VOICES IN THE SILENCE

© Ron Stevens


Winner, 2012 ‘10th Annual Nandewar Poetry Competition’, Narrabri, NSW.


The silence isn’t total for my breathing frets the air

beyond me to the others who are here today to share

a tribute to the fallen from Australia’s many wars.

We’re keenly concentrating on two minutes silent pause.


Now other sounds develop as the seconds tick away.

From distant fields of battle they are seeking us today.

I listen, really listen, to identify each one

by diction and expressions as a dinkum Aussie son.


Or daughter: Bangka Island, where our nursing sisters slain

with warrior precision, breathe their final words again.

As blood exalts the shallows, they are uttering goodbyes

to comrades, distant parents, as Geneva’s promise dies.


Conventions hold no power over wartime Japanese,

as other voices filter through dense jungle canopies.

They’re reassuring comrades on Sandakan’s* deadly trail

and tending to their dying on the woeful Burma rail.


A captured song’s still keening from the tortured Libyan dunes —

‘...my Lilli of the lamplight’, which is merged with other tunes —

‘...so keep the home fires burning’ and ‘...we were only nineteen’,

plus ‘Waltzing Matilda’ from every widespread battle scene.


From Poziers and Buna, from Afghanistan, Iraq,

clear phrases meshed like cross-fire are now ricocheting back.

‘We are the Rats’ rings proudly from a trench outside Tobruk,

‘the going’s tough but, face it, things were crook in Tallarook’.


Though cyberspace is cluttered with the dross we spread today,

you’ll hear the diggers’ voices if your heart’s attuned that way.

From flak-torn skies in Europe, from lost ships in Sunda Strait,

from Vietnam, Korea, if you listen, you’ll hear ‘Mate’.


You’ll hear ‘Up there Cazaly!’, ‘Where the hell is Uncle Sam?’,

‘He’s gamer than Ned Kelly’, ‘Shot through like a Bondi tram’.

And ‘Mate’ comes through in triumph, in compassion, mortal pain.

It’s ‘Mate’ from Isurava and it’s ‘Mate’ and ‘Mate’ again.



*Poet’s Note: pronounced SanDARKen

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