Christmas Island

Christmas_Island_Australia_76-frChristmas Island, located at 10°30′S 105°40′E, 500 km south of Java in the east Indian Ocean. An Australian territory since 1957. Area 135 km2, population 2,072 (as of 2011). A place where several migrations intersect: Chinese and Malay ‘coolies’ (i.e. migrant workers, indentured labourers, or slaves) imported by the British to mine the high-quality guano phosphate for exportation to the continents and to Japan; boats of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; the Immigration Reception and Processing Centre on the north-west flank of the island; and one of the most spectacular migrations of them all – each monsoon season, tens of millions of the island’s endemic red crabs scuttle from the rainforest to the coast to breed and spawn. The scarlet carpet that sweeps Christmas Island between October and December can be seen from space.

Christmas Island red crabs crossing the road.

Christmas Island red crabs crossing the road.

The ecstatic dance of a female crab as she releases 100,000 eggs into the sea at low tide, a scene famously captured by David Attenborough, is an incredible joy to watch. Weeks later, in a good year, another migration takes place: millions of miniscule infant crabs swim out of the surf and climb their way up the cliffs, through the settlements, and across the roads toward the forest. The crabs’ numbers are steadily dwindling as a result of another migration: acid-spraying yellow crazy ants, accidentally introduced to the island from an unknown source, assumed to be western Africa.

The series of island poems continues. English version given first, followed by the Maltese. The two versions were written simultaneously.

christmasisland
Christmas Island

391px-ChristmasIslandFlyingFox-Andrews1900Black-eared flying fox, hanging
from the branch of a stinging tree,
safe from the blinding acid
of the yellow crazy ants.
Dreamy commercial shuttle
launched from the island spaceport,
its cockpit and front passengers
disappeared beyond the future.
Tropical green poodle, upright,
at the ready, guarding
the sovereign borders
of Queen Victoria’s terrier.

Mony, Pulau Krismas,
Shèngdàn dǎo, the Australian
territory of Christmas Island,
a winghead shark swimming in
from the open Indian Ocean,
its fins sliced off, its cephalofoil
floating in the foam.

beriberiThe right eye looks south. Apricot
moonscape, centuries upon centuries
of fish and crustaceans digested
from sea to sky to soil.
1910. British commissioners supervising
Sikh policemen watching over
Chinese and Malay coolies extracting
high-quality phosphate, for export
as fertiliser to the continents
and as gunpowder to Japan.
At sunrise, barefoot, the indentured
labourers’ backs bend down
as they dig with the changkol.
At sunset, barefoot, the slaves’
backs prostrated with beri-beri,
their changkols double up as stilts.

© Joel Van Houdt, New York Times

© Joel Van Houdt, New York Times

The left eye looks north. In and
out of view, the swell permitting,
December 2010, SIEV-221,
the two hundred and twenty-first
Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel
since MV Tampa, slowly leaking,
the first fish swimming across the deck.
Aref (name changed), once a printer
in the suburbs of Tehran,
rips each individual page
from a burgundy passport,
crumples it gently into a ball,
relishing every sound, every crease,
before tossing it to the belly of a wave.
Saturated with brine,
each crumpled page
falls like a snowflake
slowly toward the Java Trench.
A pair of scissors is passed around.
Aref snips at the coat of arms
like the petals of a tulip
and releases them to the wind,
then cuts out his daughter’s photograph
carefully from the first page,
and slips it under the lifejacket
into the pocket of his shirt.

idcCharging from Flying Fish Cove
to the other side of Murray Hill,
the refugee bus squelches the carapace
of a red crab on its way to breed.
Both eyestalks face west,
seeing without seeing.
At the poodle’s hindquarters,
built in what remained
of a second guano quarry,
the Christmas Island Immigration
Reception and Processing Centre,
managed by British security firm
Psycho (name changed),
a London Stock Exchange listed company,
constituent of the FTSE 250 Index,
shredding applications for asylum
into electoral votes.

Cable reference id #09CANBERRA1006,
the words of a key Liberal Party strategist
over tea and biscuits with
the US chargé d’affaires:
“Fantastic… The more boats
that come, the better.”

The moon is waxing gibbous,
the monsoon now well under way.
At Aqua Compound, Granaz
(name changed), a bleeding
pregnant mother, pleads to the doctor
for an ultrasound, and is warned
not to push her luck.

battalionAt Lilac Compound, 6-year-old
Farah, or Shahla, or Zaynab
(names not necessarily changed)
begins a lucid dream:
at the edge of hearing,
wave upon wave of scarlet crabs
scuttling like lunatics
across the forest,
the spectacular migration
of a hundred-million-strong battalion
scratching its way toward the camp,
a red carpet unstoppably rolling,
two hundred million pincers
now hacking at the razor wire,
klikk, klakk,
klikk, klakk,
klikk…

Chinese migrant workers, otherwise known as 'coolies', at one of the phosphate mines on Christmas Island. Photograph taken in 1911. (National Archives of Australia, R32 CIPC 3/54B)

Chinese migrant workers, otherwise known as ‘coolies’, at one of the phosphate mines on Christmas Island. Photograph taken in 1911. (National Archives of Australia, R32 CIPC 3/54B)


Christmas Island

christmasislandVolpi jtir widnejh suwed,
imdendel minn siġra tniggeż,
‘il bogħod mill-aċtu jgħammex
tan-nemel isfar miġnun.
Mekkuk kummerċjali, tal-ħolm,
imtajjar mill-port spazjali tal-gżira,
bil-kokpit u l-passiġġieri ta’ quddiem
ġa megħjuba wara l-futur.
Poodle aħdar tropikali, bilwieqfa,
attent, jgħasses il-fruntieri
sovrani tat-terrier
tar-reġina Victoria.

