Poem

Maxine Beneba Clarke
Portfolio

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,

                            person,

                                          will get out of here

                                 alive

 

art

 

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 Saturday Paper’s poet laureate, and the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.