Wednesday, 30 November 2016


First published in Poetry Quarterly, then in V-V.

Dad never spoke about the war,
although, in hindsight,
its heavy hand was everywhere.
Maybe Mum told me the fragment,
the amazing flying away part.
The rest is in my mind.

First, I see the night,
then the twin engined Vickers Wellington
taking off from Gibraltar and flying out
over the approaches to the Mediterranean
in search of U-boats.
I see six young men,
all brave, dutiful, all with a sense of honour,
but all of whom have seen loss,
been shocked by it and become resigned to it.
They must go on,
each evening flying out into uncertainty.
I am not yet born but one of them I know well.
I have often seen his young face in photos.
I know he is 12,000 kms from home.
I know his little country town, the  green valley,
the temperamental river.
I know those who live there,
his mother and father, his brothers and sister,
his young wife and the child he has never seen.

The night passes.
The first light is in the sky.
The silver-grey sea barely ripples beneath them.
The Rolls Royce engines drone.
They have seen nothing.
All is routine. They must head back to base.
Their lumbering plane is vulnerable in the daylight.

Then someone stares and squints.
Bloody hell, what's that block dot?
I think it's a fighter.
Ours or theirs?
O God, it's a Messerschmitt.
He's seen us, boys. He's heading straight for us.
He's too bloody fast. He'll catch us.
Get ready, boys. Give him hell.

The tail gunner and nose gunner
have swivelled their guns.
The Radio Operator, the one I know well,
has rushed to an extra gun.
I hear their thoughts.

We'll never outrun him.
There's cannons in his wings.
We've only got machine guns.
One of us might get lucky.
Concentrate. Concentrate. Aim.
Give it your best.

Suddenly, almost within range,
the Messerschmitt turns
and flies parallel to them.
He tips his wings,
back and forth, back and forth,
a kind of greeting, an acknowledgement
before he peels off and flies away.
They watch him receding,
become a black dot and then disappear.
A wave of relief rushes over them.
They are incredulous.
A crazed kind of laughter echoes through the plane.
They will drink when they land.

But in the Messerschmitt that flies away
sits a young man tired of war,
tired of killing, tired of the mad folly of it.
He knows that plane, its vulnerabilities, its blind spots.
He knows he could have fired his cannons
through its canvas and into the flesh of the men inside,
or into the engines and he knows
he could have watched
their slow, smoke-filled spiral
into the water below.
He has seen too much of war and death.
He is past inflicting harm or even wishing it.
Are not those men his brothers.
What difference is there but place of birth?

And he knows, too,
with a sad but wished-for resignation,
that his time will come soon, soon.
He has heard his scream of engine,
seen his billowing smoke,
seen his water rushing up to meet him.
He will kill no more
and someone, somewhere,
a mother or lover,
will shed tears for him.

And the man in the Wellington,
one of the six, the one I know well,
is free to head back to the rocky little island,
free to fly again,
free to go into his future,
free to embrace his yet to be known,
his great tangled twist of life and fate,
his triumphs and struggles,
his laughter, joy and pain.
He is free to one day return
to the life he left,
to his wife and child
and to the four more unborn children
still waiting somewhere in the future's silence

Friday, 18 November 2016


Does not desert's darkness reveal
the diamond studded tapestry of night?
Cloud's blanketing thickness in time disperses.
Do not then the stars shine more brightly?

Is not the rising sun more glorious
because it emerges from night?
Are not then even the scattering clouds
splashed with red and gold?

Thursday, 17 November 2016

A Man in Dachau.

A Man in Dachau.

In a dream I saw a man in Dachau
give his last morsel of bread
to one he thought was suffering more.
I heard his thoughts.
"I am no mere plaything of circumstance.
They can take my life but not
the freedom to choose my way."

I rushed to tell my friends
that choice determines who we are,
proof sufficient being in Dachau
a man chose compassion over self.

One friend replied:
"Noble indeed is such a one.
Heroes make these choices.
The exception though is not the rule.
Choice is circumscribed by circumstance
and eliminated for most by horror of place."

Another then spoke:
"Oppression's boot can find the weight
To crush all choice away.
Was that man's compassion an act of choice?
I rather think it a gift of grace."

