Gallipoli 2015

Three thousand dead on the fingertip of a dry old empire,
and they were just a drop of blood for the larger conflagration,
in which they now lie embalmed.
If it was a senseless war, universally agreed,
the bloom of Europe snuffed by a red frost,
then how much more indefensible
the loss of these young lives of a young world
ten thousand miles away?

What did they die for?
Tell me the return on their fields of flesh.
A doomed and arrogant empire, a generation without death?
Or was it simply war for war’s sake?
Very modern,
that love for a colonial boy’s adventure,
and uniforms for smitten girls, and the brotherhood of mud,
and the arousal of violence, let’s not forget that.
So, was it just one big glorified blood sport?
The World Cup on steroids and ten storey high guns,
a way of sorting out the wusses from the men.

Except, the men and the wusses all lie in the same stiff holes.
How can you tell the one from the other now?
What have we learned after going two rounds
in that bloody century of our brave new world?
As we remember one hundred years on, lest we forget,
a sickly tone of glory sneaks home.

We paint the glorious dead larger than life
in both their virtues and their sins,
colossus that now looms over our fraught tomorrow.
Imposing monuments, the blare of trumpets,
the fanfare and parades of the shell-shocked dead
hide a more prosaic truth;
we really don’t know why they went,
but we cannot tell them that.

I fear the nightmares of the past
still lurk in the cupboards of all nations,
dusty empires still stalk the crowded continents,
and there’s still a quick buck to be had in the cynical grab
for the spoils of the afflicted masses.
Everybody jostling on a shrinking stage,
lighting powder kegs for hot Julys.

And if it does blow up in our faces once more,
will we go off happily to other people’s wars as we did then,
bristling for the good fight, as loud in our certainty
that it will all turn out for the best?

At the exhibition on “our boys” at Gallipoli,
fathers point to the soldier mannequins,
all with faces like star rugby players, unreal athletes of a great game,
that any Sanitarium kid could one day hope to play.

The Snug Country

It was enough for most,
the well-tailored sleeve of a nation
pulled snug over these narrow shores.
It was a kind of satisfaction,

the well-watered gardens,
row on row,
the native ferns without the natives,
the Chinese lanterns slung from eaves,
without the Chinese,

the rounds of the Plunket nurse,
the wife on her hands and knees,
scrubbing the porch.

It was enough for most,
The triangular pen
of pub, rugby and race day,
(bets under the table made the blood rise)

the missionary position,
the starched laundry,
flags over the sacred quarter acre,
short back and sides,
the hair parted with a comb.

And if it wasn’t enough,
then there were sharp eyes,
and faces ranged like corrals,
and rumors mobilized like armies

against the dangerous question,
the irregular habit,
the un-pressed collar.

And for the very stubborn ones,
of which there were always a few,
artist types, the degraded boheme,

there were certain
more robust therapies,
in the depths of those gothic houses of joy,
guaranteed to instill the best qualities
of a well-tailored nation.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

Te Puea

When she returned to her village,
a young bride of her forgotten people,
she was greeted by despair.
The light had gone out of them,
and they sat on porches,
spoke of nothing,
while the days abandoned them
for progress happening elsewhere.
The sweet honey had all gone
to feed fatter hives.

The people died of the smallest things,
a bottle of gin, a cough,
some simply fell in the rivers
and never surfaced.
And so she began her backbreaking work,
picked up the spade and the taiaha,
the shards of the land,
the fallen stories of the ancestors,
fallen from the elders’ lips when they died.

In the poverty stricken villages
of her people,
she began to speak like the old chiefs,
held huia,
dug pits for food, dug seasons,
sent the men to fell trees,
and roused the sleeping carvers.
And soon there were things unheard of,
and great festivals of waka on the rivers,
the scent of fresh carving in the
young maraes.

There was something, at last,
in the breast of her people,
which aroused like early summer.
They held the fragile broken heart
of their centuries,
passed it from palm to palm,
rubbed it, warmed it,
till it beat again of its own accord.
And they all went down
to Te Puea’s new meeting house,
committing forgotten waiata to heart,
and even the old folk got off their porches,
followed the songs home.

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014