I have been arrested by the moral police.
They whisper whisper through a chink in the wall – “sedition”… “immorality”… “vice!” Face face down on wet clay & blood on the teeth left. A blindfold. At times they speak with the planed vowels of diplomats, at times they yap yap yap like wolves on a plain. “One prisoner”… “lost island!” Who do they work for? A rogue state or some demigod self-proclaimed? I touch the cool cool stone wall & can hear the ocean somewhere…
The thought of suicide has kept me alive.
Through that chink in the stone, a thin ray of light.
a scarlet thread of bloodline… i’ll follow it.
one end in the beak of a golden owl,
winging through weft & warp of bushland NO
it is tied to a rempit boy’s customised motorbike,
racing down mirrored streets NO
NO i’m swimming through a labyrinth after the red thread, like theseus submerged.
yes, maybe that.
grave dirt falls from my hair
& though my wrists are bound & ankles fettered, still i swim,
leaving explosions of silt & traces of light.
this blindfold will allow me to see, somehow
something else guides me now.
“In tonight’s news: Beazley knifed by Rudd knifed by Gillard knifed by Rudd knifed by-
“In tonight’s news: The ruling party wins again by a landslide amidst claims of -”
“In tonight’s news: Bisadari kills the king and queen, castrates the prince and disappears on a -”
I drink coffee with Hang Tuah & Ned Kelly
at a restoran in Maju Junction.
They exchange gifts – a keris for a metal helmet –
& they laugh & laugh.
They speak about foolish history & misunderstandings
unhappy is the land that has no heroes
how their legacies have been founded on hearsay and speculation
no andrea. unhappy is the land that is in need of heroes
how their legacies morph & tremble & grow sick.
I sit beside them smoking Joe Byrne’s opium.
They look sideways then whisper in unison, escuchelar, la ciudad respirando
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City … BANG
I unreel with smoke & wind down streets.
Sideways, the eyes are all sideways.
I drop 2 caps ten minutes before twelve & buy a bottle of Jamesons. My mate turns up & he’s agitated, wild-eyed. A pub on Londsdale. Then a house party in Brunswick with a model & some singers. Sideways, the eyes are all sideways. Then Stalactites but we don’t really eat, just peck at charred meat & garlic sauce. We end up in a smoked out car near Southern Cross Station. Me, him & a guy I didn’t know.
Next morning I find a recording on my phone. 4:05am. Must have been by accident. The click of a lighter, the suck on a pipe & a snort of derision or intake. The two of them freestyle & when my friend laughs there is not a skerrick of tenderness. A goblin, this is not my friend, whose singing voice could make one cry with wanting. We are all exiles.
Exiles in a world of exiles.
Exiles in the words of exiles.
…there are larger forces at play here.
I come across a creature behind a fence,
under a shawl of mist.
It whinnies & drools, snarls & pants.
I cannot see what it is, but
pull at the corner of the mist & it peels off like fish-skin…
The creature is enormous,
muscles of mud & green moss,
bones visible, cut by the lash deep.
Its throat is yoked, it moans.
Spindle limbed robots sodomise it
while a foreman stands & points his finger.
I creep to the fence & feed it sweet, feeble words
through the chain links.
I hang garlands of kisses on its eyelids.
Even in a nighttime absolute,
I imagine sunlight falling on us
like flakes of gold paint
from the face of a saint.
Moss on the prison wall & I’m fed rice raw. My fingernails grow long long. Hours amble on, years. I compose a poem in my head & then scrape it on the wall:
“When all lies have been spoken,
When all the forests have bled,
When all the paths are smoking
now the hunter goes unfed.
When the chainsaw whispers fables,
When time itself has fled,
When the corpse sleeps in its cradle
now the guilty man has pled”
I think I said it.
SUMATRA BURNING SUMATRA BURNING SUMATRA
VICTORIA BURNING VICTORIA BURNING VICTORIA
EVERYTHING BURNING BURNING BURNING
Kuala Lumpur smokehaze
The city beneath, blinding, glass pyramids, mirrors & metal bindings. This part of the city is all magnets.
A man dances. He has breasts & Mac’d lips.
Women in burkas watch him twirl. Their husbands blow shisha smoke, double apple, wearing shorts & thongs.