The man from Dachau then appeared
to confirm my friends were right.
"The parade", he said, "is unendingly long
of those who shuffle by-
starving children, women beaten,
the tortured, guiltless and cruelly oppressed,
the dispossessed, the mind manacled,
the legions of the poor.
I merely do what I must do.
Those who can, should follow."

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Rock Dreaming.

First published at Guy Farmer's Social Justice Poetry.

I walk past water gums,
roots twisting and flowing over rock,
past the creek's eddy and swirl,
past deep grooves in rock
made long ago by sharpening spears.
Is that the laughter of naked children?
No. They are long gone,
now only imagination's shadows
flitting through scrub.

I scramble up a long hill
to stand on a huge expanse of rock.
The world seems quiet and still.
All around in the stone are carvings-
kangaroos, emus, women, men, shields, spears,
a great spirit creature.
I imagine clans of Dharug people meeting here
to dance, laugh, cry, draw, worship, wonder,
and most of all, to belong.
Do I sense them?
That is a lie.
Their culture, life, laughter and song
have shrunk into the past.
They seem long gone.

I lie on the rock and close my eyes.
Underneath my back
are curving patterns in rock.
I see cloud, rain, sun’s rising, sun’s falling, moon, stars,
the diamond quilt of night.
I see people greet, paint their bodies, tell stories, dance, sing,
belong, feel purpose, feel love, draw and carve.
I am filled with loss for the changes of time,
for the tangle of history,
for the injustice of the present,
for prejudice, dislocation, theft and murder,
and I know that where they,
in such deep belonging, did roam,
my ancestors, England’s rejects,
came from the other side of the world
to claim it as their own.

The sun is low.
I begin the long walk back.
As I walk I am moved by the knowledge
that Dharug people are still living,
scattered through the land of their ancestors
and although the past cannot be changed,
its loss and sorrow should be sung.
I am taken too by the crazy dream
of a single people
meeting under these southern stars,
upon the great patterned rock of this land
to draw, dance, embrace and sing together

as I descend into a gully
and the sun disappears
and the single evening star
hangs low in the darkening sky.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Tears of God.

Upon the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA, many in my faith community, mostly good-hearted, sincere people, responded with confident statements about God being in control of the world and placing Trump there. They nearly always referred to Daniel 4:17. This poem is my response.

So when a contemptible man was given
high office and great power, someone said,
to a chorus of approval-

"The Most High rules the kingdom of men
and gives it to whosoever he will
and sets over it the lowliest of men"

I thought I heard in those words
a little condescension,
some satisfaction of being in possession
of secrets unknown to other mortals

and into my mind came a challenging thought,
that if God is in control He is doing terrible job

because I saw,
somewhere in Syria, in an ambulance,
a little child covered in dust,
eyes blankly expressionless beyond confusion;
saw too a mass grave
with a hundred decapitated bodies;
saw ruined landscapes,
camps in Germany, Poland, Siberia,
a mushroom cloud spreading up from Nagasaki,
a little naked girl, her face contorted in terror,
running along a dusty Vietnamese road
and saw too the long warring, violent, unjust, oppressive
history of humanity.

Then the thought came to me
that God is not in control,
that He could never control such horror,
that he has not directly controlled
the establishment of monsters
In positions of power

but that He has surrendered these Kingdoms
to the violence and folly of mankind
until the end of times
and that He is deeply anguished,
filled with grief and sorrow,
vexed and lamenting for what He sees,
and that He must be weeping
for the darkness of the world

and surely all those seeking transformation,
desiring the fruits of the spirit,
longing for the Kingdom of God
and its righteousness
must be grieving, lamenting
and weeping too.

Monday, 7 November 2016

At Piano.

At Piano.

She keeps her sadness hidden.
There is no sign of the weight within,
a grief that could engulf others.
She is quiet, dignified and charming.
She gives you that clear, direct look.
Her mouth curves in a gentle smile

but when her hands touch the keys
in those practised, skilful, complex patterns
there is now something beyond accuracy,
as if in some mysterious way
sadness seeps through the fingers
that touch the keys
and the sound is transformed
so strength, dignity,
haunting beauty and pathos
and an awareness of life's mingled mixture
of joy and sorrow
now sound from key, hammer and soundboard
to hang for a moment
in the trembling air
before dispersing
into our changed minds.