Three Poems for Anzac Day

In memory of George Finlay Campbell (Regiment Number 28, Fifth Light Horse, WWI)
and my mother Isabel Jean Sharp (nee Campbell), who was christened on Anzac Day, 1921.

At Gallipoli, Burying the Dead
(24th May, 1915)

There is perfect quietness today.
We are having a 10 hours armistice
to bury the dead.
(Diary of George Campbell, 5th Light Horse)

They have climbed the hill to see the view:
up above the trenches, there is a perfect
lookout over the deep bowl of sea …

What they see as well are the dead: thousands
tumbled onto earth, left there for weeks,
now waiting for more earth to cover them.

It is the most awful sight possible …
Ten hours will never be enough
to bury it, or to calm the air and clean it.

In a hundred years, when the soil shifts,
we will still be seeing the skulls and bones,
the random graves where dandelions—

flowers as yellow as stilled setting suns—
sprout in eye sockets, in the deep scars
entrenched above the balm of Dardanelles sea.

My grandmother Jean Campbell (nee Gowing), in her wedding dress, November 1914

A Christening
(25th April, 1921)

It isn’t only wars that kill.
Though this is the day for remembering
that, the returned Anzacs in their hats
with brims brooched up under rising suns
carrying the shadows of lost men
in those pockets between felt

called again to attention
as they gather in their small troops
around rising memorials
in country towns.

My mother in her long fall
of christening dress, at one week old,
won’t remember whether sun slanted
on her newly named, lace-bonneted head—
but she will carry forever the name
of the aunt who was felled,
not by a world war, but
by a whirl of infection—

gathering troops of measles germs
that no one in 1914 
could combat.

Her parents on this remembering day
are walking away from shadows,
wearing the still warm
April sun of Dalby
like cloaks of hope to shield them
as the black soil plains flatten their world

into a safe bivouac between ridges,
the Last Post a faint tease in my mother’s
ears, the small town saluting,
stilled, before the coming chill.

My mother, Isabel Sharp (nee Campbell). Probably in 1923.

Lessons from my Grandfather  

What he has seen of war
                                  he will not tell.
When a mouse runs into the kitchen
                                  he will not want to kill it.
The only thing he wants to hit
                                  for the rest of his life
is a tennis ball …

When his wife dies  
barely nine years after the start of Peace,
                                   he will soldier on …

He will see their six yearold daughter
                                   ghost after the hospital car
and he will console her
                                   by listening to her heart
to see if it is broken

he will say ‘Listen to mine—
                                   it is broken too’
but like the gold watch he wears
                                   on his gentle wrist
                   its sobbing tick goes on …

He will take his daughter to the palings
                                    standing as upright
as a shooting gallery against the tennis court fence 

He will teach her
                       how to aim a ball sweetly there
so that it comes back and comes back
the breaking thwacks of the racquet
                                    and the hit boards

continuing       echoing into the empty dusk
                              around their Darling Downs house 

until she has the grace of a champion
                      an assassin of nothing
more damageable   than scores    on the game sheets

she will store in the hallstand her mother carved,
                       its wood decorated
with Kurrajong trees’ splitting pods—

dark pods that spill seeds
                 as shiny as my mother’s voice
ninety years later,
                 telling this to me.

My grandfather, as I knew him … in the early 1960s. With his kangaroo, who appeared in the tennis court yard one morning, and decided that was a good place to stay.

JEAN KENT, 25th April 2021.

4 thoughts on “Three Poems for Anzac Day

  1. Thank you, Jean. Beautiful and very touching. Interesting to realise how just about everyone’s life has been shaped by war in some way. XX

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