Poetry

As-best-os

They were not persuaded that enough people were dying or suffering an asbestos-related disease to find substitute materials or shut down and walk away. There was always an acceptable level of death.—plaintiff lawyer, Kieran May

A 1994 BBC documentary was titled An Acceptable Level of Death

There are three types in this industry:

Amosite (brown) amphiboles, the straighter

Crocidolite (blue) and Chrysotile (white) serpentine

—for fibre withstanding fire, frost and electricity,

when Scots James Hardie saw opportunity

And the building-boom needed cheap-and-easy.

Fibro-board, cement, paint, brake-linings from Hardie

Workers straight off the boats in a new country

Joining carefree mates in happy-go-lucky

Australia was rising on fibre money

Company-men, hard-working migrants adjusted

Asbestos loosed dust-storm—thick and gusted

Amid “Danger” reports, “stay cool”, unflustered

Until twenty years later, a lifestyle busted

Falling-down, can’t breathe, x-rays clustered

            Sorry man, file away, you’ve been “Dusted”

A Very Good Business ’88 reports company

Shareholders note acquisitions and delivery

Managers, workers have good camaraderie

Future investment Cape Town mining city.

Sponsoring Life Be In It, Project Green—healthy

It’s a dirty business:

Wives washing work-clothes of flying asbestos

In Cape Town children, inside bags, stamping amosite

Aussie workers cannot see mates through the dust

Waterside workers lugging bags from Blue Sky Mine

Carpenters sawing Hardiflex becoming short of breath

Managers visiting workers breathe SuperSix in too

And even if you lived near a mine as a child—

it only takes the smallest bit to get into lungs

                        —Asbestos Kills

A very bad business for worker liability

Company can cover whatever temporarily

Twenty years on, more claimants absolutely

We have to cap it now, with temerity

Our future business lies off-shore, latterly

The blue crocodile has me—by limb and brain

The serpent on my lungs blocks breathing again

X-rays show where the brown snake has lain

A tumour ticket to the chemo nowhere-train

Fingers swelling, won’t bend and won’t drain

I cannot move, have sex, sold a-live-o pain

All I wish now is to breathe easily

Leave money to free-up my family

Dusty floors, fibre wall-to-wall tenancy—         

a dream-house nightmare of making money

I trusted the company—please help me!

Now I am wanted by lawyers, doctors entrusted

Mines notorious for dead kids lie closed and rusted

Round-table deal-makers with union flustered

I drag on my ventilator—knocked-up, blustered   

Don’t tell me to be patient—re-adjusted

            Each breath is a fight, for a life—Dusted

We built without thought of tomorrow’s trustee

Now pull down black shanty-towns built cheaply

Workers, managers, wives dying un-fortunately

Our kids will marry, have kids, without me

How I loved my footloose, lucky-goes country

Throw a figure in the air and catch it blindly

We didn’t see, didn’t want to see

There is no escaping stupidity

After-wards, who goes free, who pays dearly?

Don’t drop your guard. Question authority.

Never gamble your life in dumb company

Hardies say, “We hurt”, “We care”, classly insane

There’s fluid on my lungs—a seeping stain

We trail ventilators—fill-up oxygen plain

There is no cure-all—“dead in a year”—refrain       

We spent our lives, taken, for your hard blue vein

A game of Snakes and Ladders to eternity

Dice mesothelioma, asbestosis uncertainty

Centuries past, asbestos was a novelty

Fire-resisting, but lacking popularity

Till re-invented as the new housing in-dust-try

Then we awoke the crocodile lying deeply—

Beneath our land, the serpent bites, fatally

—the blue-collar, white-collar and brown, equally        

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