Tuesday Poem: Global Farms

December 2, 2014

Global farms

Stock cubes
are sent to sea, flavoursome squares
of mutton flesh and bone, seasoning,
woolly sardines.

Between pasture and knife
the blue stretches, and the yellow,
as rivers soak downwards,
contained in time.

No truck of guilt to turn from,
met on sudden road. Squalor
bleats over dollar’s equator,
safely unseen.

P.S. Cottier

That poem (published once before on this blog, in 2011, and written in 2008) about the horrors of the live export trade is a way of working through the feeling of surprise I had recently in re-reading something that I wrote twenty or so years ago.

I stumbled across an article by me that is seemingly in favour of fur coats. I am now tending more towards the vegan with every passing year.  (Not there yet, because….cheese.)  I wrote the article back in the early 90s to provoke the sort of person who decries self-expression through clothes. To quell any left over Old-Style Communist or inflexibly Green tendencies that renounced fancy endeavours such as hair dye and high heels. I recount some experiences with some fairly ugly types. (The article was published in the Australian Left Review, probably the last organ of the Communist Party of Australia. I used to have a column in it, mostly about food.)

Re-reading the article, I am struck by how far the central tenet seems to far be from what I think now, and, indeed, thought at all earlier times in my life. I first became vegetarian when I was eleven or twelve, although I have lapsed, sometimes just for days, sometimes for much longer. I can remember one of the first stickers I ever displayed was in favour of a ban on ivory.

Here’s the link to where you can go to read the article. The writing is quite good, in a few parts at least.  The article seems to have been a little unusual at the time in linking feminism and questions of personal appearance in this way. That has become far more familiar, now that it is fuelled by social media. (In the days I am talking about, we had the occasional etching and miniatures in lockets, which gave a little more time to think.  I think.)

But the fur thing? The article reeks of me being sarcastic, and I have never thought that fur was a desirable or ethical choice. Perhaps I should have included a sarcasm alert? Or a reminder, that would have unfolded twenty years in the future?  (‘Penelope, you always liked tickling a little too much.’)

On a trip to New Zealand last year, a Maori woman who was a guide at Te Papa (the museum in Wellington) explained that the use of the introduced possum to produce fur products was a positive development, in her opinion. The possum, introduced from Australia, causes damage in New Zealand, just as the fox, rabbit and cane toad do in Australia.  She obviously knew more about the environmental issues that I did. (It is also relevant to mention that Indigenous people have been utilising the meat and fur of Australian animals for tens of thousands of years did so in a way that caused no damage to the land.)

But can I see myself wearing a cane toad cape, to return to the feral? No, not really. Although I haven’t totally weaned myself from cow leather, so my position is totally hypocritical. And, if I had to choose a garment made from an invasive species, it seems hard to place a toad on the same level as a fox; the latter being only a leap from a pet dog. Farming animals for fur, is of course, a revolting practice.

So strange not to recognise oneself fully in a piece of one’s own writing. There are a couple of other things in the article that my position differs from now, but I remember the changes in my thinking for those.

Cutting wit has its limitations…I hope I remember that I was being sarcastic about one or two little stanzas that I wrote this year if I last another twenty years!  At least one attentive reader will know what I am talking about there.

Just as that person, and indeed other readers, will recognise that poetry knows no borders.  Here is a link to the poetic output of other Tuesday Poets.

Tuesday Poem

Storming Teacups

I sit with friends outside the café, cup in hand, and fix the world’s problems. I am the cappuccino kid, frothing with anger. I am the peppermint tea with honey, busybeeing everywhere.

I start to collect china as others gather books. My coffee cups speak volumes. I have a small expresso cup, decorated with Aboriginal designs. Is this how I visualise Aboriginal issues? A storm in a coffee cup, a far-off cyclone in Darwin? A Town Called Redfern, where blood has stained the concrete, as there isn’t much wattle around? I sip, and cradle the fragile, storming cup, enjoying my bitter short black. My frown replicates the lines on the cup, as does my smile.

I have a larger, more solid cup which boasts a kangaroo and emu rampant, and the words “Commonwealth Parliament”, proud as any bumper sticker. This capacious cup and saucer was Made in England. It says so on the base. This is a cup for Indian tea, a cup for colonial sipping. I wear a long white dress, a hat to shade my skin and I practise swooning. The cup, however well made, seems to be cracking around the sides, and a small cleft runs from the word Made past the emu. Surely my firm cup will not break, my crest shatter? I delicately place the cup back on the saucer, and the fault-line is hidden.

I have an old cup which says “Buy Nicaraguan Coffee”. Now that things have changed again south of the biggest border, which coffee should I buy? Perhaps the one that tastes the best. A favourite cup of mine is the one that states “Freedom for Women: Women for Freedom”. The tea-lady pours her liquid into this cup, but somehow she doesn’t look particularly free. Her tea makes me insatiable, and the phrase “dry as a witch’s tit” is conjured up from the steam, cloyingly.

But who would smash a cup? They are useful. They are decorative. I stroke my china pets, these devices for drawing boundaries between air, liquid and table. My extrovert cups hold in our conversation, delineate the possible from the flowing surge of ideas. We sit, cups in hand, painting new worlds like flowers on porcelain. I put out my little finger to hook the fishy thoughts which fly from the cup, through the air, challenging our demarcations.

*

This work (prose-poem? creative non-fiction?) was written way back in the Old Days of 1993, and published in Blast magazine. This brings back so many memories, not least of one of the friends mentioned in the first paragraph, Lindsay Croft, a young Aboriginal man killed in a car accident in the United States while visiting Native American reservations, about a year after I wrote this piece. This gives the work a far more bitter taste, for me, than it would otherwise have.

For excellent poetry fixes, go to the Tuesday poem site. They’re be everything from expresso to latte, I can assure you.