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The quiet assimilators

  • 16 September 2019


Selected poems


The quiet assimilators

Take almost any street, in any modern city

And we are there. We are the substrata of society

Ever-present, the unseen lining, the padding in the crowd.

We carry our backgrounds

Closer than our wallets, effortlessly

Yet they inform our every step, invisibly.


Because unlike our children, if we have them,

We were not born in this country we call home

But seduced by the vast air, the swaying gumsAnd the freedoms they implied, we chose to come.We bought into the Australian Dream, packaging and all,

Shook off the reassuring, cloying familial ties

Jumped through immigration hoops

Applied for visas and lingered in alien passport queues

Later sealing our legitimacy in citizenship statusAnd all the while, getting used to new waysOf doing things.


We have assimilated, oh God have we assimilated

Tailoring ourselves to blend in how we dress,Our turns of speech, its intonation, and countless other ways

Or so we let ourselves believe

(Until a chance remark, 'And where is your accent from?'Undoes us in a second.)


So we try just that bit harder, and

Encourage our children, if we have them, just that bit more.

The big divide, you see, never was the traditional culpritsOf language or religion (we've heard it all before),But this: that we take nothingFor granted.


Yet a kernel of obstinance buds and grows inside us

And we feel, unaccountably and frustratingly,Growing closer to the land we left behind

Acquiring a latent faithfulness to old ways, rituals and rhythms

Which fix themselves, like beacons in our penumbral minds,The way we left them years, decades perhaps, ago.


And so the circle closes, leaving us

Respectable citizens of the establishmentOutside, but wavering inside

Daring, in our weaker moments, to wonder

If we ever should have come.




A journey of sorts

You didn't see me

But I turned back

And then for years

Every time I passed that place

I'd see your crumpled form

Wheelchaired across the courtyard

Plastic bracelet pale against your wrist,

Resistance in the set of your shoulders.


Did a lifetime spent abroad

Sliced up between three continents

And all the years of travel

(good luck tiki in your inner pocket)

With its attendant rituals

Of collars pressed and briefcases clicking

Inching forwards in countless check-in queuesNodding acceptance of clunky hotel keys

Patient layers of rewritten drafts

Pencilled scribbles up and down the margin

Handshakes, boardrooms, coffee in plastic cups

Inhaling overblown officialdom

With cigarettes over too-long lunches

In that quiet way of yours — did all this

Stand you in good stead?

For this, too, was a journey of sorts.


The white gash of your hospital gown

The glow of multicolored monitors

Recording your vital functions

While nurses replenished, adjusted and tweaked

The spaghetti curls of drip