Thursday 31 October 2019

A Poem on Thursday - Sorry's Essence

In preparation for AusReadingMonth, starting tomorrow, I thought we should explore poems that reflect Australian life in all it's facets. This week we have poet, Mark Mahemoff. According to wikipedia, Mahemoff’s poetry is 'chiefly concerned with framing, reimagining and memorialising commonplace moments, primarily in an urban setting.'

Sorry’s Essence
By Mark Mahemoff | 1 May 2012 | Cordite Poetry Review

This poem is constructed using words and phrases directly from Kevin Rudd’s ‘Sorry’ speech
as reprinted in The Sydney Morning Herald (online version) on February 13, 2008.

I move today we honour, we reflect
on mistreatment of the oldest history, indigenous people
who were stolen, blemished in our nation
the time has now come to turn Australia’s history
by righting the future
we apologise for profound grief and suffering and loss
and pain and indignity and degradation and sheer brutality and hurt
of mothers and fathers and brothers
and sisters and families and communities
breaking up inflicted on a proud people and the spirit
healing, heart, embraces
never, never again
solutions, respect, resolve, responsibility
origins are truly equal
remove a great stain
do so early
an elegant, eloquent and wonderful woman
has travelled a long way to be with us
she remembers the love and the warmth
and the kinship of those days long ago
she remembers she insisted on dancing
rather than just sitting and watching
she remembers the coming of the welfare men
tears flowing, clinging
complex questions
it was as crude as that
Tennant Creek and Goulburn Island
and Croker Island and Darwin and Torres Strait
She was 16
a broken woman fretting
ripped away from her
it’s a good thing that you are surrounded by love
And remarkably, extraordinarily, she had forgiven him
there is something terribly primal about these
a deep assault
stony, stubborn and deafening
leave it languishing
human decency, universal human decency
deliberate, calculated, explicit, and notorious
Generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation
all native characteristics are eradicated
they are profoundly disturbing, well motivated, justified.
an apology well within the adult memory span
a point in remote antiquity
it is well within the adult memory span of many of us
therefore we must also be the bearer of their burdens as well
the darkest chapters
with the facts, the evidence and the often rancorous public
we are also wrestling with our own soul
cold, confronting, uncomfortable
there will always be a shadow hanging over us
I am sorry
I am sorry
I am sorry
without qualification
Yuendumu, Yabara, Pitjantjatjara
there is nothing I can say today
I cannot undo that
grief is a very personal thing
imagine the crippling effect
it is little more than a clanging gong
a thinly veiled contempt
the gap will set concrete
the truth is a business
halve the appalling gap
back the obscenity
beyond our infantile bickering

Parliament House, Canberra. Photo by Michael on Unsplash

On his website, Mark discusses how,
his writing primarily involves memorializing and eulogizing the overlooked and forgotten. Not only people but places and objects. He is driven by the weight of his forebears’ historical loss. Loss of family, of identity, of homeland. This loss has been handed down like an heirloom. It is the classic experience of holocaust survivors. But secreted amongst the loss is humour. He sees his task as shaping all these elements, to the best of his ability, into poetry.

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I enjoy sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her whenever I can.


  1. Beautiful and moving poem...using end rhyme and alliteration to make it flow.
    The poet looks back to the past not with the senses of sight, taste touch or smell
    ...but wih a sense of memory deeply embeded in a past emotional experience.
    The poet emphasizes with repetition: I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.....
    that this injustice must never be repeated. I suggest to make this your first link on the #AUSReadingMonth 2019 and suggest we all stop a pause to think about Australian's indigenous people. :)

    1. Glad you found this such a moving poem Nancy. I enjoyed seeing how Mark rearranged the words from a famous speech to create a poem. I would never have thought of doing that.

  2. Well chosen Brona. And I agree with everything NancyElin said, no not agree with, impressed by, I could no more have critiqued the poem than I could have written it.

    1. Thanks Bill. Finding the Cordite Poetry Review was a bit of a bonanza of Australian poetry. I'll be returning for more. I even found someone I know on there. And next week's poem is just about as perfect a poem, as I could ever hope to find!


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