August 2020

Arts & Letters

Broadmeadows

By Nam Le
Poetry from the author of ‘The Boat’
Offline

 

Briefly they’d united, these workers of the world,

Against speed-up & unsafety, employers &

Union honchos both; marshalled themselves. And struck.

 

From out Europe’s faults they’d come: badlands, bloodlands,

Applying theories fled, lists of names read, the luck

Of reprieve life, then migrancy — now four thousand strong

 

And free (to work): Turks, Greeks, Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Slovaks —

All the Slavs — joined in one solid stopped line to Geelong

And out to the You Yangs, granite proving ground.

 

In Broady they’d used bricks & bottles, glass on

The factory floors, fire hoses turned on offices: down

Tools, down fence, down walls; unified they held the line,

 

Held their nerve, these old country expatriates, laughed down

The local velvet fist: rigged votes, bought reps, bought headlines,

Pretend talks, pleas for coolings-off, threats of mass lay-offs,

 

Public bluffs & ultimatums, stand-over deadlines —

We’ll move both plants to Asia — ten weeks of riotous stand-off —

And then they won. They won! Was this, then, the redemption

 

Of what they’d heard called ‘multiculturalism’? Seasons of

Blood, name, tribe, nation, creed, tongue, cause, old resentments

And ressentiments, en masse melting-potted, or, rather,

 

Pressure-cooked down for clarity & concentration:

Migrants, rank-&-filers … all become Aussie brothers-

In-arms? For they’d won: more pay, more work, more women;

 

Less fume & spill & leak & speed; safety signs in other

Languages; more toilet breaks (and more often!);

And less overtime, which is when accidents happen.

 

1980: Enter, into this, my father. St Vincent’s

Bin-dressed, hair home-cut with cock’s tail, smiling too much, then

Wrongly; come on the crest of Asiatic sea-throng, come

 

From weird war without real end, from unreal continent

Of dim practices, unregisterable blood quantums,

Repeating sly, lidless, lineless faces — surely not

 

All cultures? Surely limits. Surely if all were welcome

Welcome meant nothing. So no. So close ranks. So he got

Wise fast, my dad: whatever they were — he was less.

 

 

The chassis-body problem

 

The assembly line is a metaphor, and what

It makes is metaphor, and all its processes

And parts are metaphorical. Four thousand men

 

To make a car, and four thousand parts, more or less,

From parts far & wide, to assemble a Ford Falcon:

Stand-in for whatever you want. They understood,

 

These men, it was themselves they made, the means & end —

Autogenesis — mythos of shaft & head & hood,

Rod & pump, pipe & pan; bodies making bodies

 

Moved by money in dinning violence, the carbon blood

To feed the heart-caged fire: the trunks holding holy

Combustion, converting deep time to dead exhaust:

 

We all have one. Australia’s favourite car. And not only

The body — the Spirit of Freedom too, the force

To climb with ease (per the TV ads), stretch your wings,

 

Because: You’re on the move, Australia. This the source

Of hope, ultimately: that all that welding, wrenching,

Vertical integration, standardising of parts,

 

Might yet impel them — to marriage (or, at least, mating):

The bit where body’s lowered onto engine heart,

And the heart shoved up till it’s beating in your throat

 

And what’s manifold becomes one. And Everyman can start

In kings’ sport, and any man with cash can own the road,

Can catch up, sleek as slogans, through stoop-fall speed &

 

Flexed suspension, to the same shrill of engine-note:

The falcon — fastest animal on earth — commands

The sky. And scopes all: the Anglos as well as us.

 

 

Trim

 

Except not. Not us. Skip some years. Help me understand,

Dad, the differential; you fled the devices

Of star, hammer & sickle, just like them. Was it

 

That Asia was never a bluff — but a slipped promise?

Was it some scabbery in you invited Vincent

Chin jokes? When the body-in-white Greeks & Turks called

 

You ‘gook’ or ‘chink’ or ‘nip’, was that straight-bat cricket?

Were you in on it? Impact-wrench words; ratchet pawled;

Each pneumatic syllable bolted into place —

 

Or was it just white noise to you, suction in your skull,

Because not personal? ( Just who you were, your face,

Where you came from, why.) Speaking for myself, I feel

 

Personal about this. My mind takes dark turns; I trace

The moving line in Broadmeadows, where what was built,

For me, is a wholly different order of metaphor:

 

Meadows, for me, calls up now not asthmatic fields

Of Melbourne ryegrass but asphodel, asphalt poured

Over dell, open road freedom over white flowers, 

 

Flowers untaintably white — Elysian white. Say Ford

And now I see the blood-soaked Chicago abattoirs

That inspired Henry’s hanging-chassis assembly line

 

That inspired, yes, Hitler, whose eternal Treblinka

Was as rationally organised, was its own kind

Of work to set you free. (Too much? Then let it be

 

Too much.) Those carcasses processed via Lebensraum

Call out, to me, to automotive Manifest Destiny,

While you, dad, on your own move, come West, come south — where

 

No one’s nullius next to his honest Falcon XE —

You’ll only ever be Vincent Chin, gasping, It’s not fair.

Now say Fairmont. Say Fairlane. Can you see Hoher Göll —

 

Not the falcon but above it — look! — the eagle’s lair —

From which thousand-year height you trust the full circle

Of creation is clear? Still up for grabs, this great south land.

Nam Le

Nam Le is the author of The Boat.

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