Wednesday, 20 March 2019

I Wake


I wake 



to the flickering screen’s images 

of desperation and remorse,

the bleak recounting of misdeeds,

lies, greed, corruption,

scenes of anger, partisan politics, accusation,

analysis, implication, expectation, speculation,



but in the blue-sky day outside

the gum trees are in nectar-filled

explosion of blossom 

and the air is filled with flocks 

of beautiful rainbow lorikeets

descending to joyously feast

with their excited chatter

and even the grey friar birds,

dipping their dark heads 

to fill their curved beaks,

sing their strange chokk-chokk-four-o-clock 

in unrestrained, joyous, raucous celebration.

First published in One Sentence Poems

Friday, 22 February 2019

Lament for a Light Horseman.

This poem was first published in Verse-Virtual, February, 2019.

The last great cavalry charge was made by the 4th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba in 1917. My father was only 4 then, but the glamour and myth of the Light Horse remained between the wars and as a young man he joined the Light Horse as part of the Citizens Military Force. When WW II broke out he volunteered for the RAAF and was seconded to the RAF, where he served in 179 Squadron of the Coastal Command, firstly in Gibraltar and then in the UK. 

Lament for a Light Horseman.

-for my father, Reg Creighton, 1913-1981.

How young and dashing you are.
You wear your emu-plumed Light Horseman’s hat.
Your face, in profile, is full of hope.
A little smile flickers on your lips.
Bright confidence covers your face.
You hold her by the bridle throatlatch.
Her mixture of fear and curiosity amuses you.
Her ears are forward. Her eyes stare.
What is it that you whisper?
Don’t worry, Pol, it’s only a camera.
Click! And there you are, for that moment
always young, happy and idealistic.
Perhaps you were just twenty two.

That was before your marriage,
before you left for war,
before you left behind your pregnant wife,
before, night after night,
17,000 kilometres from home 
you spent the years of what remained 
of your young life in the danger and cold 
of a canvas-covered aircraft,
protecting Allied shipping lanes
and searching for U-boats,
first skimming low over the blue Mediterranean 
and then later the great dark cold North Sea,
unwaveringly following your conscience,
surviving who knows what 
to finally come home
when you were just thirty three.

I wish I could write a happy ending for you,
one like those Westerns you so loved,
have your horse, Polybon, waiting for you,
have you hero-like swing into the saddle,
lift your bride up behind you,
and whilst the credits roll
turn away from the camera and canter 
towards family and contentment
in those distant blue mountains.

But that is not your story. 
After eighteen happy and generous years 
when your family grew and you rebuilt your life,
you became sick, your lungs shrunk,
your evenings were destroyed with coughing
and a desperate struggle for air.
You said it was chronic illness from the War.
You said it was from flying in the freezing night.
Eventually a reluctant government agreed.
You were only fifty one.

And I must write of your last seventeen years
when something dark and terrible 
and utterly beyond your control
emerged to periodically overpower 
who I think you wanted to be.
What caused that unhappiness?
Dormant darkness belatedly emerging from the war?
A side effect from all that medication?
Or something always in you,
a human flaw hidden by youth
and emerging with age and hard experience
to periodically flame and rage?
And when the fire passed,
did you even remember 
who you had momentarily been?

If I could, I would wash away those last years,
fetch from a deep well water of such sweetness
as to soothe and heal all the mind’s wounds.
What is it that you wanted? 
You were too edgy for mere contentment.
I know you desired esteem and recognition
and I have seen in that portrait
both the young man you once were
and the person you wanted to be.
The teenage me, confused and oppressed
by the ferocity of your change,
had to reject the external mania.
Now, if I could, I would tell you 
that these older eyes 
have searched your deep core
to seek what lay hidden behind 
trauma, temper, days and weeks
of interminable conflict and rage,
mere externals the years are washing away
to reveal a complex and good man trapped 
by something vastly beyond his control.

You did not live a long life.
Your heart gave out. 
We gathered around you in the hospital,
your wife and four of your five children.
For more than a week you lingered,
gaining comfort from our presence.
Then you fell into unconsciousness
and the green monitor flat-lined.
He’s gone, I said.
He’s not, she said, in momentary disbelief.
Then briefly and tenderly she touched you,
forehead to forehead, before,
emotionally exhausted, we left together
in strange mixture of grief and relief.
You were not quite sixty eight.









