© 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.

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