Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Poems Against War: A 'Journal' from Childhood and Teenage Years

War Games

1. Fort — Da!

The two ‘nature-loving’ boys set up fort
by laying branches across the apertures
between old wandoos — a clump
of trees on the middle of the paddock.

We — the ‘war boys’ — didn’t
expect it, trekking across open territory,
heading for the cover of the Top Bush:
the wandoos a safe place to munch

biscuits we’d packed before
leaving the farmhouse. It was
a strategic position because contours
and firebreaks took you right

past it — the paddock a killing
zone, all lines of sight and minefields,
thin green crop only up a month...
walk through there and there’d

be hell to pay. Looks are deceptive.
We’d let down our guard, coming
up to our ‘safe place’, but truth is
it’d long been a contested space:

the others liked to listen to the parrots
cavorting overhead. There’d once been
an echidna working termites in a hollowed
log. Large insects worked shadowy bark.

And so when we fell to the hail
of clods — boondies
mud peppered with gravel,
the upturnings of the plough

where wheat hadn’t set at the edges —
maybe we shouldn’t have been startled.
This was an aggressive environmentalism
we’d guessed might be possible, but

had rejected as being out of all
proportion. Brother to brother,
cousin to cousin, the hail
came from the peace-lovers,

while it was we, in our fatigues,
who yelled louder than the tractor
straining through boggy ground:
Not fair not fair! This is all wrong.


A statement I am still
trying to work out
over forty years
later as I pass
another sign
pointing to the remnants
of an ancient Celtic hill fort,
so attractive to the invaders
long after.
                   And on Wheatlands farm,
it was alliances between Celt and Saxon
and Celt on restless, hyperventilating land.
Alliances against the ‘wild Aborigines’
who we knew must come with spears
and vengeance. Why wouldn’t they?

Ambush: Latin to French to English.
I don’t know the Noongar word.

What right do I have to the devices
of language, the codes
of resistance?

What right to remember
what I remember.
The era, childhood,
the legacies,

2.  Scale Models

Airfix. Miniature. To scale.
Bedroom festooned
with armour, bristling
with tanks and anti-tank
guns — terrain & camouflage.

Leopard tanks, Shermans,
Centurions. Catalogue.
Library. Firepower.

Amassing strength.
Deflecting shells.
Blitzkrieg a-political
masculine word choice.

I’d tried everything else
I could think of. I didn’t
believe in destiny
though I feared fate.

3. ‘I don’t want to play wars.’

Said my younger brother
as I flung Cape lilac berries
at his head. Me, kitted
out in constructor’s safety
helmet, home-made ‘rifle’,
backpack and ammo pouches.
I had fought many enemies
and triumphed but there
was no body count
outside my head.
I needed independent
verification of casualties:
at least one ‘severely wounded’
who might be treated: I carried
a genuine first aid kit.
This was the path to being a general.
My father had nothing to do with it,
being ‘Up North’ and having
done his time in Nashos —
served with Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer,
missed Korea and Vietnam
as the timeline unwound.

4. Movies

Primed in black & white, Saturday arvo
war movies on wet winter days — quagmire,
trenches, bogged down in Audie Murphy.

So obsessive, I spent the time spotting
inconsistencies in weaponry, uniforms,
ordnance — historical anomalies,
being in possession of the facts,
the truth, as I was.

                                  Don’t argue
with me — do your research, mate.
I saw the colour of the battlefield,
never the colour of the blood.

5. Purnell’s History of the Second World War

Purnell’s every Saturday morning for a year
ordered through the local newsagency.
And more. All going smoothly in the fields
of death, campaigns across the steppes,
Battle of the Coral Sea, Fortress Europe.
Then the Holocaust Issue. Then silence.
No wars for the week. No recreating
battlefields in bedrooms. No self-control
to make general staff material.
And I was too young to read Celan
and find a way through poetry.
I was too old to want to die
in the trenches.

6. War Games

Strategy games. Too old to kill each other in the backyard,
the mind wants more — campaigns, scenarios, turning
the tides of history. The SS Death’s Head Division
a black counter on the hexagon of country, terrain.
Attack strength, defence strength, capacity
for movement even when supplies
are in short supply on the front elsewhere.
Clinical as reading Wilfred Owen at school
and perfectly understanding the poetic effect
of horror. The slips between writing and reading,
taking orders and giving orders. Who said,
‘Different wars...’ or ‘Every war is different...’
No one, I hope, no one. Though I imagine
it’s likely, and I thought it back then.

7. Debate

Reading Clausewitz On War and Guderian’s Achtung! — Panzer
(the allies didn’t charge him after the war and he was valorised

as an acceptable incarnation of the elite soldier... something
for those who love war as a human quality — deep in their souls —

to cling to) and Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico
and Sun Tzu ur-text The Art of War, I was a full bottle

on why wars are: inevitable, necessary, desirable.
I am — point blank — too humiliated to recount

the details of my argument, and unwilling to hide
behind the smokescreen: ‘I was given that side

of the debate... the rules, the art-form, the discipline...’
qualities I have no belief in now, and probably not then.

And the Head Girl, taking the side for peace,
argued with as much passion against war

as I did for. A professional cool, a studied vehemence
was my guiding light.  And the war-loving boys

who made my life hell — physical and sexual
and psychological abuse — looking on

to see their future commander in action!
I could tell them that Master Sun said...

‘Exploit the enemy’s dispositions
     To attain victory’

But the spies among my own team
sold me out — a pathetic specimen

to lead the assault,
conduct their war.

     John Kinsella

1 comment:

Helen Hagemann said...

I like these, Helen Hagemann