I’ve just dashed back home from a fab reading engagement at Counihan Gallery – I got to read two stories out to children and their grown-ups from Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2. It was Melbourne-proper – looked like there was an actual storm, the driving conditions were not favourable (very, very cartoon dust-cloud windy!) and can only imagine how horrid it would be for those without personal transport.
As I bustled back into the warmth of the house, I made myself a massive mug of Earl Grey tea (using my Red Hill beer stein!), then decided it’d be a good time to finally read colleague and poet Anne M Carson’s Writing on the Wall – it’s technically a book (has an ISBN) but I’m treating it as a zine because it’s not listed on Goodreads. This chapbook-sized collection discusses an issue that we might not think applies to us, in our first world comfort – that of slavery.
Anne’s poems are set in an ancient Graeco-Roman time, and begin with a description of a wall that has existed for nearly three thousand years. Before the suite of poems formally begins, there is an essay by Professor Jennifer Burn on the nature of slavery and its more contemporary manifestations. It’s shocking that it has any at all. How do we reconcile our own lives of privilege amidst the existence of such dehumanising practices? Which still exist today.
This is where things like tea, for me, become a blessing and meditation. An everyday act, occurrence, but one not to be taken for granted. Yes, I am an atheist, but there is something about drinking a hot beverage when cold to the bone that seems a blessing, heavenly. It isn’t that I want to avoid thinking about the horrors of humanity, but that simple, everyday pleasures can help to give you a window into and out of them. We can only do our best with the tools we’re given at any given time, and slavery seems worlds away from me, though emotional abuse and trauma is not – that personal pain is always at the back of my mind. I’ve only really felt comfortable acknowledging that as it has stopped affecting my day-to-day life, in the last year or so.
I fear I may have polluted this tea blend by brewing it as strongly as I could and then adding the slightest dash of milk – as soon as I opened the pouch of pyramid tea bags, the scent of fresh ginger and lemon hard sweets wafted up! It tastes like that in tea form too – the black tea used is very, very subtle despite my efforts to brew it super-strong. This is the second of the Jenier teas I’ve tried as received through my Bookishly subscription, and I think I’ll end up ordering more teas from them, hehehe.
Anne’s poetry is a lyrical, narrational style which is both approachable to read, and yet so deceptive in its simplicity of statement and conciseness. Here’s a couplet from ‘4. The Son Becomes a Man’:
I am to be freed? It hardly seems possible. My master, / he has never more deserved the title than now, in its relinquishing.
Or Aristotle’s unfortunate influence in ‘2. The Will is Read’:
…challenging Aristotle’s claim that slaves / are living tools, property, used at will. Stalwart against wrath, / they urged freedom for slaves… / Greeks could learn from us. / But Aristotle argued louder, his word had the crowd.
We also need to ensure that once people escape abusive states of being, that there is support to ease them into what their lives should have consisted of. This too is hinted at in ‘6. Emerging’:
Walking unravels knots; / limbs, spine, thoughts begin to loosen from confinement.
(…) Doubt slithers — / how will I account for myself in the world?
Very sobering, yet elegant reading. You can learn more and also help by visiting Anti-Slavery’s (Australia) website.