he didn’t have to lie about his age.
Almost all his friends and workmates did,
not to buy alcohol,
go to an R-rated film,
or a bar
but war : 18 was the minimum, he was 19 – a veteran.
They didn’t think of it as conflict or
only adventure ….
a trip to Europe, then home by Christmas
– he was: five Christmases later.
Travel, yes, Gallipoli, France, Belgium,
England twice for hospital
and Canada on the way home.
A lonely trip home, unfamiliar faces
most embarked with not there, no longer of this world.
At home in the South Seas
the small towns of his home province hosted the returnees,
parades, ceremonies and dances.
an attractive auburn haired young woman
they catch eyes and dance
an address is given, perhaps a kiss.
He visits the next afternoon
the door is opened by her mother, bearing a rifle
and telling him to be gone in, the direction from which he came.
The first year was a cinch
everything provided :
warm comfortable room and fully lighted hallways.
Even the food wasn’t too bad …
meals – clockwork – three per day.
What to do on Friday night? –
Join the crocodile exodus to town,
a party …
no thought or planning required –
something was always happening.
But now, time is up –
eviction from the womb of the dormitory
to a student flat
Everything needed …. where to get?
A friend offers to help
and ferocious bargaining skills
the adviser approves all purchases except –
“ NO – be an optimist, buy a double bed.”
When to speak up?
I felt a little chastened by my brother’s indifference
then moved by the big guy’s take on egalitarianism
had decided to say nothing,
then valour thought better of discretion.
I tell him it’s really good thing they’re doing
“ mate,” he booms,
tone and volume seldom heard in a hospital
“ I’m really pleased to be able to do this ”
then waves an arm around
“ it’s not just me mate,
its these guys too
they raised the money to pay for it,
a year’s work mate –
a year of sausage sizzles, bar raffles, quiz nights.”