Mothers and Sons

© David Campbell

Winner, 2013 Nandewar Poetry Competition, Narrabri NSW.

I have walked with my son down that long, lonely road
to the place where he lies in his grave;
for the rest of my days I will carry that load,
and will grieve for the life that he gave.

For he died, not in battle, with courage and pride,
as a soldier Australia might mourn,
but alone and forgotten, a gun by his side,
in the light of a grey winter’s dawn.

And I wonder, in hindsight, just what we can do
as we watch all our sons go to war,
for I found, on returning, he no longer knew
what my love for him meant any more.

He was sullen and bitter, and tended to curse,
with a drink that was always close by…
when the booze took control it got very much worse,
and I dreaded the look in his eye.

For he wasn’t there with me, but far, far away,
where the horrors he saw killed his soul,
as he fought with the demons that haunted each day,
and the spectre of death took its toll.

For it cast a long shadow, and gave him no peace…
like a cancer it crippled his mind…
and I heard him each night as he cried for release,
as he pleaded to leave it behind.

But his words came to nothing, they vanished like mist
in a valley that’s warmed by the sun,
and the man that I knew simply ceased to exist
in a battle that couldn’t be won.

He was lost in the gunfire, the heat and the dust,
with the mortar’s dull roar in his ear,
always doubting, uncertain of who he could trust
on a killing ground governed by fear.

For a suicide bomber could be a young boy,
or a woman just wandering past
with an innocent thing like a soft, cuddly toy,
that might butcher them all with its blast.

And he looked in the eyes of those mothers and sons
in the hope that he might understand
what the future would hold when the hammer of guns
didn’t echo in that savage land.

All he saw was a mirror of what he might be,
and a body that could have been mine,
in the bloodshed surrounding the quest to be free,
as his men put their lives on the line.

But the worst of it all, he would say in a voice
that was ravaged by anguish and pain,
was the knowledge each moment could bring the wrong choice,
and their sacrifice might be in vain.

So I watched as the trauma took over his life,
as the drink and the drugs broke his heart,
for he lost his two children and once-loving wife
when the world he had known fell apart.

The support that he needed was simply not there,
for despite all the promises made,
it’s the sick and the injured who can’t find the care
in the ongoing price to be paid.

It’s a road that so many have followed before
when the ghosts of the past will not die,
and it’s we who remember these victims of war…
all the mothers who weep where they lie.

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