Returning home (Sydney, 1945)

The plane landed harshly

on the tarmac in Sydney,

with no one there to

cheer or smile,

and give a hug,

not that I expected

anyone from

so far away;

and stretcher bound

they wheeled me

and my memories

to a hospital to

recover from

the unrecoverable.

 

I lay there in

the pristine bed

that smelt of new-washed linen,

and recalled a darker bed

in which I lay mosquito bound

with the stains of vomit

and the smell of old diarrhoea.

 

But here in this

hospital bed among the

rows of those who

returned with their dread,

I see the body that

came back with me:

a skin-covered skeletal form

sunken and deformed,

a relic of this forgotten war,

now wrapped in

its own shroud of death.

 

It was nothing like

the handsome and vital innocence

of the young man or boy

that left the shores

of the little isle

and joined the company

of blokes on their

way to defend

the motherland,

and fight for

King and country and

this way of life,

in this jolly land,

this bloody great

commonwealth of mates.

 

Too early,

too late,

I landed to the

general cheer of

kiwis, poms and

all the other mobs,

and then looked

out across the sun-sparked sea

and echoed the

words of all the rest:

we can never be

taken here,

not here,

not in this most

British place.

 

I could hardly

stand when they came

to take me back

to my distant

and forgotten

childhood place,

after four years

of this deadening hell,

after the Bomb,

and after the Japs

had left a pathetic

defeated foe.

 

But in the numbing

silence of a war now gone,

with the dreadful drip

of sweat that defined

my soul-stripped life,

I thought of friends

lost: those dead

and those alive

who would never

live again.

 

So, here I lie

on the white

and sterile cotton sheets

now a man,

not that you

could even tell;

and unable to sleep,

I still dream of the days

and the nights

and the tedium of

prison life that

formed a circle

around the suffering

of my once boyish self.

 

And in my hand

I clutch a letter

from home,

a simple letter on postcard from

a mother to her son.

 

“Come home,” she says,

“Come back to your waiting

fresh made bed.”

 

For my father, who suffered, who forgave and  

held his silence throughout his life.

 

10/10/2016

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