The Poem in the Classroom

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1

the classroom
is a square bounded by
three walls and a wall of glass
with a fine view of many factories
that way the future can be faced
squarely you sit
between the blackboard and the factories
at lots of little desks
I ask you to open your books
we look
blankly at the text

and did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England’s mountains green
and was the holy lamb of god
on England’s pleasant pastures seen?

and did the countenance divine
shine forth upon our clouded hills
and was Jerusalem builded here
among these dark satanic mills?

bring me my bow of burning gold
bring me my arrows of desire:
bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
bring me my chariot of fire

I will not cease from mental flight
nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
till we have built Jerusalem
in England’s green and pleasant land

I ask
if any of you have seen it before
one or two
australians put up their hands     they’ve sung
it in Sunday school
I laugh

outside
the white sun beats down
on dry grass and smoking chimneys     I start
with the satanic mills and explain
they were churches and (not as some critics swift to suppress
discontent would have it)
also factories     Blake lived
through the industrial revolution     do you know
what that is?

the same shadows
surround you

the school
opens into the factory
the industrial revolution
shut every other gate
driving
your blond or dark or fawn-skinned ancestors
one by one out of their mountains
and valleys     out of their villages and gardens
until starving
they clogged the streets
of new and filthy cities
slept in mud and rain
cramped lice-infested sick
crossed the high seas

but there was no escape

you can see the mills from here
if you look
and you know satan, Dracula, the lord
plotting in his castle on the hill
monstrous perversions of men
Frankensteins for the shop floor
his cellars full of machinery
his Mercedes-Benz     he is
the enemy

from here too
you can see smog
cloud the australian sky like passions
envy     jealousy     rage
cloud a face
like prognostications     famine     war and plague
cloud the future

a television screen
the window
brings bad news

I offer you a copy
of Children of Albion:     on the cover
you can see one of Blake’s golden cherubim
all children
when they are sufficiently angry
are like him
I ask you to describe
holy rage     it burns
on the page

or high or low
in each child
sitting before me now
giants that appear and disappear
in this glass cage

is that what your eyes see
through these silken veils
or do I
mock your loss of liberty?

I remind you of a hymn
you remind me
of the runner
in the film
gas masks in the workshop
shell-shattered corpses
dismantled by prisoners

o clouds unfold

in your faces sometimes
loneliness
sometimes
the solidarity of innocence
sometimes
its readiness to fight
sometimes
spite
and sometimes a face
going rapidly out of reach
like Orphelia’s
drowned

2

arriving on a set of broken rules
Hamlet
stranded in Denmark
with the wrong code

they used words to bind
Ophelia
and break her soul
poisoning her ear
you have heard them all

let me remind you
standing by in rage while
parents dutifully destroy
their golden daughter

it ends in slaughter
bodies heap the stage

I had to go
down a long tunnel
with a lantern
I heard you crying faintly
at the end

in the shadows from the lantern
faces appeared menacing
prejudice with a black hat
policemen

Mortdale

such places no one wants to visit again
terminal stations
Hamlet with his schoolboy answers
leaps into her grave     it doesn’t
bring her back to life
Laertes
foolish young hand
on the poisoned knife

3

I ask you
if you once walked
on mountains
if you could remember
prospects of flowers

lambs of god
tigers of wrath

each heart
is a forest
from beat to beat
a river rushes
round and round

it is the crime of ingenuity
to bury it
underground

and the ground
has gone so far under
palimpsests of trees
buried seeds
only the red wombat burrower
in history knows
where they are

the train that goes through Tempe
terminates at Mortdale
Tempe whose once sweeping lawns
contained a rich man’s Mount Olympus
now just another station
on a rusty suburban line
ditches overgrown with Crofton weed
a swampy disused reservoir for industrial water known
as the horse paddock
vines covering garbage
tin rooves held down by bricks
the countenance divine
doing the dishes
worn out with overwork and kids
looks out on this

4

your breath is a golden cloud
the breath you exhale
is said to be blue

I don’t want to make
a mockery of madness by pretending
to eastern wisdom     as bad
as declaring myself Napoleon to say
I am Lao Tzu good-day     yet
lost on the murderous mountain
night coming on     a storm
blowing up

wet tents     a troop of shivering underfed children
a compass I never learnt to read
I comfort myself by repeating
observers of the tao do not seek fulfillment
although I’ve lost the way

Beatrice’s car was drawn
by lions     Dante saw his face reflected
in their unsleeping yellow eyes

and the accumulated geology of this world we have made
to break ourselves on
a door
we shut on our fingers
is the light flickering
as you twist and scream and struggle to escape
the nightmare flowing in
the window
the city continuously going up in smoke
hands raised in wrath against you
bruising your tender skin     extinguishing
the flames in your eyes

could you exorcise your pain
from these words
as colours are struck from broken stone
by Arthur’s sword

dawn
would fill with light
as a glass fills with water
as eyes fill with life

how can I explain Jerusalem

on a good morning
day brightening
outside the window
birdsong

look

if you want to know
where is Jerusalem

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