Read This and Be Smarter

Westerly 56.2

‘Vaka Moana’, ‘Casualties’, and ‘Being Silent is an Art’

by Omar Musa

Westerly is the premier literary journal of Western Australia, publishing since 1956. Westerly produces poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction from around the world, with a focus on the voice of Western Australian authors. Westerly publishes two print editions a year and digitally year-round.

Omar Musa is a rapper and poet from Queanbeyan, NSW, Australia. Born in 1984, he is of Malaysian-Australian heritage. He has lived in London and California and spends most of his time on the road, performing and writing. He has won numerous awards for poetry and music, including the Australian Poetry Slam in 2008 and the British Council’s Realise Your Dream Award in 2007.

While living in London in 2008, he recorded with Mobo Award winning British rapper Akala. His first hip-hop record, the massive EP, recorded in Seattle, USA with veteran rock producer Geoff Stanfield, was released in 2009 to critical acclaim. Since then he has been a featured guest at the Ubud writers and readers festival in Bali, Singapore writers festival and the Sydney writers festival, as well as touring in Germany, Indonesia and around Australia.

He also published his first book of poetry, The Clocks, in 2009, and worked as an actor for the Bell Shakespeare Company. He released his full-length album World Goes to Pieces in 2010.

These poems were published in Westerly 56.2, July 2012.

Vaka Moana

The sea is a highway of spume,
its shifting brow
festooned by pulverised stars and moons.

The ocean floor is thatched with bones,
where sailors and oars pirouetted
in coffins of light
green blue black.

The same floor
these islands were once plucked from
as tubers from mud.

In the guts of monstrous dugouts,
hundreds of men sweated and stank
beneath an eyeless kave
with sharp breasts and lacquered grain,
who saw much and nothing.

Men whose eager muscles slid
as they arrowed to many shores,
pluming like dye through branching coral.
Astronauts of their time,
though history would soon flinch
and forget them.


It is a war
to wade through swathes
of drum tobacco
and spits of ribboned bourbon
into the ground zero of the night.
we guide white doves
onto our tongues,
and dance like lunatics,
stuttering through the strobe lights,
supplicating to the deity behind the decks.
swivelling gazes,
whose round is it?
Grunting and fighting as apes do.

The strobes drive us apoplectic.

We yearn like crying swallows
for a woman’s affection,
yearning to nest
against their sternums.

Yet when we find them,
we scalp them,
and hold aloft these dripping trophies of battle
to our panting

Being silent is an art

The seam of history is stitched
with the bones of those
who remained silent.

The State Library of Western Australia promotes literacy for all ages. To this end the ‘Read this and be smarter project’ has been developed, providing a short piece of writing from Australian publications every Monday to Friday to read on your commute or lunch break.

Westerly acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Australians. We celebrate the continuous living cultures of Indigenous people and their vital contributions within Australian society.

Westerly’s office, at the University of Western Australia, is located on Whadjak Noongar land. We recognise the Noongar people as the spiritual and cultural custodians of this land.

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