Monday, 28 January 2019

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This poem was published at The Bees Are Dead in October 2018

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Fallen Tree

This poem was first published at Verse-Virtual with the following introduction.

The treatment of First Australians is a deeply shameful. It’s impossible to rank the various crimes but what has become known as “The Stolen Generation”, the subject of my poem, is high on the list. Between 1910 and 1970, under an act of parliament, aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in various institutions. Estimates of how many children were stolen vary from 20,000 to 100,000. After years of resistance from conservative politicians, in 2008 the Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made an apology to the Stolen Generations one of his first official acts. Perhaps it is a small step forward, but there are many others that still need to be taken. 


Fallen Trees.

I.

Hidden by reeds higher than my head,
a huge old gum tree had long ago
released its grip in the boggy ground
and fallen across the narrow swamp.
Now, every morning, my way 
to the two-roomed weatherboard school 
bypassed the mundanity of the road.
I ran freely through the bush,
past the smooth, pink barked angophoras,
down weathered sandstone outcrops
and over my secret bridge.
I was maybe nine or ten.

II.

At school we learnt about indigenous people.
Aboriginal people didn’t own land.
Aboriginal people offered 
no resistance to colonisers.
Aboriginal people lived 
a life of hunting and gathering.
Aboriginal people dwelt 
in temporary bark huts called gunyas.
All wrong, the myths of conquerors,
but the most wrong of all was this:
Aboriginality could be totally bred out
in just three generations.
Then assimilation would be complete.

III.

There were no brown faces in our school.
Later, much later, I found out why.
For sixty years aboriginal children,
as a matter of government policy,
were kidnapped from their homes.
I ran free through the bush.
They were stolen on dusty roads
or on their way to school.
I day-dreamed in class.
They were denied an education
and trained to be domestic “servants”.
I ran home in full assurance
that my parents were there.
Their parents were turned away
from locked gates, many 
never to see their children again.
I suffered occasional punishment
They were locked in solitary confinement.
I received security and love.
They were denied affection,
beaten and sexually abused.

IV.

There is no making amends.
Some things can never be made right.
When those first boats
sailed through the narrow heads
and dropped their anchors in alien water,
their cargoes were not just filled 
with England’s unwanted
but with the grief and ugliness 
of colonisation and dispossession 
and all its concomitant, 
self-justifying myth making.
Those old myths I learnt 
as a child were not sustainable.
They grew in boggy ground.
They had to eventually fall.
What can come from their falling? 
Could it be verities strong enough 
to bridge myth’s thick, matted reeds
and history’s stagnant swamp?
Where is that place where all children 
can run freely through the bush,
past smooth, pink barked angophoras,
down weathered sandstone outcrops
to walk together over our shared tree?










Beryl’s Story.

This poem was first published at Praxismagonline with all the following acknowledgments.


Beryl’s Story

for all children of the Stolen Generation, and in particular for Faye Moseley and Doreen Webster, whose experiences in the Cootamundra Girls Training Home are depicted (with permission) in this poem

I was only ten when they took me.
My brothers and sisters too.
We were walking to school.
First thing they cut my plaits clean off.
Didn’t even bother unplaiting them.
Took my clothes and got rid of them too.
That was the end of school for me.
They said they were training us
to be domestic servants.
More like slaves really.
There was lots of abuse.
Sexual, too.
From the staff, you know.
There was also a tiny place
we called the morgue.
They’d lock you there
if you misbehaved
or tried to run away.
Nobody ever loved us.
Nobody cuddled us.
Nobody praised us.
When they took us
Mum and Dad were at work
at the cannery in Leeton.
They told us Mum and Dad didn’t want us.
Said they didn’t love us any more.
That wasn’t true.
Mum and Dad had a letter
from the Aborigines Welfare Board
saying we were well looked after.
Didn’t make any difference.
I found out later Mum and Dad
tried to visit Coota heaps of times.
They weren’t allowed in the gate.
Dad couldn’t cope.
He took off driving trucks.
Years later at Mum’s funeral
this bloke asks me my name.
“It’s Beryl”, I say.
He says, “I’m your Dad.”
They’re still taking our kids,
locking them up,
building more and more jails.
First inmates are always aborigines.
This is what the Stolen Generation
has done to us,
to our kids,
to our communities.

