For once, I don’t feel conflicted about writing an Anzac Day Poem. And as happened 2 days ago with Bill Shakey Day, (& last year for both days) having a superimposed theme (“love” this year, “climate change” last) made me look at the day in a whole new way — which in turn has generated not 1, not 2, but 3 poems of which I am exceedingly pleased.
Looking at love in war time is a wonderful way to get around the whole uncertainty I have about A25.
It’s also a lovely way (pun intended) to honour, commemorate, call what you will my grandparents in poetical form.
Anzac Triptych 1. Atherton Tablelands 2. Goodbye Will Moon 3. TIL
1. Atherton Tablelands
In April 1943 following three weeks leave after seeing action at Tobruk, Mersa Matruh and El AlameinGunner RL JONES of the 2/7th Field Regiment arrived at Kairi in the Atherton Tablelands.
It was love at first sight.
Even though he was from a notoriously lush part of the Adelaide hills the green in Far North Queensland is several degrees greater than most mortal eyes are used to — or able to endure.
Gunner RL Jones remained on the Tablelands with his unit for almost two years — training and playing upon the rich red loam born in ancient volcanoes. Before being sent to Tarrakan that began the Allies’ Borneo Campaign. He survived those jungles by thinking often of the equally lush Atherton tablelands — until the Americans blew up the world and the war ended.
Gunner RL Jones eventually made his way home & made Florence his fiancé.
Rueben told Florence. Of the green. Of the red soil. Of his desire to move there.
Florence said no.
He never saw the Tablelands again
2. Goodbye Will Moon
In late 1944 Corporal BI Burgan of RAAF 1 Squadron was likewise on leave when he visited his parents in Port Wakefield.
Quiet Sunday evening. Parents off praying. It’s been a long journey and I’ve only a few precious day’s leave. But I know dad will be disappointed if I don’t attend. So although I don’t feel like it reluctantly walk across town.
Only one seat remains in the very back pew. Slide into that space next to a beautiful young woman who smiles as I sit down. Can’t concentrate. On what the pastor is saying. Nor the service itself. Nothing but — that sublime smile.
Afterwards, I offer to walk her home and am bemused and delighted to discover she’s boarding with our next door neighbour.
We stand talking for ages til I brazenly lean in and kiss her over the garden gate. I’d best go in now, she says.
The best night of my life.
During my leave we spend as much time as possible together but it ends all too quickly. Before I deploy to New Guinea I must tell her. I confess undying love. The hammer blow. She’s engaged to another! I didn’t know I say and chivalrously offer to step aside.
Leave it with me. She says. I’ll deal with it.
And. She. Did.
today i learnt that unlike my gran and grandad nana and papa weren’t engaged or even dating while he was away during the war they only started seeing each other after he got home
her first love died flying bombers over germany she was s h a t t e r e d when Will was killed
suddenly saw my frail ninety nine year old nana with newer sadder eyes
Today would have been my Gran’s 97th birthday. I’ve used that as the impetus for this pome.
WARNING: it is quite long; probably the longest I’ve ever posted for NaPoWriMo (though my anti-Jazz rant was up there). If you choose to skip to the last stanza, I’ll quite understand, & you’ll still get the general gist hahaha.
Gran’s lifetime: under a century
1. Introduction It infuriates me when people say oh we can’t change things too much think of our economy : et ceterablah!
2. Birth Year In 1924 : the year after : the invention of TV : the British Empire : is still gleefully : exploiting her colonies : Australia has been an actual country for only 23 years : the USA only has 48 states : Adolf Hitler is still in prison : the Winter Olympics begin : commercial radio is first broadcast : the first aerial circumnavigation of the world is completed : in only 175 days (today it takes a little over 2 days : 50 hours) surrealism is born : movies are still silent : & Hubble blows up the universe discovering : Andromeda is not a nebula : as long thought : but another galaxy : & that the Milky Way : itself is only one : of many
3. The Not Quite 100 Years Following in the succeeding : century the twenties roar : jazz begins torturing eardrums everywhere : before causing a great depression : nazis somehow convince an enlightened society to eat itself : the USSR rises & falls we fight a second World War : a Cold War : & a War on Terror we invent : drop : then are terrified by atomic bombs : stop drop & roll : you’ll still die : but you’ll feel like you tried : bikinis make babes into bombshells : boomers are born : with a bang & immediately begin : annoying everyone : teenagers are invented : along with rock n roll : the Holocaust continues to horrify us : but later genocides get less attention : as ours grow ever shorter
Gandhi marches for salt : Mao takes a long one : we promise two new states but only officially make one : leading to years of unrest : dozens of countries shake off : shackles : declare independence
we orbit the earth : & bounce on the moon pocket calculators : are briefly a big thing scientists genetically engineer organisms (bacteria then mice) : a child is born via : in vitro fertilisation ; the culture counters revolts against war : conservatism : oppression : patriarchy : sexuality
Pong is considered cutting edge : Commodore 64 wows the world with a massive 64K of memory : the first Macintosh then smashes that paltry amount by : doubling it : Gameboys : Rubik makes a cube
gramophones : give way : to record players : to cassette tapes : to compact discs : to mp3 : to online streaming from the cloud
computers shrink : from buildingesque then : room-sized : to being : our personal playthings : then laptops : mobile phones : smart phones : tablets : iWatches chips are implanted : in our bodies hidden : in COVID vaccinations*
mobiles shrink : from the size of bricks : to fitting into pockets & are on their way : back up to brick
