Ghosts of Men

© Catherine Lee

Winner, 2019 Bush Poetry Competition – Boyup Brook Country Music Festival, WA.

The ghosts of men are meeting in the clearing by the creek—
come quietly and listen, and you’re bound to hear them speak;
the yellow gleam of candle flame will lead us to the site,
its glow an invitation shining gently in the night.
They talk about their voyage from across a boundless sea,
with dreams and fears combining in a promise to be free;   
recalling safe arrival in this strange yet splendid place,
they shake their heads remembering the hope on every face.

They reminisce with fondness on those verdant shady lanes
they’d left so far behind – exchanged for vast and brutal plains;
their resolute survival in this harsh, demanding land,
which challenged them at first in ways they couldn’t understand.
They speak of exploration, learning slowly to adjust
to burning heat, odd creatures, constant flies and ochre dust.
For these were pioneers who bravely paved the way ahead—
and immigrants or convicts, in their footsteps now we tread.

They wonder how they battled through each endless vicious drought;
escaped the raging bush fires, leading frightened livestock out;
how raging water uncontrolled cascaded, wild and black,
to flood with cruel destruction, sweeping all within its track.
They chat about construction—building settlements and towns;
discuss the Great Depression with despondent, solemn frowns,
and curse the wars that decimated many of their kind—
but cheer for every victory and triumph left behind.

They marvel at the changes that the centuries have brought—
compare this evolution to the single goal they’d sought;
approve of our prosperity, amazed at how we’ve grown—
progressed on firm foundation from the mighty seeds they’d sown.
They hunger for their former lives beneath the Southern Cross—
return in spirit only, to converse and mourn their loss;
they crave to join us once again, and thirst for days gone by,
but settle for these spectral meetings under velvet sky.

The night rolls on, and distantly the south wind faintly sings,
whilst in the golden wattle there’s a fluttering of wings.
The dawn is breaking – one by one each ancient pioneer
smiles wistfully and bows his head to slowly disappear.
Tomorrow they’ll return to light their campfire once again—
though long since dead, a part of them will evermore remain…
Stand proud, respected ghosts of men—all ye who landed first!
Drink deeply from your memories—drink deep, and quench your thirst.

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