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The ADB’s Story

A Dictionary of Public Figures

Geoff Page

Buried now a second time

by alphabet and golden year

(floreat circa 1880)

the outlines of their lives

are fleshed again from paper;

their myths persist

or are straightened slightly

by proud great-nieces and

polished by scholars.

Admission here is by committee

with death the first requirement—

this mild St Peter’s gate of three

Will vanish also into the text.

Clergymen, graziers, colonial mayors,

owners of goldmines or morning papers …

their public lives are shown and kept

as notable crustaceans

the white flesh private

underneath. The sum of all these shelves

is what we are

or what they’d have us be,

each row a long sarcophagus or crypt—

the earlier volumes wearing already

the discontinued smell of yellow.

Only the recent flesh to the nose.

Public Figures (1880)

Pressed flat with watchchain and cigar

wince and flinch as

year by year

the sweaty thumbs turn through them.

Geoff Page is a Canberra poet. His wife, Carolyn, worked for the ADB in 1982–84. This poem is reprinted from Collected Lives (Angus & Robertson, 1986) with the author’s permission.

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