James Brookes: ‘Remittance Men’

Remittance Men
after Judith Wright

All dead, now—did some consider it dignity
not to outlive a dying Empire? Falling in
with temporary gentlemen demobbed back to trades
and gentlemen-rankers, or termed “expatriates”
(exports of patriotism, shoeshine, disdain),
they arrived discreetly, discretely embarrassed:
their skin a shade too thin, or hair a touch too coarse;
their expressions too familiar, or too strange;
the weird, the wayward, the anyway worrisome.
Indefinite uncles positioned on the flanks
of photographs they’d mount to stare back at themselves,
keened-eyed, from under their brows, with Mensur scars
and long held silences, as on parade
or standing sentry over their kept-up lives.
High tea and gunfire breakfasts; a xeric thirst
for ink and newsprint; ledgers to reckon the depth
of stipends down the neat double-entry columns
rarely troubled past the first few days of the month.
A poisonous and periodic compassion
trickled into their parched days, until it didn’t.
No elegies; grief enough spent on them living.
Stupendous vices. Stifled choices. Look for them
beyond the creek, gulch, wadi, arroyo, buried
in the comfort of all they never lived to see:
new states and old crimes their laws would not recognise,
where jackaroo grandkids might learn by telephone
of distant viscountcies they’ve saved from abeyance.

James Brookes

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