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 glory. 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 - 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.