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.
(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
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.
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.
JEAN KENT, 25th April 2021.