Mony, Pulau Krismas,
Shèngdàn dǎo, it-territorju
Awstraljan ta’ Christmas Island,
pixximartell dieħel mill-ftuħ
tal-Oċean Indjan, ġwinħajh
imċarrta, rasu wiesgħa
titmewweġ fuq ir-ragħwa.

changkolL-għajn il-leminija tħares
lejn in-nofsinhar. Pajsaġġ qamri,
lewn il-berquq, sekli fuq sekli
ta’ ħut u krustaċji ddiġeriti
mill-baħar għal ġos-sema,
mis-sema għal fuq il-ħamrija.
1910. Kummissarji Brittaniċi jissorveljaw
lil pulizjotti Sikh jgħassu
lil ħaddiema Ċiniżi u Malaj jisiltu
fosfati tal-iprem kwalità, għall-esportazzjoni
bħala fertilizzant lill-kontinenti
u porvli tan-nar lill-Ġappun.
Ma’ tlugħ ix-xemx, ħafjin,
dahar il-migranti jitqawwas
huma u jbaqqnu biċ-changkol.
Ma’ nżul ix-xemx, ħafjin,
dahar l-ilsiera jiltewa bil-beri-beri
u ċ-changkols jiddawru fi krozzi.

SONY DSCL-għajn ix-xellugija tħares
lejn it-tramuntana. Jidher
u ma jidhirx, skont il-ħalel,
Diċembru 2010, SIEV-221,
il-mitejn wieħed u għoxrin
Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel
wara MV Tampa, jagħmel l-ilma bil-mod,
bl-ewwel ħuta taqsam il-gverta.
Aref (isem mibdul), stampatur
mis-subborgi ta’ Tehran,
iċarrat paġna wara l-oħra
minn passaport aħmar,
jgħaffiġha ballun, b’delikatezza,
igawdi kull ħoss, kull tikmixa,
imbagħad jixħitha fiż-żaqq ta’ mewġa.
Imxappa sew bis-salmura,
kull paġna mgħaffġa
taqa’ donnha troffa tal-borra
lejn it-Trunċiera ta’ Java.
Qed idawru mqass. Aref iqatta’
l-arma tal-qoxra
bħall-petali ta’ tulipan
u jitlaqhom f’ħobb ir-riħ,
imbagħad jaqla’ r-ritratt ta’ bintu
bil-kura mill-ewwel paġna,
u jżerżqu taħt il-ġakketta tas-salvataġġ
għal ġol-but tal-qmis.

crabsquashedSparat minn Flying Fish Cove
san-naħa l-oħra ta’ Murray Hill,
ix-xarabank tar-rifuġjati
jgħaffeġ il-korazza
ta’ granċ aħmar sejjer jgħammar.
Iż-żewġ qasbiet t’għajnejh
iħarsu lejn il-punent,
jaraw bla ma jaraw.
Mal-warrani tal-poodle,
mibni f’dak li baqa’
mit-tieni barriera tal-gwano,
il-Christmas Island Immigration
Reception and Processing Centre,
immexxi mill-kumpanija tas-sigurtà Brittanika
Psycho (isem mibdul),
intrapriża elenkata fil-Borża ta’ Londra,
membru tal-FTSE 250 Index,
iċċarrat it-talbiet għall-ażil
f’voti elettorali.

Cable reference id #09CANBERRA1006,
il-kliem ta’ strateġist ewlieni
tal-Partit Liberali
waqt tè u biskuttini
max-chargé d’affaires Amerikan:
“Fantastiku… Aktar ma jiġu
dgħajjes, aktar aħjar.”

Il-qamar fil-mużqaq,
il-monsun ilu li beda.
F’Aqua Compound, Granaz
(isem mibdul), omm tqila
qed titlef id-demm, tittallab
lit-tabib għal ultrasound, u jwissuha
biex ma tittantax xortiha.

svDETENTION-420x0F’Lilac Compound, Farah,
jew Shahla, jew Zaynab
(ismijiet mhux bilfors mibdula),
tifla ta’ sitt snin,
tibda toħlom imqajma:
f’tarf is-smigħ, mewġa fuq
mewġa ġranċijiet skarlati
jiġġerrew imġienen ġol-foresta,
il-migrazzjoni spettakolari
ta’ battaljun ta’ mitt miljun
iħakkek fi triqtu lejn il-kamp,
tapit aħmar jirrombla, ma jwaqqfu xejn,
mitejn miljun tnalja
jqasqsu l-fildiferru,
klikk, klakk,
klikk, klakk,
klikk…

crabs2

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About antoinecassar

Poet, translator, editor, activist http://antoinecassar.info http://passaportproject.org http://mondepasrond.org
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