“Prada, imitation Prada, genuine imitation Prada…”
I find a bookshop like an oasis in a desert of luxury.
But what is the bigger luxury – the stanza or the thread?
The bigger prize – the heart or the head?
Brand new Mosques bloom neon with Saudi money, millions of heads bob in unison, calls to prayer intersperse soap operas, the Imam smiles a smile of the jamu salesman whose shirt stays bone dry in 90% humidity…
THERE IS NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION
I see a man’s skull compelled into the pavement by ten pairs of shoes in Bukit Bintang. “Dia kurang ajar! He said something bad about orang Melayu!”
“I came here from Lahad Datu to get a job. But no jobs for me. I had no diploma. I ran ice & marijuana to two states. You know what they do to man who runs drugs? But now I have a good job! I work in a big building. Now I don’t have parang… Now I have a gun and a big salary.”
“This is the beginning of big things. They won this election but now the people know how”
“I want change but I still don’t trust Anwar”
Shapes in the smokehaze.
I wake up with a woman I don’t know. She nibbles my earlobes, licks my tattoos & whispers –
keep it real
keep it real
keep it real
in my hometown they’re joyriding right now, i bet, swirling doughies in the carpark. there was a paddock there once. we made molotovs from vb bottles – steven’s old man taught us how – and started scrubfires we put out with piss & riverwater
Nestled ‘mid the forest mountains where the winds
with anger sweep,
Lowly lies a country township sheltered by their
Seeming like a pearl embosomed on the emerald joy
In a quiet Nature’s kingdom where her brightness
There and there -”
scarnon ya fuckin madcunt? watch ya mouf and playfa keeps youngblood. so what are ya? wog? abo? if i tell ya i’m gonna haveta killya.
muslim ay… parliament house is next, mate, trust me. mark my words, mate, parli’s next. we will decide who comes to this country! that baby.. is he one of them peruvian orphans? you’re so brave, mrs. musa. nah, i’ve got it, sarajevo, he must be bosnian. you’re so brave, mrs. musa to have married one of them. REFRESH TWEET: anarchist, new malcolm x, terrorist, the young hot face of moderate islam, plagiarist, the saviour, the great, the fake – YOU KNOW MOHAMED WAS A CAMEL RAPING FAGGOT OSAMA BIN MUSA? IF I FIND YA I’M GONNA FUCK YOU UP
Yeh I heard you say something about wildness, & alright, I can embody that. I am the thing you feared most, the thing you cannot reconcile with your noble visions, the thing that lurches in the dark & binds you with narcotic eloquence & chemical kisses, yes I am him, dark skinned, multi-limbed animal you flayed & pinned between headlines, do you remember? Neither your well meaning advances nor vitriolic slander can contain or define me…
I am that wild thing taught religion & speech; beholden to neither. I will be dead soon & you will be none the wiser, motherfucker.
Outside the cell I hear the ocean. But now it crackles like static. A broken radio? A recording maybe…
… Maybe I will break down into component chemicals,
(the way plastic does)
and become a flowing, invisible veil.
I will wind my way to the North Pacific Gyre,
into the circular currents that trap the
clotted refuse of man.
One day, beloved,
after the nightmare absolute,
when man is no more,
the wine-dark lung will repel its poisons
upon the shore.
and there will be no echo to say what i once was,
what stories once trembled my blood.
A plate of gruel clatters through a slot. I eat with filthy hands, the mess
sticking to my heavy gullet
heavy heavy heavy
as sweat gilded lover
as ketamine boulder
as history & homeland
as the arms holding you down & the nurse amputating your limbs
as the blood of a thousand bassdrums
as a killing field sunset
I think I said it.
May I sleep again? The clay is soft, the stone wall cool cool…
For years, the same nightmare of crumbling teeth.
I spit them into a basin by the mouthful.
I am told
they are commonplace dreams
about powerlessness & changing terrain.
A time may come when I sew them into the earth.
But what earth?
Am I dragon or Cadmus?
& from these relics, what fierce race will spring?
