© Ron Stevens 2008
Winner, 2008 ‘The Nandewar Poetry Competition’, Narrabri, NSW
This (additional first stanza was added in 2012)
I placed this phantom digger, returned from World War One,
with others from Gilgandra who’d marched to meet the Hun.
He’s one from ranks un-numbered who from our Aussie Wars
have come home sorely cumbered by shell-shock ─ mental flaws
we now call post-traumatic-stress, a state of danger
described in this dramatic fashion by The Stranger:
“Last April on returning to Gil’s
my thoughts were wildly churning beyond the town and farm.
I couldn’t silence thunder of shelling through the night
as dying mates slipped under my eyelids shuttered tight.
Would life resume its measure of peaceful outback days?
Could toil and meagre leisure be salve for battle’s blaze?
The girl whose farewell ‘Cooee’ had
was waiting, lashes dewy, for me in Miller Street.
The very spot she’d waved me off on our epic trip.
Our wedding should have saved me from anger’s mindless grip.
I cursed at her this morning and almost struck a blow.
I’d flared without forewarning as if she were my foe.
No blame if she should leave me, although I doubt she will.
How could my girl conceive we who left with Captain Bill
might limp back, minds distorted, or not return at all,
though deaths were well reported of some who heard the call:
Bill Hitchen softly resting in Mother England’s balm,
McDonald’s fatal testing at hellish Moquet Farm.
Near Albert’s rails Maguire would face heroic death;
the war god’s random ire cost Finn his final breath.
I hear their carefree laughter along the Cooee route,
but fate was stalking after each eager young recruit.
While girls were calling cooees, we optimistic boys
felt nothing could undo these mere momentary joys.
Last week I heard blokes boasting of rabbit traps and shoots,
which left me choked from ghosting through sharp barbed-wire pursuits.
My shaving-mirror’s taunting through dark unfathomed eyes.
My razor’s coldly flaunting an edge to mesmerize.
I fear this cruel stranger who masquerades as me
and call against the danger “Please help, Cooee, Cooee!”