To remember the veterans with my child-illusion:
war had turned their faces white
around the eyes, the skin had gone translucent.
Or consider the days of Anzac in the streets
not only those in suits come back on duty
but the ghosts among their ritual ranks
always in uniform. That or the shock in sepia
of platoons just hours before they left. The shock
that shifts across the brain from left to right
from the hemisphere of fact to dream,
like troopships that crossed the hemispheres
and left men wondering: was it fact or nightmare?
Without a template of history to hold on these images.
They got one, and nothing could shake it.
Like the enemy it was sudden and total
and like nothing else in the army
it fitted their bodies perfectly.
It would become a kind of hair shirt
that could be worn with bounce …
You see them level and sealed in
or splayed like asteroids
among the dimmed star-shells
or their centres gone like a ring of keys
where they stalled on the slopes and were covered in.
The blown end of a Lee Enfield
makes the weapon seem a crossbow.
There the isolated spine is curved as a bow
the loose ribs are warped arrows
the earth has kept them close
in its grip and quiver, only sometimes
loosing an arrow in slow and gentle course
out into the daylight.
You begin to mend them. Firstly
you give them back their bodies.
You pick the rosette from a man’s chest
pluck each petal of blood and let it drop into obscurity
(there is no copy of it back at home).
His was the famous rush towards machine-gun pits
but his medals were put too deep, and by the wrong side.
The stem cannot be seen, nor the bullet that gave seed
passing through sternum, heart, lodging against the vertebrae.
And the uprush of bloom into the khaki.
Bruises, those coloured moulds, lessen and are gone.
Ignore the condition of his arteries, whether the joints
gave trouble — they were too young. Your miracles
are for the body and now its dreams,
for these have lapped his gaunt face
like the midnight waves of evacuation.
But there’s something arcane about the clay
when the fierce Turkish sunlight baked it round his body.
The particles became magnetic, but the magnet’s
pulling wrongly: you’ve stripped his oppressors
from him but he sprawls down facing East
the light jostling his body, its energetic tearing song
calling him to fight — this is where he is intense
this harsher light must be Australia.
He sits up, slowly, exactly as machinery into place
or like a fold-out cardboard shape with savage detail
the machine-gun straightening up, locking its steel legs.
The sudden racket as the shots begin, chronic and nervous …
He will not return as one who went to die well,
coming home like a kind of migrant
strange and unaccustomed, to be made a boy again
— city boy to find his streets
or country boy finding the bright train back
as through the eye of a needle
unthreading his name from the obelisk not yet built.
To grind away Mondays at the office
or the callous-breaking afternoons on land
dreaming of food through the other war of Depression.
Beside the wireless, monument of the everyday,
strong again, voting conservative
as he mostly would, forgetting violence
until the next war, seeing that one through
or dying again.
Or being again returnee, to a time where the world view —
his slow meccano — would crumple, seem obsolete.