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What the people don't know

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The Department Knows

The department knows everything
and promises nothing in triplicate.
Atop a mountain of documents, the minister for all that lives and dies
surveys his kingdom with an eagle's eye

and an artichoke's heart. Absently, he twirls

the ends of an equation: those desperadoes in their plywood boats,
the public with their mortgages. He is too quick
to wait for those comparisons that journalists

and soppy, half-wit do-gooders will try
to hang him with. The human costs are hidden
beneath a million backyard pools, forgotten
over beer and blackened snags.

Suppose the numbers don't add up?
He can live with that. He has friends
or people who owe him, which is even better.
If the curtain falls (and surely it must one day)

he will slip away with barely a nod,
sinking into an obscurity reserved for those
no-longer famous but merely well-to-do.
For now though, matters await decision,

machines of power whir and tick beneath his hands.
Far from here, small, round faces stare unblinking,
cans and bottles spread like sacraments.
Who watches? Who sees? The department

sees everything, counts the fists
that land wherever pain blossoms. Only a little blood, perhaps,
but marks and bruises can last a lifetime.
In parts like this, forgetting is a life-long task;

elsewhere it's a blessing bestowed on those most guilty,
evidence melting like chalk marks in the rain.
It's just as well there is no God. If there were,
who'd dare to pray? Each morning

before the dirty work, we humbly beseech His grace
and wisdom. Forgive us our sins, we pray,
today and again tomorrow. Our hands make signs
we neither mean nor understand, then we turn back

to the business that never ends
as long as money moves, as long as we dare
tread the carpet of burning coals, keep our nerve, balance
the government's will and the party's folly.

The minister knows what the people don't know
can't hurt him, makes him strong. The people don't ask,
but pay their bills, complain and vote, have no choice,
are overworked and entertained remorselessly.

Boats sink, but only strangers drown;
the banks are kept at bay another month;
pink petrol haze clouds all regret;
the minster makes a speech, the department plans.

Jeff KloogerJeff Klooger’s work has appeared in a number of Australian literary journals, including Meanjin, Overland and Westerly. He has a PhD in social theory and philosophy from La Trobe University.

Topic tags: jeff klooger, the department, minister, new australian poem, political poetry



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Existing comments

Very good. Feeds all my prejudices against faceless government and remorceless bureaucracy

Michael Head | 16 December 2008  

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