© Brenda Joy

Winner 2021 Boree Log Award, FAW Eastwood/Hills Annual Literary Awards, Eastwood/Hills, NSW.

Author’s Note: This poem, written on the banks of the Georgina River near Camooweal, Western Queensland, is based on the story of Leigh Lawrence – Lay Preacher, and pays tribute to Leigh and the many humble characters who join the campfires around the Queensland Outback.

That Vietnam’s a dirty word when people speak of war.
They tied it in with politics and we were nothing more
than pawns within an intertwining economic thread –
we were just kids and all we knew was mates were maimed or dead
while those of us left whole would bear the everlasting strain
of post-traumatic stress to never be the same again.

And me! I turned to alcohol to get me through the fear
that hit me in the hours of dark when ghosts of death appear…
that caused the tremors in my heart, the shakes and fits and screams
when reminiscent battle sounds rekindled nightmare dreams.
Lost souls like me, just clinging on, cut off and love deprived
escaping to oblivion – that’s how we all survived.

He found me in some coastal place, a spectre of a man,
debased and derelict, destroyed, a waif – no better than
a frantic beast entrapped within a cage of social scorn.
My worthless life was near to end with nothing left to mourn.
Compassion is a special word that symbolises care,
a victim’s fate can turn around just knowing someone’s there.

My ‘someone’ was a man of God who did not look away
from this decrepit creature war had caused to go astray.
A force beyond this earthly realm had drawn me to the site
where this enlightened one gave food to those too weak to fight.
The sustenance that I received was for my soul and mind,
a true uplifting message – spiritual, loving, kind.

His depth of human caring was derived from higher source
and thanks to God his teaching set me on another course.
It dried me out and dried my tears and taught me of Our Lord
who only asked for ‘faith’ and promised Heaven as reward.
A Saviour who had died to save a sinful wretch like me –
belief in Jesus’ sacrifice the key to set me free.

As if I had been born anew, with help, I weathered through
attacks from demons in my mind for in my heart I knew
that I had found the remedy to overcome my fears
and cast-off apparitions that had haunted me for years.
The surge of Christian charity enflamed me to aspire
to preach of my belov-ed Lord. That’s all I now desire.

I listen to the inner-voice that guides me on my path
and leads me on my ministry to Outback town or hearth.
I’ve overcome the devil’s force that made my life like hell
but through the traumas I’ve endured, I know the symptoms well.
Experience has taught me. I am able to convey
that even those in dire distress can find another way.

My mission isn’t grandiose – I simply pass along
the message of Salvation that has helped my heart grow strong.
I hear my brother’s troubles then I leave it to the Lord
to intervene with miracles, for I cannot afford
to think that I am more than just a chattel of His Will –
and through the years my only wish, will be to serve Him still.

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