Arts & Letters
1. AT CATHEDRAL PLACE
Incarnate Word, in whom all nature lives,
Cast flames upon the earth: raise up contemplatives
Among us, men who walk within the fire
Of ceaseless prayer, impetuous desire.
Set pools of silence in this thirsty land
—James McAuley, from “A Letter to John Dryden”,
engraved on bluestone tablet at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Really? Really? ‘Impetuous desire’? Your
Pilgrim’s Path, your hard south way, and
that’s what you want your first stone to say?
Pity McAuley. Rock bottom, having already
hatched the mouth that’d swallow his,
burbling flames now
from beneath a slanted font — for gags, for shame.
Opposite, the high vent seethes volcanic,
spews out saturated steam. Scalding black an
entire storey of grey brick wall. Peter Mac
née Presbyterian St. Andrew’s forced
unto another unacknowledged ontology.
Lost child looking up to mother.
Right so. Vanquished kneel: wrong needs
its upward face held firm against it — this grace
ain’t just gonna give itself. You’ll learn.
They all do. This schoolboy, standing now on the
tablet (‘No, Josh, seriously!’) knows, shoes parting
the recycled water: consequence: comes and goes.
So suffer the errant not given to see
that body and blood in bread and wine
is how we break open the tender divine.
Bulldog, they called you, call you,
always going for the kill. Collared by
your free hand, free will, rucking Aussie Rules
with Roman Catechism. Gold ring bearer, gold
mine son and — Oxford, Propaganda aside —
always better with dollars than dogma
(full coffers, empty pews). Here’s one, then:
What is the second sin that cries to the skies
for fire from heaven to sterilise?
A clue: not ceaseless prayer.
Against that fire — as they’ve long known down Ballarat —
you’ve got your pooled silences down pat.
No, nothing so airy-fairy. Not skyward spires
but mundane load-bearing walls, where, look —
another clue — a stone slab’s hung, hand-cut, gold-veined:
And someone’s scraped the ‘P’ off not your name but ‘PHIL’.
(Arch-baddy? Big game decoy? Whipping boy?)
Even now, you see: your name protects your name.
The second sin is Sodom.
Against nature; with a different sex; unwed;
or seed of nature voluntarily shed —
Your rules. Abide. Even in the Secret —
the silent Basilica’s loudest fences —
your sins cry to your heaven for vengeance.
2. RESPONSORIAL PSALM1
That is, if it’s true.
Of course, there’s process due
Even for you. But if it’s true:
Let your sin cry to heaven.
Four counts: one, three, four, five
Indecent acts with a child
Under sixteen. If it’s true:
You grabbed R’s head and forced it down
To your genital region
A minute or two. If it’s true:
You told J to take off his pants
Then touched his genitals with your hands
Then touched yourself. If it’s true:
Later, you pushed J against a wall
And squeezed his penis and testicles
Through choir robes. If it’s true:
Count two: Sexual penetration
Of a child under sixteen.
You raped J’s mouth. If it’s true:
Throughout, you told them both to be quiet.
They were whimpering, in shock, terrified.
They said ‘no’, ‘help’. If it’s true:
Annunciation, then ascension,
Adoration, then commission.
Now catabasis, if it’s true.
But there’s a chance it isn’t true
And they’re trying to make scapegoat of you
What happened, only three can tell
One dead, one mad, and you in prison
With no sins to cry to heaven.
But heaven knows. Time will tell.
If it’s true: burn in hell.
1 Particulars from DPP v Pell  VCC 260 & Pell v The Queen  VSCA 186
As I directed the jury who convicted you in this trial, you are not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.
—Chief Judge Kidd, DPP v Pell (Sentence), March 13, 2019
Two kids, equal in stead.
Cast the lots: one to kill
For the Lord. One to lay
Your hands upon its head:
All the sins of Israel.
Send into wilderness
Or cast off Eastern Hill
For Azazel, for us.
And yet somehow you’re the
Scapegoat? The hand of a
Fit man set you off — whose
Hand but yours? And who’d be
Aaron but you — to choose
Sin or expiation?
(And who ransoms, Father,
The loss of your two sons?)
Uh oh — you’re in trouble.
Before Christ the tiger
Came Christ the fish. Christ lamb,
Christ scapegoat, He who spilled
Sour wine from a hyssop branch
Upon His last word. Finished.
Like you. Who dare hang your
‘Small suffering’ on His.
