Poetry | Ode to the defenceless: from hypotaxis to parataxis

poem to the v-c and university as a whole:
a ‘position paper’ for discussion


The killers who think they’re life-givers
surround themselves with people who
will praise them – there are dead trees
to climb, crows’ nests to be made, drones
to fly, rebuilding the unmaking in own
images – familiar back home reflections
for the expeditionary to attach onto.
Reassuring when the gun jams, a dust
storm interferes with communications,
strategy and tactics entangle with greater
goods of nation, industry, striking of medals.
Camouflage’s ghastly appropriation.

The killers who think they’re life-givers
have beliefs and loyalty but not ‘ideology’,
and are only fundamentalist about family,
mates, some versions of God, always country
as originally gazetted by imperial measure
but not as it was originally with different
modes of quantification measuring the unseen
depths above and beyond ‘resources’, ‘commodities’,
topoi and motifs of heroism and ‘sacrifice’ –
a word that’s like finishing a sentence
with a preposition. Daily orders. Standing orders.
Epodes. Codas. Euphemisms. Code names.
The official correspondent. Artist. Official Official.
War and professionalism. Conscript ideations.
Camouflage’s ghastly appropriation.

The killers who think they’re life-givers
protect conscience with the idea that they
won’t be forgotten ‘back home’, with home
a variable in play with every threat and
counter-threat, every hanging conjunction,
every wound that fast-tracks medical knowledge.
For these are people of peaceful uniforms
who fight justly in ‘just wars’ and can detect
a just person like the flutter of a gold leaf
in its electroscope. They are built of similes.
Insurgence isn’t the movement of fossil fuel
through a pipeline, it is the flow of orders,
Camouflage’s ghastly appropriation.

The killers who think they’re life-givers
know the meaning of security. To give just
a personal example, which I’d be told is the exception
to the rule, the rotten apple, the weeded out:
a far-right kid (of a far right family) I went
to school with became a soldier in the SAS,
his telescopic sights trained covertly – kissing
the hand that fed his ideals of white sovereignty.
Or someone else’s face in the class photo – what
became … ? The triumphalism of parading with the dead,
the dead made dead – trophy is not trophy
when it’s a natural occurrence … died of old age
on the field? Someone’s back yard, the expedition’s
field. To get in on the act – support services –
singers, artists, entertainers, chips off the old block.
Flown in. Flown out. Bright sparks under the radar.
Kids at schools ‘back home’ who don’t ANZAC
are given a hard time still – drilled in ‘old ways’.
Camouflage’s ghastly appropriation.


Kissing the hands of babies has given way
to encircling the family in weapons-making
and weapons maintenance, in the glory of jobs
as reality and deaths (always of the unjust) as
collateral inevitable sad reality but in the mirror
of the ‘democratic western nation state’, each
drop of blood each scar each action outside
the civilian is an exponential echo of non-
participation, avoidance, and even ‘cowardice’.

But the poem can’t give them what they want
if it lacks the dirge or the rumble of movement,
the trauma of tear and strike, the surge & release
of mimesis. In a lull, on leave, music soothes
and abrades, relieves and sets the nerves
on edge but there’s not even that in this.
Work made from profit for profit is cognitive
dissonance of dummy grenade and machine
gun round as markers of peace between allies.

Kissing the hands of babies has given way
to just treatment of the just in the just war
machine. The unjust are reason for the just
to get their justice machine rolling. The historically
informed might quip about Judge Bowen’s limerick,
and the retreat into the pastorals of Ancient Rome.
The western continuum. Armed combatants
picked out by AI selectivity which is frightening
not because it is far from the human hand, but
because it is so close. Mimic whose mind
of its own is a mind in its maker’s image.
Crusades by any other names – sonar
in the suburbs, filling the Sound with insults
to whales and dolphins and all swimmers.


Universities become military installations
with the dilution of humanities into actions
of death rather than reflections on the making
of death to stop death outside natural causes outside
the best that we can do to keep all people who want
to be alive, alive. Scrutiny of death becomes the entry
point for the making of death away from the security
of enclave. Universities protect intellectual copyright,
join forces, distil morality into applicable and conceptual
and store or use accordingly. Rhetoric is contractual
and a condition of employment. Articles of war
are not articles of clothing, washed along holy rivers.
Each in their own carrel safe under the collegiate umbrella.
One hand links to another, and far up the chain
is that hand we know from poetry signs the paper.

Universities become military installations
and predatory encryption is recognition among
cognoscenti and civil discussion in civil society is pollen
in a sterile room that will be cleaned away, burnt.
The strategy is fuelled and ready, mothballs
in the backroom, coercive faces prop a government
decree a callout to placate an iron-clad agreement
for ore and markets and manufacture and home-grown
technology. Such knowledge deferment in the just
peacefulness the cool places the modern amenities
the broad array of targets as specific as needs must
and informed decisions made after sleepless nights.
Universities become military installations
the lyric bent of capital molecules particles filmy
spectrum on ponds and oceans, the shoreline
the beachhead the batteries sustaining histories
of expansion, rapid contraction of rights when
needs must; but the poets aren’t leaving the room,
aren’t dispensing with the shade of old trees,
the ones that cling to the edge, drawn to river
and old knowledges and conversations with eternity
without agreements and divvying up for the greater
good of the stems of buildings of industries of learning.
And the irony is that where treaty is needed no treaty
is made and the stakes go in as landgrabs and proxies.
Who do we impress in our screenshot moments? The rise
& the rise. Vexed peace-fire Prometheus banishment to come?

Epode Delayed

All employment contact people we know family all hand to mouth
or hand to luxury undifferentiated in the policy acquittal to get truth

out of the baby’s mouth that suits an aqualung a powderkeg mix
‘tribal’ and ‘oil’ and ‘strong men’ and now even a Bookchin focus

from the island prison – an eco freedom to disrupt gender arguments on
over the horizon conferencing, a potentate agitator

shed to light in media booth or via phone or Skype or whatever informed
words deliver ‘know not what we do’ as if moral position opposed

to the data is ill-informed and lacking cogency, as the unarmed volunteer
mops up no matter whose blood is spreading no matter who no matter

in realpolitik of armoured offices all waves emanating all support
of top brass all boardroom acquiescence as no trees grow from lament

no forests are as inventive no deserts as clear-sighted no hungry
mouths as grasping for footholds in the service of personal glory

no baby’s mouths as clichéd as following the fortunes of a cheap
and robust weapon the poor rising up the professional armed forces heaped-

up in the gritty realism the broken and busted families (the ones
collecting their dead direct from the field), the crops sown in bones

sewn in camouflage to hide from surveillance developed outside
and looking down from above over the shoulder eager with platitudes

and research – cloth of skin on snag of wire, interventions of torpedoes
mimicking fast sleek fish of many species – fish, just fish – enemies

(unjust) in just piles (bothering stat all the same), how in dry
places even blood is quickly dusty, pushing away the cold to die by.


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John Kinsella

John Kinsella’s new work includes the story collection Pushing Back (Transit Lounge, 2021), Saussure's Kaleidoscope Graphology Drawing-Poems (Five Islands Press/Apothecary Archive, 2021) and The Ascension of Sheep: Collected Poems Volume 1 (UWAP, 2022).

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