Compared with my true patriotism,
the imperialism of my legs and bowels,
the suzerainty of my eyes,
grave hemispheric rulings
of the wide Porterian Peace,
my love of country is a pallid passion.
So when they say
we’ve dwindled to a Third Class Power,
a Banana Republic without
a decent satellite to spy from,
I recall those old inheritors
of fear, dirt, sickness, snot and rickets
who crawled out of their burrows
to hail Ladysmith’s Relief
and bray the victories of their rulers
on air they couldn’t warm.
Let us therefore handle the word ‘great’
with circumspection. It fits Blake
and Milton, is much too big for Cromwell
and generally should watch itself in mirrors,
bearing down like Yeats’s Nobel head.
When commentators write about
‘the patriotic proletariat’,
imagine week-end articles —
‘from flat-cap to cat-flap
in one generation’, ‘Dinkies
are not toys today’, ‘Designer
Murder comes to Sicily’ —
and hang wild garlic round your ears.
Let what people really love
invent an island tongue:
‘a gemstone cantilever ….
hearing it in Noel’s SOTA /
Dynevector / Spectral / Threshold/
Acoustat / Entec …. ‘ no wonder
Rambo gobbled up the gooks
if he had such voices in his head.
Patriotism is not enough
of a scoundrel’s last refuge
even if you love
your neighbour as yourself.
When I fell from the long tree of light
I didn’t know it was going to be me
or I’d have checked all these quotations.
Where I landed I named ours
though it was never mine.
True patriots all,
the still-swimming lobsters in the tank,
the lambs that face the ocean through steel bars,
the opals in the open-cut —
I left my mother’s and my father’s house
and stepped on to a road beneath the stars.
First published Meanjin Vol. 46, No. 2, June 1987