© Ron Stevens

Winner, 2009 ‘Boree Log Award for Bush Verse’, Fellowship of Australian Writers, Eastwood/Hills NSW.

I’d never planned this visit back

to goad a ghost or two

but fate decreed this Anzac Day

would find me passing through.

Home-town for some assumes a glow

that’s nourished year by year;

for me, my birthplace wears a mix

of misery and fear.

The present scenes are bleak enough

but also bear the stains

of old betrayals, thoughtlessness

and self-inflicted pains.

The railway tracks lie rusted now,

not gleaming lines that clacked

‘escape’ for two young local louts

in joint rebellious pact.

I see us in the waiting room,

our eyes upon the door

in dread of Sergeant Blake’s approach

well-armed with strength and law.

The whistle sounds, we runaways

take heart and leap aboard,

the distant city beckoning,

great heights to be explored.

I’d glimpsed them on the Lyric’s screen

where heroes glided free

of dusty chains, un-hobbled by

the bush’s tyranny.

The Lyric’s  gone and in its place

a mini-mart invites

this wayfarer to seek a wealth

of overpriced delights.

Intending customers should wait

(a scribbled sign invites)

till noon, when townsfolk will have ceased

their formal Anzac rites.

Of course I’ll not take any part

and plan to be well clear

before the march and gatherings

for memories and beer.

Dawn-service wreaths are brightening

the cenotaph’s cold stone.

I move a few steps closer, check

for names I might have known.

There’s Jennifer’s big brother who

had bashed me up because

she’d told of my approaches and

my ‘sneaky dirty paws’.

I wonder what became of her?

Great-granny now, perhaps?

She’s fortunate he’d tackled me

before he met the Japs.

I scroll down four or five more names

but none I can recall

as ever being friends of mine

in play or schoolyard brawl.

My only mate was little Joe

─ in petty-thefts campaign

against authority until

we leapt aboard that train.

When Joe, who then was under-age,

decided to enlist,

I gave my name and proof-of-birth

to him ─ a fateful twist.

So when the grog-soaked widower,

my father, heard I’d died

along the Burma Rail, who knows

if he had laughed or cried?

His Railway Hotel fettler mates,

including Joe’s old-man,

perhaps had offered drinks and “...if

there’s anything we can...”

Too late to set the record straight,

to chisel off my name

that shines among heroic dead,

divorced from crime and shame.

My war was profiteering, vice;

Joe’s clubbed by rifle butts.

Sleep on, old town, I won’t confess.

I’d never have the guts.