White stars stud the indigo
like the dowry on my veil
when my father sent me from Media
to sign a pact with Babylon.
Neb has been wandering for seven years.
At first our cattle flourished like the shrubs
that grew from his back. He is blind
now. His groin reflects a fire
in the hills. Starlight leaks
on his upturned face. He bends.
Like cattle the goddess denies
he nuzzles thin grass. A famine
extends. His dog has left us
and rides him. Neb is claw-footed.
His bare gonads turn to gold.
A lyre floats in the Tigris, unstrung.
Neb disintegrates. There will be stencils
of ash. Napalm and immolations
will be the burning bush. Daniel haunts him
and the three men not consumed. The slaves
are restless for their god. Trees will char.
Their oil catches. Balls of incandescence
burst from the canopy. Neb rolls,
rolls; the world is unmade.
As a raven watches him, a slave girl
dresses my hair. This is no one’s
Zion, she says. Spines grow
from his back. White reaches
from his face to the points of his legs –
the strokes of a foreign god
jealous for justice. A dog
(half out of the picture) leads him.
The slaves have been singing
though they said they would not.
The crimson shadow of my king
is a great river. Mountains
are olive in the divine storm.
A ram’s shadow kisses the bird-clawed
man. He is struck with a vein
of gold. Blood stains the hills.
As I order my hair dyed black
my lord’s mouth overflows with grass.
With indigo and henna my girl’s hands
are stained. Cool sherbet melts
on my tongue. The bleached man
with the cow’s muzzle lies on the earth.
A tree takes root in his navel,
blooms blue. He is clay whitened
by sun. Nisaba’s scribe, I keep
account of vines. A prophet says
we make the whole earth drunk.
Arched over his gold, Neb is too ill
to write or read. (His son will forget
the finger of a god.) The sky
glows pale over the khaki plain.
There are no carcasses beside his.
Beyond the horizon a fire is doused.
A mushroom cloud is rooted in his belly
where a tree once grew. A comb catches
in my hair. The famine breaks.
A shoot pushes from his bloat
with four black buds. Ibis
dip toward the two rivers. Eden.
My dowry cloaks him. Rain drives him
toward my crow-dark hair.
The trees are poised for flight.
In response to viewing 9 paintings from Arthur Boyd’s Nebuchadnezzar in the Wilderness series,
The Agony and the Ecstasy Exhibition, NGA Canberra, 2014.
- 99: BROWNFACESUBMIT NOW with W S Dunn 98: SINGAPORECOMING SOON with A Pang and J Ip 97: PROPAGANDACOMING SOON with M Breeze and S Groth 96: NO THEME IXwith M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRO AUSTRALIANwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones