Nauru, 1896, a cargo ship arrives.
Strange rock mystifies the captain;
he picks it up, turns it over and over.
Finally thinking it petrified wood,
wondering what with this new substance
he might do if put to a good purpose.
So homeward bound for Australia with the rock he sails.
Marbles, wooden, with which a child might play
he pondered, but as the days and weeks went by,
procrastination led that rock-like wood
a door-stop to become.
Did it keep the door open?
Or did it close the door tight
ne’er to open wide?
Some say the story of the marbles is but a myth.
Perhaps it’s the child who holds
the truth so many would deny,
so many cognitive distortions
to blind us to the truth.
Today a small refugee child
sits among the tailings of rock;
tailings left over from the mining
of the phosphate, the guano;
droppings long ago left by birds
to harden in the sun
there for a small child to turn over in his hands.
She sits, a toddler refugee, on hard pebbly tailings
sorting those pebbles into a plastic disposable cup.
Alone in the dusty greyness
of our metaphorical tailings!
so close to the cyclone wire.
Her left eye is framed by wire.
Her eyes pleading, ‘Am I too, disposable?’
begging, frame the viewer on the
So close but so far.
We the people of Australia
said the words, ‘We are sorry’ this past month
to countless children victimised in childhood.
I am sorry, we are sorry. But are we really sorry?
I don’t believe it! We don’t believe it
as long as cognitive distortions abound.
As long as we distort
the keeping of children bound
on the people smugglers who may or may not be waiting.
As long as we point the finger at the other,
that other party or country!
As long as we rely on the votes of people,
of votes gained or lost.
Like a shake of the dice,
the tossing of a marble in a diver’s den,
we place the fate,
the life of an incarcerated child.
A child sits in the phosphate tailings,
through cyclone wire.
This is no game,
this is a matter of life and death!
Life is running out for these children.
The life spark drains from their eyes.
When I say sorry, when you say sorry,
it will be too late.
Act now and let life be life!
A child’s game a mirror for us.
Marbles of phosphate tossed in a cup.
Children tossed on a dung heap.
Disposable children like plastic cups
abandoned behind cyclone wire.
Will we use the mystifying rock to shut tight our borders?
Or will we toss our marble, our one vote, and let them in?
‘By Christmas,’ they said,
‘we will let them in.’
In stealth, in the dark of night,
by the boats of the sky, they fly.
One by one, by one
The last marble falls.
establish the doorstop to throw open the border.
The dire plight of a critically ill child
becomes a ticket of entry!
How could we leave it so long?
A donkey plods towards Egypt.
A small child flees in the dead of night.
How could we forget,
we who dare to celebrate
the feast of Christmas,
a wee child wrapped tightly
in his mother’s arms?
Refugee children on Nauruan shores
cup individual marbles in disposable cups.
they say this is Christmas.
A marble drops, sorry
so very, very sorry
are we, the people of Australia?
They say this is Christmas!
Marie Casamento SGS
This poem was first published in the November 2018 edition of The Good Oil, the e-magazine of the Good Samaritan Sisters.
Images: The faces of the Kids of Nauru Campaign.