Wherever you drive in Perth at the moment it is impossible to avoid cars flying Australian flags, supposedly to celebrate Australia Day.
This poem by American actor and political activist Peter Coyote speaks of the dangers of nationalism and patriotism that such flag waving evokes. The poem, along with many others, can found on the excellent website Poets Against War
Flags are everywhere.
Tied to cars, strapped
to twisted girders, fanning the air
where silver needles have pierced
the steel ribs of a bold idea,
tossing hope to the teeth of gravity
cinching the collar on a world
straining to breathe.
Men are lifting broken children
from stones in Beirut. A flop-eared mutt
guards a human foot in Bosnia.
Stacked skulls peek
through lianas in Cambodia, while a fireman
breathes into the mouth
of a dead infant in Oklahoma.
The cookies of mothers, pomegranates, musky sheets
of marriage beds, pistachios and birthday cakes
are drenched in oily smoke and iron slag. Everywhere,
electrons serve only their own will,
heavy metals float as ash. Gaps appear
in every skyline. Everywhere, flags
open their wings in the hearts
of people, flutter in the corner of my tv
while a man who thinks he is speaking,
barks, his lips
slick with marrow.
The prep-school boys
are rampaging again. The palm-frond bars
stocking brewskis, and 'gimme'-hats
for the the dead-drop boys,
the dirty secret boys,
from El Mozote and Panama,
off to Baghdad and Kabul now,
dropping in to Peshawar.--
Their itineraries clot the tongue
blood leaks from the ears of history.
the Class of '55 boys
are crazy for bottle-neck flies.
snapshots, an upturned chair, a thumb--
--everywhere people are weeping and afraid,
waving flags, plotting check and mate,
as if one smooth move might rid the world
of shadows. They are burying
Jews in Tel Aviv, lofting flag-wrapped martyrs
in Ramallah, cursing the mourners in New York.
Everywhere, there is emptiness, tattered space
where someone once sauntered
or warmed their hands with steaming chestnuts.
Each banner a thousand deaths
each flag a sword, or swooning plane,
each snapping pennant taps
a riddle in code:
can the heart of a people
be opened by a killer?
Closed by a leader?
Numbed to suffering even
as it weeps?
in Chile are poems,
in Nicaragua palms and vines;
in Yugoslavia catalogued in Brussels,
in Baghdad irradiated dirt.
In New York, dust
drifting on sills
and dashboards through vaporized glass,
dancing in freshets of air that whisper,
startling those holding their breaths
to hear the faintest of cries.
And the hard man with the soft eyes
resting in the shadows of poppies,
negotiates with the lavender angel
the number of souls required
as threads in a flag
woven to the glory
Autumn Equinox 2001
* Random thoughts is a weekly attempt to use the words and thoughts of others to illuminate aspects of contemporary life here in Australia and Western Australia.