instead of punishment
‘a statue to my memory’ was what
she wanted. I suppose she has it now.
And Anna Dvach of Minsk, who saved the lives
of thirteen Jews; and Rosa Parks who sat
in the wrong seat on an Alabama bus;
and men and women dead in factory fires
and mine disasters; names from registers;
two thousand names from half-forgotten wars
and aftermaths of wars; colonial names,
Kinjikitile there, and Witbooi.
And most, I think, are chosen for good reason,
and not exactly, as one journalist
has drily put it, ‘for their footnote status’.
Namatjira’s up there too, the much
abused Australian painter; they have called
the stadium after him. But we should see
what’s going on there now. Another round
of presentations: this is Rahmini,
once keeper of a roadside stall, who lost
the soldiers and the clerks to KFC,
and then, for all the bribes she rustled up,
was moved, and moved again, but always found
another pitch. Her neighbours sent her here,
street-traders of Djakarta. She’s a fine
and handsome woman. Among the many
media views of this event, there’s one
from Yakov Grosz, a UN man, that goes
a little deeper - this is Ahmed now,
picked up by bounty-hunters in Lahore
and handed over to the CIA
for waterboarding and electric shocks
- it’s strategy, Grosz says, it’s nothing new;
‘instead of crumbs from rich men’s tables, now
it’s caviare and lobster thermidor’
- so what? He calls this show ‘An irony
that nobody can see, a perfect conjuring’.
Before this circus, one percent possessed
some thirty-three per cent of all the wealth.
And when the show is over? Thirty one?

A price worth paying. Moreover, he goes on,
‘the hundred-storey tower of wealth requires
a lightning-rod, which needs to be renewed
from time to time to keep the structure safe’.
This time it’s state-of-art, he says. ‘The old
rebellious voices have been brought to earth;
all tamed, from Marx to Chomsky’. This young man
is Raj, who nearly died in London once
just underneath a ‘Time is Money’ sign.
A pound an hour was what his time was worth.
The doctor grassed him as an immigrant.

But voices are being raised again, says Grosz,
‘new rolls of thunder, new electric storms,
ironic, mischief-making, dangerous.
They must be earthed.’ Enough of this for now.

We’re seeing the Children’s Wonderland again;
it’s the parade; they have one every day.
The children who were with us from day one
have made this dragon; two or three of them
hold up each section, and they’ve learned to weave
from side to side to make the dragon writhe.
There’s great excitement at The Seven Dwarfs
as miscellaneous feet dance by beneath
their canopy of red and blue and green.

I’m sure we must respect the sceptics, those
who say no sacrifice is being made,
that the privileged are not giving here,
but buying: buying consent and gratitude,
buying the acquiesence of the poor -
and yet...so much is happening here that’s good!
There’s healing here, and lives are changed. Oh dear -

the dragon’s hind legs seem to have collapsed.
A language helper and a nurse are there,
it doesn’t seem to be too serious.
I know that language helper, it’s Shahida;
she runs a rural school in Bangladesh;
a busman’s holiday for her, I’m sure.

We’re coming to the end of this transmission;
there’s more online at Megamex.com
slash Festival. More, I was going to say,
of this unique event. Unique so far
is what I mean, for Megamex foresee
another festival in twenty years.
So, not the end of history after all?

We’ll leave you with the teenage crowd around
the t-shirt stall - the favourite seems to be
the CRACHONS VEUX-TU BIEN is close behind.

So with that, and as Lester and Dubois
play In a Mellow Tone, goodbye. The news
and Business World will follow this short break.


Albert Namatjira: Australian Aborigine landscape painter who was awarded the Coronation Medal in 1953, and met the Queen in 1954. In 1958 he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for ‘supplying alcohol to Aborigines’. He began to suffer from depression, and soon after his release died of a heart attack.

See http://www.artistsfootsteps.com/html/artists_namatjira.htm

Neruda quote: from El Pueblo (1962)

Polly Baker : from New England court records, 1747.

