Document of Identity

By | 1 December 2013
Remove the ID, remove the person - Mikhail Bulgakov

Grey coat sleeves at the border— We’ll all know about the second world one day. A passport takes us through the doorway To reach for what’s in his heart, his dented suitcase. One single page, matted pulp fibres. Chopped monochrome photo, the mark ‘refugee’— Beyond the barrier, his eyes quicken And hopes flick fast like turning pages. He dreams therefore he is, plus more. A string of stops and steps and stages Before the final quadrant unfolds. He studies the signs. He’s a navigator, Noting how even his signature changes In this waxing light, as he steps ashore.

‘Document of Identity’ was inspired by Hungarian-born István (Steve) Nyári’s single-page Document of Identity in lieu of a Passport. I worked for the Department of Immigration for almost twenty years. The official story of migration to Australia is contained in warehouses stacked with files created by Departmental officers over many years. Then there are the personal objects and stories. Because a travel document is evidence of bureaucratic approval, for a time it becomes the most precious thing in the world for the person leaving home with few material possessions. How do we write about this vast journey in a mere one hundred words? How daunting! And yet, this is what poetry is. As the Chinese Book of Changes says, ‘a small fire can illuminate a whole mountain.’

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