© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2013 Boree Log Award, Eastwood/Hills Fellowship of Australian Writers (titled ‘A Poor Refugee’); Winner, 2013 Snowy Mountains of Music Festival, Bush Poetry Section, Cooma, NSW.

Just what do see when you’re looking at me, in that portrait that hangs on your wall?
A blind amputee with a broken old ski or a soldier who answered the call?
Or someone who saw all the horrors of war, from Korea to South Vietnam;
immersed in the gore of the infantry core, when we followed our dear Uncle Sam?

So why be afraid of an image portrayed by a cripple who walks with a brace,
who seemingly strayed from a passing parade with a dumbfounded look on his face?
Perhaps you’re annoyed that our troops were deployed to a war inevitably doomed,
by leaving a void in a country destroyed by a power that seized and consumed.

Recruits who were used had been plagued and confused by a doctrine they couldn’t explain,
then wrongly abused and unjustly accused of atrocities deemed inhumane.
I kneel down and pray at the start of each day for the brothers who never came home;
whose bodies now lay under metres of clay and a blood spattered blanket of loam.

I used to be whole, until war took its toll on a spirit that shrivelled and died,
then ravaged my soul for a life on the dole with a labrador dog as my guide.
My beautiful wife had a man in her life, when I wheeled in to show her my chair,
but heartache and strife had cut deep like a knife, as we parted in dismal despair.

I lingered awhile and then sporting a smile, I thumbed down a passing sedan,
and  travelled in style as I counted each mile, till I sighted old Cooma again.
Remembering days when the snow was the craze, as we drove down each weekend of June,
to frolic and gaze at the lingering phase of a luminous shimmering moon.

The Vietnamese had no knowledge of skis, as they peddled through puddles and ruts,
contracting disease from mosquitoes and fleas, that infested their hovels and huts.
And how would they know of the comforting glow of the Southern Cross stars up above;
surrounded by snow, in a warm bungalow, sharing friendship, devotion and love?

If only they knew of the splendorous view from the summit of Mount Crackenback,
they may misconstrue that a Cow coloured Blue, is a mountain below Sascha’s Track.
And Lake Jindabyne would be hard to define to the brethren of Bolshevik slums,
who grovel like swine on the Communist vine, for  a portion of miserly crumbs.

Corruption and vice had sustained paradise until Ho Chi Minh’s troops had appeared,
and strove to entice all the peasants like mice, to a piper they plainly revered.
Like moths to a flame, by the thousands they came from the villages, paddies and fields;
exalting his name and applauding his fame, as he taxed all their profits and yields.

An army of red had assembled and spread, and then surged like an incoming tide,
as soldiers had bled and the vermin had fed on the corpses of those who had died.
The East coalesced with the hordes from the west who had come from the land of the bold,
and slowly repressed their despicable guest, who refused to relinquish his hold.

I recently heard an encouraging word from a well-meaning neighbour and friend,
who thought it absurd, that the carnage incurred, was considered a means to an end.
He firmly believed that their cause was aggrieved by the communist doctrines and schemes,
as they were deceived by a creed that relieved them of property, freedom and dreams.

So how would you feel to be kept down at heel and then treated like somebody’s dog;
to beg for a meal with no right of appeal and be dubbed as a Noggie or Wog?
So next time you see an old soldier like me, who has suffered the trauma of war,
remember the plea of a poor refugee – who has suffered a thousand times more!

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