Friday, 25 April 2008

Another poem

Today is Anzac Day – the day Australians and New Zealanders commemorate the landing of their troupes in Gallipoli in World War 1, their first major battle. It’s the day we also remember soldiers who’ve fought in every war since. There are no ‘Anzacs’ left now, but every year old soldiers (and, sadly, some young ones) march proudly through towns and cities, or attend Dawn Services to remember their mates.

I have to admit I’ve never really liked Anzac Day. I’ve always thought it sad to remember the wars, while not actively working to prevent any more. I suppose I still feel that way, especially with two growing sons. But this year I can understand a little better the feelings of those who do like to ‘celebrate’.

It’s school holidays here, so the children had an Anzac Service before school finished. I was asked to set up a display in the library to show them what it was all about. As part of the display, one of the teachers, a Vietnam veteran, lent me his old uniform. He’s kept it carefully all these years and the ‘Rising Sun’ badge on the side of the hat still shines as bright as ever. As I set up the display I could feel the pride of the young man he was then, tinged with the fear. I could feel his mother’s pain and the pain of all the other mothers, wives and sisters as they saw their boys in these uniforms.

Then I realised how much would have been lost if this one boy hadn’t made it back. He’s a great teacher and much loved by the kids. How much of the future was lost with those who died? I could see a big hole in what might have been. Anzac Day is about giving thanks for those who made it back, but also, I think, about filling the hole left by their fallen comrades.

I was glad there was no one else in the library as I set up that display.

Anyway, it moved me to write a poem. It’s still a bit rough, but I’ll keep working on it.

This is for Mac and all his mates.


These steel-capped boots,
with leather laces,
once pinched the toes
and rubbed the heels
of a man
still a boy.
Through miles of mud
and blood
they trudged.
Then brought him home.

This slouch hat,
perched above the flag
that drapes the cross,
was worn
on curls just ruffled
by a mother’s hand.
In proud salute
it shaded eyes
that learned of Man’s
Yet still
the Rising Sun shines bright.

How many lives
have felt the touch
of this one man,
who returned from hell ?
How many more
have missed
what could have been
from those
in faded photos?

No boots and hats
to remember them.
No one to buff their Rising Sun.
Just a lonely bugle’s
plaintive tune at dawn,
lest we forget.

K.Stewart, 2008


Angela said...

Wow, Kate--that's a beautiful poem. I can tell you were profoundly affected by this man's uniform.

It's funny how something like this uniform--something we can touch, smell, etc--makes us feel an emotion so strongly, and bring us closer to understanding something like war and feeling what it must have been like. It brings home the sacrifice and the heartache and the incredible courage of the person who wore it.

Thanks for sharing this story. War, any war, is something that most of us are never touched by on a personal level, and it's something we think of in an abstract way, or a distant way. We think of it happening in other places, to other people. The fact is though, if not for people like the man who wore that uniform, we would not have what we have now or be able to say we have only ever known peaceful times in our lives.

Kate said...

Too true, Angela. Thanks.

Luc2 said...

Love it. Great poem.

One of the most vivid memories from my time in the army was the night when I stood vigil at Remembrance Day (one day before independence day). Soldiers, exhausted from weeks of training and patrols in the desert, stood there 3 hours in silence and absolute stillness under the flag and fire. Some collapsed after they got relieved, others broke down and cried.

It was a quiet mix of comradeship, respect, pain and fear. I'll never forget it.

Kate said...

I think any kind of vigil can be very emotional, but yes, that certainly would be.
Thanks, Luc.