multinational corporations : became the most important entities : on earth free trade agreements : bloom like mushrooms : from the dung of laissez faire economic policy : stock markets crash numerous times & are salvaged : poor people are demonised banks go bankrupt : & are bailed out : poor people are blamed : for being poor supertanker container ships : begin impersonating small cities & pumping out : the equivalent in emissions the assembly line : makes production massive : & turns men into machines archaea are classified as a new : separate : domain of life
we survive Y2K … easily
we transplant hearts : break the sound barrier : genetically modify crops : map the human genome : use X-rays see inside ourselves :
we invent: satellites : Concorde : Skylab (even though it falls on us) : the ISS : high-speed rail : container ships : & buildings really start scraping the sky
as well as: Velcro : Tupperware : Frisbees : The Slinky : modern Solar cells : the pill : AstroTurf : ultrasound : the CDC 6600 supercomputer : ATMs : MRIs : email : earlier than you think (’71) face lifts : stainless steel : silicone : polystyrene : PVC : polyethylene & nylon : & multiple other plastics : plus thousands of chemicals : for industrial & domestic use (though whether these last are good : or not : is debatable)
discover : black holes : quasars : parallel universes : mechanics who can repair your quantum while you wait : that everything began in a Big Bang : (probably) : DNA’s double-helix; the Cosmic microwave background radiation : penicillin
scientists develop vaccines for : polio : measles : influenza : diphtheria : pertussis (whooping cough) : tetanus : measles : mumps : rubella (German measles) : chickenpox : hepatitis A & B & eradicate smallpox in 1979
we survive : eruptions : quaking earth : strong winds of a multitude of kinds : droughts : plane crashes : bridge collapses : train derailments : nuclear reactor meltdowns : space shuttle explosions : a litany of oil & energy crises : the rise & fall of Berlin’s Wall : toxic gas leaks : oil tankers spilling their guts
we fight a lot of wars : a barrage of wars : police actions : emergencies : civil unrests : invasions : genocides : & miscellaneous conflicts of all ilks. protests : separatist movements : revolutions : dictatorships : martial laws imposed & revoked : coups d’état : military coups : run of the mill coups & attempted coups : takeovers : insurrections : assassinations : uprisings both popular & not : riots : troubles : tensions : & detentes : aerial bombardments : battles : bombs : suicide bombers : terrorist attacks : incidents : massacres : boycotts : blockades : systems actively designed to discriminate (some were even abolished : well one)
even the occasional peace treaty
*one of these things is not like the others
4. Commonplace Things We Take for Granted washing machines : clothes dryers : air-conditioners : exercise machines : refrigerators : freezers : electric stoves : vacuum cleaners : cars ; & a handful of magic devices allow us to experience knowledge : gossip : stupidity : & even extraordinary content from around the world — so much great literature : artwork : music : dance : & cinema it’s impossible to list even a fraction of it
5. Technologies Which Have Become Obsolete Since Gran Was Born 8mm : Super 8 : Hi-8 : analog slides (along with slide projectors & hand-held slide viewers) : overhead projectors : analog film : including photo developing : film splicing : disposable film cameras : Kodak itself for that matter : photo albums : flash cubes : photo booths : one hour photo saloons : & (almost) printed photographs : 8 tracks : cassettes : DAT : walkmen : diskmen : vinyl records (except for DJs) : MP3 players : minidiscs : boomboxes : VCRs (VHS & Beta) : floppy disks : Zip drives : CDs : DVDs : Blu-rays : LaserDiscs (oh that’s right : they were a thing : briefly) : telegrams : dial up modems : phone books : rotary phones : landlines (almost) : answering machines : phone booths : cathode ray tvs : pagers/beepers : dot matrix printers : fax machines : typewriters : encyclopaedias : card catalogs : punch cards : classified ads : street directories : road maps : alarm clocks : calculator watches : pin ball machines : space invaders : pac man :
6. Jobs Which Have Become Obsolete Since Gran Was Born Breaker Boy : Cigarette Girl : Clock Winder : Copy Boy : Dictaphone Operator : Elevator Operator : Film Projectionist : Ice Cutter : Knocker-Upper : Lamplighter : Lector : Leech Collector : Log Driver : Manual Part Loading : Milkman : Mimeograph Operator : Pinsetter : Rag & Bone Man : Rat Catcher : Sandman : Sawyer : Street Sweeper : Switchboard Operator : Telegraph Operator : Typesetter : Typing Pool : VCR Repairman : Video Store Clerk : indeed entire industries devoted to record stores & videocassette/DVD rentals : not to mention entire industries related to horse-drawn transportation : not mention no doubt many others: i’ve failed to mention
7. The Argument & if you haven’t read every single word of this poem i quite understand i was deliberately belabouring relabouring & overlabouring a point by listing the many many many many things we’ve changed in under a 100 years & many in much less than that
so don’t fucking tell me we can’t change now — & fast
Some days a poem just writes itself. This was one such. From a few notes jotted while I was visiting my gran in her “retirement home”, the tone quickly established itself & made me laugh out loud as the various descriptions presented themselves.
in the quiet blue of my gran’s tiny
room a photo of a long-haired kiss-
curled cow-licked feminine-faced lout;
smug in a purple-striped shirt under
neath an all-white knitted jumper
(as was, I hope, vaguely fashionable
in the Miami Vice trashed late 80’s);
set off with a heart-shaped silver bolo-
tie for fuck’s sake although i recognise
his confident cock-eyed grin, his too-
smooth clean-cut chin, & once-pride&joy
full-but-already-thinning head of fine
wavy hair, my stomach double knots
in grief & pity — for he does not yet
know all he has, nor all he will lose