Anna Dvach : A Belarussian woman of Minsk who in 1944 kept thirteen Jewish survivors of the Minsk ghetto alive for six months, taking or sending food to them every day in their underground bunker, until the arrival of the Soviet army.

Rosa Parks: In 1955 Mrs Parks sat in the ‘white’ section of a Montgomery, Alabama bus, and refused to move because she had had a hard day at work and was tired. Her arrest led to a boycott of city buses, and eventually to integration measures.

Kinjikitile Ngwale and Hendryk Witbooi: Leaders of uprisings against German colonial rule in sub-Saharan Africa (1904-5).

‘Every Thing that Lives is Holy’: from William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793).

‘Crachons veux-tu bien’ (Let’s spit, okay?) from Poeme a crier dans les ruines by Louis Aragon.

Joseph, Fernando, Ramon, Alberto, Jennifer, Jenean, Ann, Tuyet, Rahmini, Ahmed, Raj : Their stories are true.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

James Graham at 19:54 on 07 June 2010  Report this post
This was written in the 90s; it’s in blank verse and not in my 21st century style. It’s been extensively revised, but you’ll understand if I don’t post Version 1 as well! At 330 lines and 2500 words it’s a big ask, but I hope you’ll manage to wade through it.



...by Christmas?

FelixBenson at 13:17 on 09 June 2010  Report this post
I've just read this, James. It's very absorbing.

It's an epic story and I find it quite masterful - the way you have weaved all these stories together into a satire - a satirical tapestry.
The layers of this fit with our ill-fitting times.
The central idea - the fantasy of recognition and amends for all these real people, some kind of acknowledgment of all the crimes...across the world, that is the type of subject so well fitted to epic poetry – it gives the opportunity to tell the stories of these people what these people have suffered, lost, achieved.

I don’t know if I have picked up all you intended, but what struck me as very true about this poem is the way you have layered debate and the moral confusion, which comes out especially through the narration - these imaginary TV commentators, and their ‘high camera’.

Also the ‘Megamex’ corporation that mysteriously funds this jubilee...all of it seems so apt. The mega rich corporation turning to an orgy of philanthropy for mysterious motives (whilst continuing to drive the economic status quo which ensures this poverty and oppressions will continue…). The speculation on the CEO’s motives are especially dry:
A statue of the Virgin wept, and begged
the CEO to renounce his worldly goods;
the comet of last April, when it seemed
it might collide with Earth, gave pause for thought.
More likely, it’s an end-of-history stunt,
to tell the world the Golden Age is here
- of capital that is - that companies now
are richer and more powerful than the state.

So let’s have a party – and let’s film it, and let’s have a speech by the CEO (Peter Piper –good joke) which says that a party and gifts of money for hospitals and schools will right all these wrongs…But don’t let the people speak, just smile and wave, whilst we watch from a distance:
“the first awards
will be presented soon. (No speeches though.)”
And yet self-promoting Peter Piper suggests he is empowering them: ‘and the power to need
no exercise of power, to choose to live
as if there were no politics.’

As if there were no politics..? – that’s good rhetoric, Peter!

This section seemed to be a great metaphor for what was happening in the poem overall – and showing the real view of the commentators to the people they are viewing:
I’m getting something on my headset now -
Lapin, he says. Mon pauvre lapin. That’s rabbit.
I hope it’s been inoculated.

And this part sums up the liberal debate about philanthropy:
I’m sure we must respect the sceptics, those
who say no sacrifice is being made,
that the privileged are not giving here,
but buying: buying consent and gratitude,
buying the acquiesence of the poor -
and yet...so much is happening here that’s good!

But in the end it is clear – giving these poeople money is good, but essentially it is all about keeping the status quo, not really changing the circumstances of people's lives:
Unique so far
is what I mean, for Megamex foresee
another festival in twenty years.
So, not the end of history after all?
The news
and Business World will follow this short break.

Fantastic final line – it really hits you in the chest. “So it goes” as Kurt Vonnegut would say.