Penglipur lara – reliever of sorrows, storyteller– interview with Omar Musa
When I looked up Omar Musa from his website, one of the first things I saw was a clip at TEDxSydney where his performance at the Sydney Opera House brought people to a standing ovation. It’s incredible to see spoken word rousing so much passion and excitement, it’s incredible to also hear and watch this storyteller in action; even online, his performance doesn’t loses its essence. Maybe for Omar, this isn’t such a rare thing to bring audiences enraptured on their feet, as he is also a hip hop artist and member of international hip hop group MoneyKat.
In fact this poet has been an MC for years. Hip hop influenced his addiction to spoken word poetry. His list of hip hop influences include Wu Tang Clan, Ice Cube and Public Enemy. As a hip hop artist, Omar feels lucky that he has traveled to “almost every continent with [his] music, and collaborate[d] with people from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.”
For Omar, hip hop is “the most potent and accessible form of poetry in the world, especially for young people.”
Unfortunately, burdened with other projects means that Omar doesn’t rap as much as he used to.
His father Musa bin Masran was also a poet. Musa’s influence on Omar was quite profound:
“His influence was less stylistic and more to do with an approach to poetry. Two things stand out. One, he told me that as youngsters, he and his friends used to spontaneously create pantuns (a traditional rhyming form of poetry), just for the hell of it. This taught me that poetry could be part of everyday life, spontaneous and fun, just like the freestyling I later became obsessed with. Secondly, I remember he introduced me to a famous Indonesian poet, W.S. Rendra, and said something to the effect of, “see this man? when he performs poetry, it isn’t boring and academic. He performs in stadiums to thousands of people at political rallies and lives it, embodies it. These two things made an enormous impact on me.”
In terms of identity, Omar is comfortable with identifying as a Malaysian-Australian writer. However, he is “well aware of the argument that these types of labels can potentially ‘ghettoise’ literature.”
For Omar, his identification is “to symbolically claim complexity and hybridity in an Australia that often tries to get us to conform to a strict idea of what identity is. I am someone whose mother is of Irish extraction, whose father is from Borneo and is himself a Suluk-Kedayan hybrid. I am a person who grew up in a small town in Australia and who has mostly used an African-American artform to express himself. Even in explaining it now, I know that it is merely a label and that any label I could create would never do justice to the complexity of my heritage/identity.”
Omar’s bicultural identity influences his work, using “poetry as a way to access and understand my Malay side”.
“Malaysia is a complex and confusing place, where a rich history grapples with modernity. Growing up outside it, it is easy to feel removed and I needed an access point (besides my family and the people I met on visits), which has turned out to be poetry. And when I say “poetry”, I mean the Malaysian poetry community, Malaysian poetry both classical and modern, and the writing of my own poetry, which allows me to think through some of the more perplexing and chaotic aspects of being Malaysian-Australian. I used the first section of my new book Parang to deal with issues like environmental destruction in Borneo, politics, religion, feelings of guilt at having grown up relatively comfortable while my family is impoverished, and the very idea of “a homeland.” Second generationers or exiles tend to mythologise the homeland and I’m interested in exploring where myth and reality meet in my work.”
For the Peril Map, Omar has submitted an epic work-in-progress – “The Amok of Omar Musa”. According to Omar, it’s about “mapping the internal terrain of a man who is slowly going mad and the numerous worlds inside him”. In terms of pinning his work/biography to a place, he says, “while I am often drawn back to writing about Australia and Malaysia, I am not interested in pinning my work to any specific location. A lot of my work is about in-between (or imagined) places”.
This in-between, surreal quality can be seen expressed in a promotional video for his latest book, Parang. It also features a poem from the book, “A trance”.
Currently Omar is working on two big projects:
“One is a play called Bonegatherer, for the Street Theatre in Canberra, which is about massacres, pacts of silence and the dark history of this nation. It is set in my hometown Queanbeyan in the 1800s and is taking me to some shadowy places. The second is a verse novel named Here Come the Dogs for Penguin Australia. It is about a man who starts a bushfire on purpose, as well as migration, hip hop, masculinity and powerlessness. These two projects are the biggest, most ambitious and most mentally taxing of any I’ve ever undertaken. Let’s see where/how I end up.”
Wherever Omar ends up, I’m sure he’ll have us enraptured and up on our feet.
– interviewed by Lian Low