© Irene Dalgety Timpone

Winner, 2022 Blackened Billy Verse Competition, Orange, NSW.

[See audiovisual display of poem on our Multimedia page here.]

In the golden glow of evening, just before the set of sun,
when the hush of dusk is slowly settling in,
I will often see, in memory, a distant cattle-run
and will struggle not to let the tears begin.
Though the sunset’s always beautiful, it heralds death of day
and the coming darkness through another night.
This evokes an innate sense of loss that never goes away,
and a loneliness of soul I dread; but know I cannot fight.

In reflective mood, I often think of folk I used to know,
and relive the times we shared so far from here,
recollect the many places where we often used to go,
find contentment when recalling those once dear.
The remembered scenes, like pixels, drift unbidden, leave the past,
then reform upon the sightscreen of my mind,
and I gain such poignant pleasure, caused by memories that last,
all the treasured ones, I realise, I cannot leave behind.

There is one such precious memory that haunts my mind of late, 
a beguiling, most precocious little boy
with a thirst for knowledge proving quite impossible to sate –
and a first-born son, his parents’ pride and joy.
As he grew, he learned to love the land, rejoice in Nature’s gift:
he revered the dawning day and setting sun.
He would lie and watch the night sky, count the satellites adrift,
and he’d dream of flying far and high when childhood days were done.

He had shown athletic talent, had an active, searching mind,
and he hoped to travel right throughout the world:
so, he joined Australia’s Air Force hoping he would surely find 
all the ways and means to see his dreams unfurled.
With resolve, he left his roots behind: the time had come to part,
his intention not to work his father’s land.
He felt grief and loss surround him, shared their pain within his heart,
as he kissed his weeping mother, shook his father’s work-worn hand.

Ten years’ military service, then deployment, Middle East,
made a man of him, of that, there was no doubt,
and he thrived on active duty, felt a deep self-worth, at least,
and gave not a moment’s thought to ‘getting out’.
He enjoyed a life beyond his work, but that took second place
to his designated role in uniform;
but, on overseas assignments, he met danger, face to face,
and then hidden scars and latent fear became the brutal norm.

In the early years, he studied, trained, was always ‘on the go’,
and his dreams came true in many varied ways;
but the tasks were grim, the impact harsh, and cracks began to show
in the nightmares tensely haunting nights and days.
Losing peace of mind, his closest friends and, finally, his wife,
he no longer could deny the mental stress
that pervaded all his working days, invaded his whole life,
leaving him to struggle bravely, but alone, in his duress.

He remained an Aussie warrior for all his working years,
with retirement the only prescribed choice.
He refused to blot his record, showing weakness, shedding tears,
or with frailty betrayed by trembling voice.
His experience had shown him that his Service curtain-call
would present no chance to argue or protest.
There’d be no rewards for serving well, no empathy at all,
and no kudos for Afghanistan, Iraq, and all the rest.

He had hoped he could remain enlisted – work had been his life:
there was so much more, he knew, that he could share.
He had served with dedication, had no children and no wife –
that he faced an empty future seemed unfair.
He had bought a house in Sydney, such a long, long way from kin.
Looking homeward seemed a loser’s way to go,
with the battles that he knew he’d face, those problems deep within,
and the ravages of his own war his loved ones need not know.

He had loved the military life he had so gladly shared
with his mates who’d served beside him since the start. 
For a life alone, anonymous, he’d never felt prepared
though his wife and he, for years, had lived apart.
Then, his house became a refuge, though it symbolised success,
worth at least a million dollars, he’d been told;
but the thought of moving somewhere else brought deep and dark distress.
He saw nothing but traumatic loss and anguish if he sold.

On the day his Service ended, he left Base in mindless haste,
with his paper-work unsigned and incomplete.
He was shattered by the notion that his life was senseless waste,
and he feared he’d end up homeless, on the street.
In this state of paranoia, he soon lost the urge to cope
with the severance procedures he’d not met;
and his problems – insurmountable – caused him to give up hope
of a life devoid of horrors that he wished he could forget.

Years of isolation followed till he lost the will to live,
found he thought of self-destruction all the time;
and he agonised because he knew his Dad would not forgive,
and would think his choice of death a mortal crime.
He then studied ‘method’, day and night, and shuddered at the thought;
but he finally decided, ‘time to leave’ –
though he went against the purpose of all battles he had fought,
and his Mother would have nothing left to do, in life, but grieve…
I admit the gloom of present times has made me feel depressed
and afraid to think of what the future holds, 
for my way of life has altered, now, in ways I’d never guessed,
and I watch with fear as each new change unfolds.
There is comfort in my memories and, there, I often stray
for reminders that my life was one of joy –
not one plagued with darkest torment that can blight both night and day
and the knowledge that my mental strength is useless to employ.

I remember, yet, that loving lad who sat outside with me,
on the back steps, facing Western hills and sky,
as we viewed the glowing sunset, brilliant colours bursting free,
then were saddened while we watched the daylight die…
How I pray he sensed my presence at his chosen time to go,
felt my hand in his before that final flight, 
and imagined sundown visions with a warm and golden glow
from the heavens as he sought eternal darkness – endless Night.

Dedicated to the tragic multitude of Australian military veterans who ‘slip through the cracks’ and, especially, to one who meant so much to his family throughout his too-short life.

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