War had been hard, though six years down the line
in Adelaide, the pain was fading off.
But letters came from Europe; there, the crack
of pistols, rifles, bones and caved in skulls
still echoed at the borders, where the wire
and occupying flags staked out new worlds.
They echoed in the ears of children who
had seen and heard too many bitter things –
had dined on rats at tables in Berlin
while mother pulled her skirts back down
and turned her head to watch the Russians leave.
Their homes knelt down in piles of ruined bricks.
Sometimes a lonely slab still stood; revealed
a splash of flowers on a bedroom wall
bombed-out and on display, for all to see.
Their fathers never made it back to towns
where patriotic flags once fluttered stiff
in summer breeze above the proud town hall.
The telegrams had ticked them off the list.
A million childhoods throttled by a war
that wrapped its dirty fingers round their throats,
before it left to seek new nurseries
in Kabul, Mogadishu or Phnom Penh.
In after years, imaginations plucked
some keepsakes from the fractured growing-up.
Our cousins’ memories would sift the wreck
like treasure-hunters passing magic wands
across the post-war silence and decay,
until a moment gleamed from early days.
Snapdragons on a wall. The scent of starch
in mother’s pinafore upon their face;
an uncle’s figure pointing to the sky
where aircraft droned and slid into the clouds –
in days before the sirens howled and sobbed.
A stamp collection like a tiny world
inside an album, where the nations lay
in neat serrated ranks, before their fall,
and, on the farms, the clicks of breakfast plates
downstairs, as they lay warm in bed – those days
when hearts could lift, as cocks called up the dawn.