by Rowan White

My stiff upper lip grimaced well 
in bronze, wrinkled carefully 
so as not to give away 

my shattering.
Pity my heart or my soul or my hollowed 
eyes, for they saw nothing. The further 
they looked, the less I spied beneath me, 
nor Canute nor Ozymandias, nor 

lone and level sands...
Otherwise I might have sensed it coming,
the rope, the street level murmur 
cum roar cum squeal as, finally,
I topple.
I've waited for this, tip-toeing plinths 
since before Ozi was a boy, for centuries,
before pigeons ever dropped super-
phosphate patters on my epauletted 
shoulders, before the long and lonely 
squalls when every sensible statue 
stayed inside, in galleries and 
libraries dedicated by “cultured” men
to art and science, instead of standing, 
out here, for marbled 

We soldiers, explorers, and traders dignifying 
abject aims, waxing reprehensible with all
our honours and titles and hyphens 

and middle-names.
O, poor-little-rich casting aside
of scruple, doubt, conscience
higher duty, simple humanity.
How could you?! You, you...

I - I wade now in the waters of regret. 
I-told-you-sos wash over me 
like victims' tears. 

Mercy? What, pray, is that?
It's hard, you know, having had 
so many look up to me. I wonder 
if they ever could have loved me, 
even before, before my exploits, 
before these exposed, exploited 
truths inside my heart 

could come to light (I have a heart, you know!)
I was tiny once, as a stolen mother’s babe,
with supple lips and tender finger tips 

ripe for suckling. 
What happened? How ever did I fall 
so far from nursery innocence to 
become this handle of the so-right 

righteous mob?
Learned Latin in a boarding school, 
and punching down as art form. They
gave us frontiers to filch & menservants 

to scorn or envy.
There's irony in rope, 
but none in irons. 

String me down. String me down 
like once we strung up so many: 
trouble makers, escapees. Carry 
my sorry tin-and-copper arse 
anti-ceremonious to the edge of, 

of civilisation. 
I trade now in qualified confessions.

Yesteryear we conquered lands
and rescued souls from "savages".
The sun never set on our audacity. 

Today my fickle frame comes crashing down.
Everyone takes care to stay so far 
away from me, save one who kneels, 
triumphant, on my still-dry neck.

I die more alone than Biko.

This piece “Bronze” was prompted by the wave of protests which swept the world following the murder by police of George Floyd in the United States in mid 2020. In particular it responds to the tossing into the water of a statue of a C17th slave trader in Bristol, England.

Ozymandias is the title of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley about a self-erected monument to Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II, which has fallen & long lain half-buried in the sand.

Rowan White is a Naarm/Melbourne based poet, carer, singer, activist, counsellor, and driving instructor. A regular at many spoken word gigs, he crews for Mother Tongue and Melbourne Spoken Word. Rowan wrote his first book Tailwind and Other Poems in 2015.

%d bloggers like this: