madness is the false punishment of a false solution, but by its own virtue it brings to light
the real problem, which can then be truly resolved.
~ Michel Foucault
The frumpy white woman complaining about the trains
running late, turns out to be the magistrate.
Soft-spoken psychiatric registrars are smartly dressed.
All radiate hermeneutic privilege.
In the locked ward, the tranquillised make do
drooling, watching TV, hallucinating Nauru.
We, the family, face the magistrate and the medical experts.
Security guards escort my dark-skinned brother.
His mood is oddly elevated, polite, his jacket crumpled.
Two weeks of sedation, confinement—missing home.
She reads out the charges. Common assault, 17 phone calls
to the local crime squad, defamatory letters to the council.
‘You stated to the police that you have been traveling
in a time machine in search of El Dorado. Is that correct?’
The magistrate harps on, theatrically, as if dreams corrupt
authority, and she is the official instrument of humour.
Except that it isn’t funny. Granted there are sarcasms, veiled
POA threats, perverse legal posturing. When asked to plea
my brother quotes from Eliot, The Heart of Darkness and Blondie:
Once had a love and it was divine
Soon turned out I was losing my mind
Chaotically, he unpacks the Civil Rights Act, the Constitution,
spiralling his riddled gaze to facts like AUSTRALIA IS NO FOREIGNER
TO RACIAL INFRINGEMENT, or THIS IS A COLONISED COUNTRY.
‘… but we are not debating Terra Nullius’ she grumbles, untimely
as ever. Next week is Naidoc, which should remind her
it is all, without exception, one invaded country.
Always was, always will be. Must fight corporate crime. Koori art
graces the walls of Europe’s museums but some die in poverty,
or without recognition, which to an artist feels the same.
The mentally ill are victims of sexual abuse on Manus, begging in streets,
or sleeping under bridges.
Always was, always will be.
And yes, there will be time for revisions and elisions, though time
is running out for physicians and politicians …
His freestyling galls the magistrate. I’d like to interject that structural
racism affects the brown mind and body, allowing madness entry.
But in this Foucault moment, I swear, he’s hexed white supremacy.
The fine young registrar grins approvingly, (an abstract cue
to me that it was never given back, that you’re just wild
about whatever defines your white agency.
It’s a tender transaction. )
This poem was first published in The Lifted Brow 37. You can purchase a copy here.
Michelle Cahill's collection of short stories, Letter to Pessoa, won the 2017 NSW Premier's Literary Award for New Writing. Her latest poetry book is The Herring Lass.