Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Lest We Forget ...

Today is the 25th of April, a day sacred in Australia as ANZAC Day. On this day in 1915 Australian troops - both of my grandfathers amongst them - landed at what became known as Gallipoli Cove, in Turkey.  I am not here going to talk about that hellish campaign, or the death toll of the troops - amongst the Australians, the New Zealanders, the French, the Canadians, the British, and, greatest of all, the Turkish. This is not a day for statistics but for remembrance and respect. Today, in cities and towns all over Australia, in Turkey, in France, in various other places overseas, people will solemnly recite World War I poetry, listen to the playing of The Last Post, and think of young men going into battle, perhaps with scenes of Peter Weir's famous film "Gallipoli" playing in their heads. I have chosen today to post here a poem, "Homecoming", written by my favourite modern day Australian poet, Bruce Dawe. The poem is set, on the surface at least, in the era of the Vietnam War, but is as appropriate for the campaigns of World War I, World War II, Korea, Afghanistan, and every conflict since cavemen first shook their clubs at each other in anger. It is taken from Bruce Dawe's wonderful collection, "Sometimes Gladness".


"All day, day after day, they’re bringing them home,
they’re picking them up, those they can find, and bringing them home,
they’re bringing them in, piled on the hulls of Grants, in trucks, in convoys,
they’re zipping them up in green plastic bags,
they’re tagging them now in Saigon, in the mortuary coolness
they’re giving them names, they’re rolling them out of
the deep-freeze lockers – on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut
the noble jets are whining like hounds,
they are bringing them home
- curly-heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms
- they’re high, now, high and higher, over the land, the steaming chow mein
their shadows are tracing the blue curve of the Pacific
with sorrowful quick fingers, heading south, heading east,
home, home, home – and the coasts swing upward, the old ridiculous curvatures
of earth, the knuckled hills, the mangrove-swamps, the desert emptiness …
in their sterile housing they tilt towards these like skiers
- taxiing in, on the long runways, the howl of their homecoming rises
surrounding them like their last moments (the mash, the splendour)
then fading at length as they move
on to small towns where dogs in the frozen sunset
raise muzzles in mute salute,
and on to cities in whose wide web of suburbs
telegrams tremble like leaves from a wintering tree
and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry
- they’re bringing them home, now, too late, too early."

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