Howard Firkin


The Queen looks down on Canberra and thinks
of Maya, Inca, Aztec—in a handful
of centuries this city will be a find
the most impressive ruin in the land.
      She puts her specs back on, looks through her speech.
What will they make of it? Will tourists send
back postcards having done the major sites,
found burly symbols in the ancient plan,
and puzzled at its star and circle streets?
      She wonders what this place will have to teach.

Australian accents still surprise the Queen;
the tender handshakes they’re so quick to release.
They treat her like the Doulton figurine
upon a packing-case board mantelpiece.


The Queen unlocks the door and frames her face
in plate glass ready to express delight.
Her famous face. Her smile. Her famous wave.
She feels as common as a two bob bit
      and steps inside and only wants to laugh:
it’s done up like a flash department store
in coloured marble, wood, and shiny brass!
They’ve bought. Bought everything they could afford,
like children with a parent’s credit card.
      She finds her voice, "It’s not been done by half!"

She understands the silly flagpole now—
its own apology, if rightly viewed.
The people of a squat land can’t allow
their standards to have too much altitude.


The Queen unveils the Queen of years to come—
a pretty horrible herself in bronze;
the hard, shot-peppered visage of a woman
whose frown and wrinkled lip are not a sovereign’s.
      Look on their works! They have so much to show:
a tapestry of native forest hacked
away to keep connecting doorways whole;
the two chambers; the gallery of chaps
whose consciences were also done in oils.
      All built to mob-scale for the overthrow.

She likes Australians. They make no demands.
They build their castles with a childish pride,
upending pails on lone and level sands,
as blankly purposeful as wind and tide.