Maxine Beneba Clarke

the prime minister has

killed the department of the arts

                and is rolling arts in with rail and roads


all of us have encountered

  enough art

                     to know


         the devastation,

in this symbolism alone



                     as if nothing beautiful

      ever reached into his chest

and, beyond all logic,

                                        moved him:


        an exquisite string of words never

turned his world upside down,

                           or back upright again



nobody told the prime minister


      art is the closest

          one can get

to “god”


and in fact, exactly what it means

to have a soul



it’s a ten-year-old brown girl,

      already life-weary from the world at large,

somehow stumbling

                 upon a copy of maya angelou’s

                                         and still i rise


it’s her, understanding as she reads

                   – yes, my honey dumpling –

for the very first time

        that self-love black love you love

 is the only way a child-girl-woman,


                                          will get out of here





is the memory

        of your better half:


fifteen glorious years together


she fought hard, but slipped away,

                   after the first round

of radiation


                   it’s the kids, the next morning,

                     staring at you, with fear written

on their tiny faces

    like where’s our mama gone

         you don’t know how to make french toast

much less do our braids


art is six months after that,

          when you’re through the worst,

and her song comes on the radio


   this time, it makes you smile though:


her, in that hot pink dress

     twirling to the chorus, all the way

down the aisle,

                     and how her blunt fringe

brushed your shoulder,

                     after she kissed you

and became your wife


it’s how the harmony makes you feel

       as you’re folding the school clothes

the way she would have liked



art is at the heart

of all that we are


the markings on the wall,

                     and who walked here,

              and everything that came before



who cares, thinks the prime minister,

where we stick art, in the portfolios of the nation:

        it’s not about coal power

or curbing welfare, or wealth generation



here is a man

        not nearly enlightened enough

to understand


how closely they are linked


that painting gives pennies back to medicare, that

old-time jazz, that opera, eases congestion

in the hospitals, helps our old folk live

longer in their own homes, that cultural

and creative activity pumps more than one hundred

billion dollars into our economy


that poetry

              is why that kid so close to falling

through the cracks

                      even gets up

and walks to school, that

sometimes the books in the library

are the only good place you have to go


and there is nothing else on earth


like the hushed leaning-forward-together crowd

                as bangarra dances


                                         another show 

Maxine Beneba Clarke is the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.

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