Powerful. There is more in here that I have really spoken of - the whole theme of distance (from the people who havesuffered - us watching it, and viewing it...)

But I really enjoyed this – especially thinking it through, the layers and the structure. The satire and the truthfulness.

One of those necessary poems we were talking of, methinks.

This seems fully formed, I am not sure I have any technical comments to make – I was too taken away with themes and the meaning, but I did read it aloud, and found the rhythm extremely good. I will re-read and see if anything occurs. If you wrote this in the 90s, it is depressing to think how little has changed, seems even more relevant now.


James Graham at 11:59 on 10 June 2010  Report this post
Kirsty, many thanks for commenting at such length on such a long poem. I don’t know if you’ve ever posted something as long as this, but there’s a WW ‘warning’ which tells you anything over 2000 words or whatever may be too long to attract comments. Well, not so.

You’ve pointed out aspects of the poem that I wasn’t fully aware of, or hadn’t articulated for myself. Especially the way the poem has ‘layered debate and moral confusion’ through the TV commentator(s) narration. That’s a very helpful comment. You probably know yourself that a lot of the time you’re just trying to get the thing written, and you don’t get this kind of overview. I realised I couldn’t give the commentator a consistent critical view of proceedings, so I had to make him quote others, and express or quote contradictory views to some extent, at the risk of confusing the reader. But from what you say, I hope that most readers won’t be confused; instead, they will be aware of ‘listening’ to someone who is - or at least who is ambivalent about what he is seeing and commenting on.

You also say ‘in the end it is clear’. If that’s so, I’m pleased. The lines ‘I’m sure we must respect the sceptics...happening here that’s good’ are new, they weren’t in the original version. I felt something like this had to be included so that readers could be clear about my view, the writer’s view, of all these goings-on. I’m very sympathetic to what’s called the ‘Global Left’, the anti-globalisation movement, even though it seems a bit directionless at the moment. I’d like that sort of view to come across in the poem.

You’ve also pointed out that there’s a theme or motif of distance, and that’s something else I was only half aware of. I suppose it’s built in to some extent because we ‘see’ everything as if on TV, through a ‘high camera’. It’s in some details too - the fact that the CEO makes a speech, but we are distanced from the people who matter because they’re not allowed to make speeches. Again, I hadn’t really articulated this for myself, but it does seem to emerge.

Most of the stories of individual people came from the archives of the Guardian or the Independent. What would we do without them? I wasn’t online at the time but used a computer in the Glasgow University Library. The story of Tuyet in the unspeakable conditions of the sweatshop is from somewhere in the writings of Naomi Klein, one of our great contemporary truth-tellers.

Thank you again. You’ve clarified the poem for me, and reassured me that it probably works.


FelixBenson at 21:32 on 11 June 2010  Report this post
I am glad to hear the comments were helpful, James. This poem definately works. It made me really think, and it was intriguing -(the point of view that is), at first it might seem ambiguous, but the way the poem unfolds gives a cumulative effect, and what you show is complex. But by the end you still make your view clear I think.

A rich and rewarding poem.

didau at 15:32 on 13 June 2010  Report this post
I've read this twice and am still getting my head around it: it's pretty dense stuff. I think I need to print it out and annotate it before I'll have a clear view...

clyroroberts at 15:52 on 22 June 2010  Report this post
I can't comment on the structure - I don't have the knowledge for that, but I like the themes and the way they weave together. I'm very familiar with "philanthropic" work in Africa, have spent a lot of time there over the years. My town is currently twinned with Timbuktu and we have many wealthy do-gooders sending out presents that will be useless in a desert environment, patting each other on the back for what they're doing for the poor without ever stopping to question the system they are contributing to that fuels the atrocities and hardship in the first place. Whoops - I think I'm getting on my high horse - sorry. But this means the poem works doesn't it.

My one criticism - it's too short. I wanted to see more of the characters lives working away from and back to the central scene. It could be book length really couldn't it? Either a collection of interweaving pieces or a long poem.

That would keep you going for a while!

I enjoyed it very much.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .