THE PROMISE
© 2017 Helen Harvey, Coonamble.

Winner, 2017 Henry Lawson Society of NSW Inc., Open Written Poetry Literary Award, Gulgong NSW.
                        
I never lost faith through that long lonely time and always believed you’d come home.
Held fast to the promise you made as we danced while moonlight fell on the dark loam,
Not far from the homesteads where we were both born, though only a few miles apart.
But we knew as children, it was meant to be, and we pledged each other, our heart.
How little we knew of the consequences as we laughed and revelled that night,
Though deep in my heart was a dread I subdued but you were convinced it was right
To fight for a cause in a land you’d not known on battlefields, frozen and black.   
I cried but you told me it would not be long, then promised me you would come back.

The letters you wrote me were filled with high hopes for life we would share at wars end,
But never once mentioned the horrors you’d seen at The Front, but always did tend
To spare me from hardness – I loved you for that, although a great burden to bear,
While I prayed each day that the war would soon end and bring you back safely from there.                                                       
But days turned to weeks and then weeks into months and soon it was Christmas again,
With no end in sight to the finish of war or calls from The Empire for men. 
I lived for your letters – you said you read mine, though sometimes while under attack.  
I clung to your words that the war would soon end and the promise, you would come back.

I could not imagine while I lived each day with clear skies and endless sunshine,
You had to survive in a landscape of grey in dugouts or muddy trench line
‘midst cannon shell craters in frozen mud fields – a place where a man should not be.
I questioned the logic and price to be paid for Empires who sought victory.
Your letters were staggered, then none came at all but I clung to hope they soon would,
And told myself they would arrive in good time so held to your words as I should.  
I rode every week to the wooden mail box at the gate on our homestead track,
With faint expectations ‘midst my growing fear, but you promised you would come back.

Sometimes of an evening when moon shadows fell and stretched to the distant tree line,
And whispers of breezes sang soft as they stirred leaf needles on branches of pine,
Then ushered your voice to my room where I lay - I almost believed you were there,
‘til hard light of morning confirmed it untrue which made it much harder to bear. 
But each night that languished was one more day gone and closer to when I would see
A figure way off on the road ending where I’d waited for you patiently.
I would recognise you by ease of your stride, unhindered by army kit sack.
You’d held to the vow you had made on that night and promised me you would come back.    

And then it was over – ‘The War to End Wars’ – I cried, with a joy on that night
But also with sadness to think of the men all lost to that terrible fight.
I longed for your letter to say you’d be home - I waited, but none from you came
Until one arrived with a War Office seal which listed as missing – your name.
I cannot return to our homes as we planned – there’s no future left for me there.
But I held to hope you could still be alive –a void that I never could share.
In my naïve longings I’m back home again and see you way off on the track                                                                             
That leads to the homestead where we kissed goodbye when you promised you would come back. 

I watched disembarking of battle worn troops - though shocked at the sight of the lame,
I always was there when a new ship had docked and never stopped asking your name.
I scanned city streets while I searched every face still donned in an army attire.                                                                                      
My heart skipped a beat when I thought it was you in glow of a back alley fire.     
For men gathered there were the victims of war, all wounded and left without hope
Of ever regaining the lives they once had, back home where they just couldn’t cope.
Sometimes while I slept I would see you in dreams in fields racked by cannon fire crack.                                                                
I pushed them aside as I clung to your words and promise that you would come back.

Sometimes as I walk on my rounds when it’s late, with patients asleep for the night,
I pause near a soldier I think looks like you and though it’s a trick of the light,
I cannot abandon the dream you’ve come home – is it really you lying there,
by soft lantern glow as some night shadows play on your cheeks and lay of your hair?                                       
I ponder sometimes if you’ll find your way home from fields where they say you may lie
Where red Flanders Poppies spring from the dark soil or snow clouds swirl in the grey sky.
Some nights when a bright moon lights up city streets and drives away shadows of black, 
I almost believe we are dancing again when you promised you would come back.


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