Against The Mob
I read from The Collected Poems of Les Murray on my long flight home today — a gift from one of my new Australian friends. This poem really hit me hard. Murray was terribly bullied in his teenage years. Kids taunted him by making fun of his weight. I was bullied too, though surely not as bad as Murray was. Anyway, Murray articulated in this poem, “Demo,” why I have never, ever wanted to join a demonstration, even when I agree with the cause. I never quite understood why until I read this verse:
by Les Murray
No. Not from me. Never.
Not a step in your march.
not a vowel in your unison,
bray that shifts to bay.
Banners sailing a street river,
power in advance of a vote,
go choke on these quatrain tablets.
I grant you no claim ever,
not if you pushed the Christ Child
as President of Rock Candy Mountain
or yowled for the found Elixir
would your caste expectations snare me.
Superhuman with accusation,
you would conscript me to a world
of people spat on, people hiding
ahead of oncoming poetry.
Whatever class is your screen
I’m from several lower,
To your rigged fashions, I’m pariah.
Nothing a mob does is clean,
not at first, not when slowed to a media,
not when police. The first demos I saw,
before placards, were against me,
alone, for two years, with chants,
every day, with half-conciliatory
needling in between, and aloof
moral cowardice holding skirts away.
I learned your world order then.
Funny, but reading this Murray poem brought to my consciousness one reason why I was so undone by the church abuse scandal: the bishops, as it turned out, were a bunch of bullies, their “aloof moral cowardice” condemning families and their children — often children of the poor and working class, or even the son of a faithful Kansas farm family — to be ground to dust for the sexual pleasure of corrupt priests, and to save the reputation of a rotten system. I learned their world order then, and have never been able to forget it.
(It is not just the order of the institutional church. As Murray knew, it is the order of the world. To see it manifest within the church, though, is the worst thing. The corruption of the best is always the worst.)
Here’s a related snippet from an Image Journal interview with Murray, who died recently at age 80:
In the sixties there was a kind of bohemian revolution which was about one molecule thick lying on top of an ancient ocean of force. It changes all the time because of impulses from below. It’s glittering too. It’s pulling people toward it. Dangerous. Absolutely untrustworthy.
Well, from that, you can deduce that I’ve never been handsome. People who are handsome and socially successful never notice these things, because they’re riding on them.