excerpt from Employment for the Castes in Abeyance
I was a translator at the Institute:
fair pay, clean work, and a bowerbird's delight
of theory and fact to keep the forebrain supple.
I was Western Europe. Beiträge, reviste,
dissertaties, rapports turned English under my
one-fingered touch. Teacup-and-Remington days.
The trade was uneasy about computers, back then:
if they could be taught not to render, say, out of sight
out of mind as invisible lunatic
they might supersede us - not
because they'd be better. More on principle.
Not that our researchers were unkindly folk:
one man on exchange from Akademgorod
told me about Earth's crustal plates, their ponderous
inevitable motion, collisions that raised mountain chains,
the continents rode on these Marxian turtles, it seemed;
another had brought slow death to a billion rabbits,
a third team had bottled the essence of rain on dry ground.
They were translators, too, our scientists:
they were translating the universe into science,
believing that otherwise it had no meaning.
Les Murray's Employment for the Castes in Abeyance and Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia, featuring a Piero della Francesca in the chapel where the Italian cult of the Virgin is ritualised; miraculous birds fly out of the Madonna as a woman prays for a child. The Madonna is a protector of women and symbol of childbirth, and although she doesn't feature heavily in the bible, over time, especially over the late middle ages and early Renaissance, she has become an equal figure to Christ himself, and most prominently in Italy. The film is about a writer who is as unsure about the modern age as the poet in Employment; he befriends a mad man convinced that 1 + 1 does not equal 2 but a more comprehensive 1, and that he must wade through a steam pool with a lit candle in order to save the world. Gorchakov begins to dissolve into a transferred madness, exacerbating his alienation from the modern world; fusing his wife, the Madonna, and his interpretor; and attempting to fulfil the madman's vital task.