A friend recently gave me an old book, rescued from a charity pile, called Poets at War (pub. 1944). All poems included in the anthology were written by Australian servicemen (to quote the book, although there are a few poems written by women). ANZAC day seemed an appropriate day to read it. Unsurprisingly, for those writing from amidst the carnage rather than the rhetoric, the common themes are loss, and the horror and futility of war. "If I kill you in war and you kill me,/We gain no understanding, love nor trust;/Only discover that we both are dust." (Russel Harte).
I liked this rather haunting poem by David McNicoll, called "Men Laughing". It's of its time, of course, but still moving, I think.
"Sometimes, if the night is quiet, I can hear men laughing
Across on the far side of the hill"
[Click on 'Read More' to read the poem in full]
Men Laughing by David McNicoll
Sometimes, if the night is quiet, I can hear men laughing
Across on the far side of the hill,
And occasionally see the faint glimmer of a lantern
That wavers and then is still.
It is in the night before they go to sleep
That men will sit and talk of other days,
Of girls and drink and politics and work,
Horses and dogs and droughts and wheat and sheep.
And in the night their senses play them tricks:
They smell the sheep-dip, and a damp fire's smoke;
They smell the sweet warm scent of women's bodies,
Bathed and perfumed and powdered; they can hear
Friends whistling tunes along suburban streets,
The click of lawnmower through the next-door fence,
The sound of tennis balls on asphalt courts,
The yells of children coming home from school-
Sometimes, if the night is quiet, I can hear men laughing;
Then everything is still.
Amanda O'Callaghan is an award-winning writer of short stories and flash fiction. She has been published and won awards in Australia, Ireland and the UK.
Queensland Literary Fellowship
I am honoured to have been one of three recipients of a Queensland Writers Fellowship (2016). Congratulations to my fellow awardees: Trent Jamieson and Pamela Rushby