WHAT DOES IT MEAN to "write of life"? And how does Aboriginal writing
position itself in relation to the politics of life itself? The opening
stanza to Jack Davis's poem about sixteen-year-old John Pat, brutally
beaten by police in 1983, troubles the relation between the Aboriginal
custom of not speaking the name of the dead and the necessary task of
memorializing such trauma. One way to read the stanza is to identify
the pious as a double category: the pious may be those whites who insist
Davis "forget the past"; yet, paradoxically, the pious may equally refer
to those voices of tradition from within the Aboriginal community that
insist upon maintaining the taboo against speaking the name of the dead.
John Pat's death is a tragedy, like that of so many Aboriginal victims of
Australia's (post)colonial inheritance of trauma and continued structural
violence and systematic dispossession. Speaking Pat's name is not only
tragic because of his death in police custody, on "a concrete floor / a cell
door," but also because of Davis's necessary compulsion to continue to
speak his name and thereby break a traditional taboo.