I ... entered the poem of life, whose purpose is ... simply to witness the beauties of the world, to discover the many forms that love can take. (Barabara Blackman in 'Glass After Glass')

These poems are works in progress and may be updated without notice. Nevertheless copyright applies to all writings here and all photos (which are either my own or used with permission). Thank you for your comments. I read and appreciate them all, and reply here to specific points that seem to need it — or as I have the leisure. Otherwise I reciprocate by reading and commenting on your blog posts as much as possible.

6 May 2008

Burma Progression

With Burma in the news again with a natural disaster, I'm posting here the 'Free Burma' poem I wrote last year, to join with other poets again to help raise awareness for this new challenge.
1.

Precocious reader, I found Kipling
early and loved him long.
Puck was my friend, Kim my hero,
but most of all
I heard the East a-calling
with the lovesick British soldier
dreaming of his Burma girl
in far-off Mandalay.

I saw the paddle steamers
and I heard the temple bells.
They have echoed ever since.

2.

I don't even know, now,
how old I was so long ago
when my cousins from Burma came.
A schoolgirl, maybe nine.

Who fetched them from the plane?
Probably one of the uncles.
It was dark and the moon out
by the time they arrived
down Grandpa's long driveway
with the orchard one side
the creek on the other
its tall stands of pampas grass
ghostly in the dark,
to where we were all gathered.

They were not Burmese,
they were Anglo-Indian like my Mum
(and her siblings too of course)
but they lived in Rangoon
a long time. Why did they leave
and cross the world to tiny Tasmania?
I don't know that either.

They were magic, they shone.
They gave me a Burmese umbrella
red and lacquered, with black spokes
and strange white flowers painted on.

Now they are long scattered
and many gone.
Handsome Uncle Leo
tall, dark and thoughtful.
Aunty Irene, Mum's cousin,
with her scented bosom,
her plump arms, her cornucopia
of hugs and sweets and old wives' tales.

Joan and Anne, those beauties
disappointed in love, grew old.

"Little Leo," the teenage cousin
I swore to marry when I grew up,
fathered six children
and watched them mature
to all kinds of success before he left us.
It was John, his older brother,
who did become my first love
when I was eighteen, he twenty-seven,
my first grown-up passion
surprising us both.
John with his alcohol problem
finally cured, his late, happy marriage
and later widowhood.

And Irene's youngest brother,
Noel, known as Johnny,
who walked out through the jungle
when the Japanese came,
starving on wild berries
and was never quite well again….

It was Uncle Leo who told us
Kipling got it wrong,
in one respect only –
the pagoda looking eastward
was not the old Moulmein,
it was the Schwedagon.
We know it now from the news images,
pointed, and shining gold.

3.

My heroes are freedom-fighters,
champions of their people —
you know the ones.
Gandhi, Mandela, King
and that slender, graceful woman
with a spray of small white flowers
sweetening her hair.

All the years of her exile
to her own house in her own country
I have been sending her
anonymous love and prayers.

I met one who knew her well,
who told me that in private
she's earthy, a person who laughs.
Last night on the television
her face looked sombre, aged.

4.

Rangoon in the news glimpses
looks much like any city –
rectangular buildings,
asphalt, dust,
the golden spire half-hidden
diminished by shops.

The people mass. The people run.
The red-robed monks march slowly
to their deaths. A young woman
sits on the ground and sobs
defiantly, with her head up,
looking the soldiers in the face.
These are not British soldiers.

She is wearing red
as bright as new blood.
Until they silence her
she won't stop yelling
the real news from Burma.

And the dawn comes up
on empty streets where the guns rattled
like thunder.

7/10/07

See also this article:
Natural disaster could become catalyst to blow away injustice


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