Dear Stranger.

And yet, we know each other. If not by face, or voice, or history, then by heart.


Dear, dear Stranger.

Would that my country could be what you set your compass for. Freedom. Life truly lived. Open arms for the persecuted.  In the evilest of hours, safe harbour.

I – like so many here – think about you often. Not in five-minute evening-newscast first-world flash-guilt. Not through click-like hit-send temporary-hash-tag love. But un-fleetingly. Inescapably. Like the history of this land. Like truth. Like honesty. Like being.

You are both this country’s potential for greatness and compassion, and our piteous first-world shame.


Dear Heart-mirror.

When we hate you, we truly hate each other.

And as we break you, we also break ourselves.


Dear Stranger, who is not so strange to me at all.

I am sorry that you came to us for help, and we could not find it in ourselves to be what both of us needed. Strong. Rational. Compassionate. Brave. Kind. Generous. Smart.

I’m sorry we have not found, and are not searching hard enough, for a more just way. And I am sorry we have not demanded this of those who run our country – effectively at least.

I am sorry we have voted into office the heartless and the hopeless, time and again.

I am sorry we have incarcerated you and your kin, for hundreds upon hundreds of no-end-in-sight days.

I am sorry for the teary jail-house tableaus you must watch your little ones sketch, through the haze. I am sorry for their wilting. I am sorry for their wasting. I am sorry we are taking their childhoods away.

I see your children in my children’s faces. Separate only by the circumstance of birth. And yet by bombs, brute-force, barbed wire. And yet by war, rage, guns and genocide. And now by guards. By walls. By fear. By self-interest, and razor wire.

I am sorry for your hell-on-earth. Both here, and that which you fled.

I am sorry the cries of we who care so much are not loud enough; not insistent enough; often go unheard. I am sorry for our fight-tiredness, which by comparison is not any kind of tiredness at all.


Dear Un-Stranger.

Australia’s fear has turned us into that which we fear most.

We, the terrorisers.

We, the inhumane.

We, the monstrous.

We, the disregarders of human life.


Dear Friend.

I know not what you’ve run from, nor how the journey has been. But I choose to believe there is hope for you, in this beautiful, ancient black land. This land, scorched and song-lined and stolen. Still bitter with hatred, and misunderstanding. Wide, and rich, and bounteous. But unequal, unjust and afraid. This warm, wise multi-culture: haphazard and eager and bright. This bloody-historied homeland. We will somehow put things right.

My Dear, we are not Strangers.

For I know we know each other.

I – and so many – we are the country you set your compass for.

We are freedom. Life truly lived. Open arms, for the persecuted. And in the evilest of hours, safe harbour.

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian author and slam poet of Afro- Caribbean descent. Her short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the 2015 ABIA Award for Best Literary Fiction and the 2015 Indie Award for Best Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize. Her memoir, The Hate Race, her poetry collection Carrying the World, and her first children’s book, The Patchwork Bike, will be published by Hachette in late 2016.

More by Maxine Beneba Clarke ›

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  1. The unspelt poetic subtext of this poetic piece is that Australia hould receive and give permanentsettlement to any and all who wish to come here and permanently settle.

    The current count of refugees and DPs is 60 million, most of them seeking refuge from the centuries-old sectarian wars of Islam. If we opened the borders of Australia to any or all of them, nobody can tell how the country would be transformed, but if the Islamic world is any guide, it would most likely not be for the better.

    Failure to concede that current border-protection policies might possibly have a rational basis makes this piece a lopsided crock of bullshit.

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