In Attic times, they chose
The most maimed, the ugliest,
To be their pharmakos —
Ordained holy vestments
Upon them, burned them, stoned
Them, whipped them with green sprigs
So their city might atone;
Romans made brotherhood
With wolves. Blooded and milked,
They flayed the lesser canines,
Hacked out hairy thongs; disrobed,
Then prowled old Palatine
Walls looking for women
Asking to be whipped. Who felt
The pain might quicken them.
So again: Are you goat? Or
Compelling hand? Or what’s
Yanked from the wet hide to whip
Others? Offering or
He who offers? who sits
On the mercy seat and sends
To death and wild lots
Children of other men?
4. THE SUPREME COURT
5. SONNETS IN THE KEY OF F NATURAL (MINOR)
What’s unnatural is a boy
Of nine, or ten, or even thirteen
Made to sit in a crucible of rare, named rock —
Red Emperor, Alicante, Rosa Aurora —
Charged with flawless discipline:
Stand, silence, sing — in time, in key, (breathe), hold
When all around him intervals flex and flow.
To incantation make
The chroma and beauty of which confuses him
(The place resounds with joy)
And he feels — for that breath — actual, involving
And perfect for the space he takes
But don’t forget: a slipped quarter-tone, a quaver off
And everything’s wrecked.
And it’s all his fault. Who wouldn’t wag?
Lash for a sneaky swig?
I’ve been there, both choir and chancel —
Call it sanctuary —
Known the spells of voice where no voice dreams
Under vaulted space of hammer-beam
Higher than any shopping centre roof I’ve seen.
They should get hanging baskets
For the bells, broad lamps of chlorophyll green
For the paned yellow light. Instead, stay
Put. Pay mind: The altar boy cleans up after himself.
The ding and outer whoosh of the 109.
The personal hawkings of Chinese tourists.
The body on the cross like a dying vine.
Carnal on the black elm bough,
Milky irises mesmerised
By Aunty’s logo oscillating still
On our Mary’s breast.
It never stops. Traffic banked round
The Sienese’s crown of thorns, St. Francis
Of the pelican — high Apocalypse bowl.
Set a watch, O sentinel,
For past the happy-snapping Asians
Are ranks of white coaches delivering kids
On school excursion, farmed whippersnappers
From Archdiocesan reservoirs, ocean groves, yea,
Its manifold heights, endeavour hills, now
Home, in the very heart of the catchment zone.
But I was telling you the ways of yellow.
Morning honey — raw, athrob,
Bacterial with citrus light, through chartreuse,
Arylide, all the urgencies of amber
Till now the nave blazes full conquistador gold.
Till you have seen this you cannot know how
Time slows, and song.
And ordinary time — that you ended — becomes
Time majeure, time monstered.
No child should be subjected to such a time.
Forced to terms with such stained light,
Sapping the eagle, turning canary to sepia,
The secret of the cuttlefish. But all that was then.
In truth, I’d be glad to be in that light again.
Once I was a child. (Were you?)
One of yours, in fact, baptised Catholic
To vouchsafe scholarship
At an Anglican school. (Immigrant insurance.)
All things to all people was my name
(Ora et labora). A choirboy too,
I learned to loll dead tongues
Over ancient staves
In unbroken voice, diminished harmonies.
There are rooms and there are rooms.
How many times did master come sit by me?
I made room for him, that’s what you do at nine.
I was not afraid (nolite timere), and lucky
That I needn’t have been. For I wouldn’t have known.
Carnal in the sacristy
Engorged by his own solemn mass
Made his robes to part —
(Grave matter, grave matter)
Superhuman feat — wee bit of space —
Chasuble, alb, cincture, and stole
A face, a name, the immaculate love
(That hadn’t been, now could never be)
Blotted out. Then blotted out again.
A shadow steps into the room
A silence cries to heaven
(That they’d believed in, now could never be)
Your gown the great dark rock that moved,
The sacristy a tomb.
Nam Le is a writer based in Melbourne.
hatched the mouth...
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From the front page
Plus ça change
There is a light
Birth of a larrikin
Black Summer at Currowan
In This Issue
The Monthly Awards 2019
‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood
‘Act of Grace’ by Anna Krien
No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’
More in Arts & Letters
A shock of renewal: ‘Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings’
Desire’s conspiracies: ‘The Right to Sex’
The meanings of production: ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’
True to form: ‘No Sudden Move’
More in Poetry
Les Murray’s magisterial ‘Collected Poems’
Barron Field and the myth of terra nullius
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