The Stolen Generation: Between 1910 and 1970, under an act of the Australian parliament, aboriginal children could be forcibly removed from their homes and placed in various institutions. Estimates of how many children were stolen vary from 20,000 to 100,000. These children became known as “The Stolen Generation”. After years of resistance from conservative politicians, in 2008, nearly 100 years after the first child was taken, the Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made an apology to the Stolen Generations one of his first official acts.

Editor’s Note: Neil Creighton is a frequent contributor to Praxis Magazine Online, and we are grateful to be able to offer you another of his insightful poems regarding the ongoing impact of colonialization. (He also has a poem on The Stolen Generation at Verse-Virtual.) Neil Creighton and the editorial team at Praxis Magazine Online would like to thank The Healing Foundation for their assistance in obtaining permission for the author to tell this story in poetry, and for Praxis Magazine Online to publish it and make it available to our readers.

The Alchemists.

This poem was written after seeing Persian bas-reliefs in Le Louvre and was first published in The Ekphrastic review.

The Alchemists.

Owen’s alchemy never produced
the fool’s gold of glory on battlefield
but from the mud-burdened trudge
of men moving beyond exhaustion 
as they passed a bare, pock-marked,
death-filled, barbed-wire strung world
he wrenched a pure and shocking gold of truth.

Ancient Persian artisans performed 
a different kind of alchemy.
Gone are sièges of noise, blood, death,
broken walls and burning cities,
bodies impaled outside the walls,
boastful Kings commissioning bas-reliefs,
walled cities and palaces, 
courts, officials, culture and conquest.
What remains is alchemist’s gold,
exquisite bricks glazed 
in brown, bone, ochre and aqua,
depictions of warriors,
archers with coiffed beards,
abundant quivers and resplendent garments
standing erect with their straight spears,
now on display in La Musée du Louvre 
millennia after he who commissioned them
has faded to forgotten dust
and most he gloried in
has long lain covered 
by the relentless detritus of time.




Three more for my Grandchildren

These poems were published in October Verse-Virtual.

James, Astronomer.

For James Creighton.

He’s less than two
when his blue eyes light up 
with grand adventure.
He lifts off with a slight wobble
and an air of determination.
Soon he is waylaid by flowers,
freesias, cream-coloured 
and heavy with scent.
“Stars,” he says,
bending down his little nose.
Then he’s off again 
to undiscovered galaxies
between the orange globed fruit trees
and the prickly melaleuca hedge.
Soon he is negotiating
an asteroid-littered way
behind the henhouse 
inhabited by clucking aliens.
Finally he returns
and sets down safely.
He has a look of triumph.
Mission accomplished.
And why not?
He’s just traversed the universe.



Captain Baby Man.

For Max Wolfe Creighton.

I.

Captain Baby Man, 
you wave your little arms,
smile and laugh, 
make sweet sounds.
The circle of your world 
is growing out beyond 
mother’s breast 
and the warmth of touch.
A wider world is registering:
bird song, love, forest light, 
tears, water’s sparkle, joy, grief.
Grasp it, not recklessly, 
but richly, deeply, wonderfully,
dear, sweet, little 
Captain Baby Man.

II.

Captain Baby Man, rise on imagination’s wings
high above dull, mundane, fettered things;
roll, glide and play in realms of joy,
touch hearts, bring happiness, be a wonderful boy;
let dullness and stupidity be things you abhor
as, Captain Baby Man, you rise, glide and soar.



Hush.

For Eleanor Miette Creighton.
Hush, tread quietly and don’t disturb
for here is a moment to always treasure.
Eleanor Miette, though she’s less than one
is looking at books and chatting with pleasure.

Hush, tread quietly and softly retreat,
tiptoe so gently from this place.
Who for a moment would ever disturb
the look of pure joy all over her face.

Hush, tread quietly and don’t disturb,
yet linger a moment for one last little look,
for this little girl, though she’s less than one
is lost in the world of a wonderful book.