Monday, November 27, 2017



Hugo Chavez is speaking

To thousands of tired youths

On youth's energy

Creating a future

Without disgrace.

In contingents 

They listen

'Youth are an Atomic explosion

Greater than Hiroshima

To create,

With revolutionary power,

A new world.'

Somebody hands me a phone

I am in Caracas

My sister in Perth.

The president speaking.

And she says:

'It’s Justin.'

And I know.

I am in the future

Talking to now

Where gay men die

Aged 24

By their own hand.


Yes... a fucking poem. Not a joke poem. I usually restrict myself to joke poems out a self of basic human decency.

But I wrote this when a facebook friend specifically asked me, after I made a joke about no one paying for my poetry, to write a poem about "Utopia", coz why have a simple topic. 

So I figured, seeing as I wrote it, this Godforsaken blog might as well be subjected to it.

It is about the  2005 World Festival of Youth and Students, an annual gathering of thousands of left-wing and progressive youths from around the world, that was held in Caracas that year. I was there with a "solidarity brigade" from Australia. 

At the opening of the event in a huge stadium in Caracas, then president Hugo Chavez address probably tens of thousands of youth from all over the world, divided into contingents by country. Chavez had only recently declared the goal of the Bolivarian revolution he was leading must be "socialism of the 21st century" -- and that this should be the goal for the whole world, lest we face extinction. This was the basic tenor of his festival speeches.

As Chavez spoke, one of the brigade organisers took a phone call on their mobile and somehow my sister had gotten through. I had been very sick and in hospital. First of all, the private hospital I was taken to just milked me for travel insurance cash, putting in antibiotics that made me sicker, and I was pretty ill.

The doctors in charge were white, upper-middle class and hostile to the government. When they weren't around, the dark-skinned nurses declared themselves Chavistas. There is a photo of me somewhere, sick as a dog on an IV drip, with two nurses, all of us with our fists raised.

Eventually, the supporters of the Chavez government and the pro-poor Bolivarian revolution who were looking after our brigade brought in a couple of the Cuban doctors working in the poor communities in Venezuela due to a deal with the Chavez government, where they staffed the free health clinics. The Cuban doctors, careful not to speak in front of hospital staff so their Cuban accents didn't give them away. (they were were hated by the private health doctors). 

They looked at the charts next to my bed, declared I should definitely get out of there or the mistreatment could kill me, and so, still so sick I needed to be on a drip, the unhappy hospital had no choice but to discharge me.

I was taken to one of the new clinics in a poor area run by the Cubans providing free health care to the poor -- the fact that, as a journalist for Green Left Weekly, I was there in part to report on clinics like the one I was now lying in seemed to bring endless amusement to the medical staff. 

Compared to the lush private hospital room, it was austere. Just three beds on a concrete floor and the food, and I use the term loosely, was bought from some nearby streetvender. But whereas I got worse in the three days in the private hospital, here, I got better over the next three days, and, being discharged,was handed the medicines I needed, no charge.

While still recovering, I logged in to check my email for the first time in ages. My sister wanted to get in touch urgently. Someone else, with no connection to my sister, also wanted to get in touch with me urgently. I couldn't for the life of me think what possible common issue would have both desperate for me to get in touch, but I was in Venezuela for a couple more weeks. It was clearly gonna have to wait.

It waited until that stadium in Caracas when I was handed the phone while Hugo Chavez spoke of youth in the forefront of a global revolutionary transformation. Justin was my best friend. I spoke about him a little bit here a couple of weeks ago in relation to different issues. 

There is a lot that could be said on the topic. I wasn't there, I hadn't spoken to him for months, I don't really understand the circumstances. I didn't go to his funeral or memorial as I was half way around the world. I am not sure if that is better or worse.

The main thing I take away is that "Utopia" only has meaning in relation to the darkness of today. 

I promise don't intend to keep being so serious fucking thing. I've been to serious lately, what with pieces on the death of Irish comic Sean Hughes, heartfelt ruminations on homophobia and 

Justin would walk away from me in disgust if he know I'd written a fucking poem.

Regardless, here is a song by Lucinda Williams, who has something of a tendency to write about this type of thing (this is the new version she has recorded of this track, originally released in 1992). Her lyric, unshockingly, make better poetry than my effort. 

Then again, Lucinda Williams wasn't standing in the stadium in Caracas listening to Hugo Chavez urge the  a new world, so it certainly isn't the same. Still she can fucking sing this story.

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
The breath from your own lips, the touch of fingertips
A sweet and tender kiss
The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone's ring
Someone calling your name
Somebody so warm cradled in your arm
Didn't you think you were worth anything...

Millions of us in love, promises made good
Your own flesh and blood
Looking for some truth, dancing with no shoes
The beat, the rhythm, the blues
The pounding of your heart's drum together with another one
Didn't you think anyone loved you...

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