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photo, courtesy The Blue Gum Home Page

                     Lay Down my life in the Sun

       Sat on the veranda with his hands like twisted bone,
       he spat and hacked and coughed his lungs out
       while the matrons local in the town
       shrugged and pitied Aunty May
       and went on planning for their gala day.

    This was a year or two gone by, when Anzac was at hand,
    and some big general was to land upon the town,
    a bunch of soldiers with him, heroes bearing real
    arms, and half a dozen top brass nobles wearing 'sir'
    before their names and letters after, so
          there was a lot to do,
          and miles to cover doing it,
          under the dusty bluegums in the sun.

       You'ld have thought they'd invented 
       pavlova and beer. and streamers ?
               They called it bunting!
       and the spongecake and custard sagged
       in the heat under sherry and cream,
       when our boys swung into the town:
       and this one and that one pushed out her chest,
       and pummelled her son into line. Each lad a hero
       going to the war, part of the pitiful
       welcoming line,
               hazy and young in the sun.

       Aunty picked up the wee man she so loved
       in her arms, rug and all, and climbed in;
       and Dawn cranked up the truck by herself,
       so they got into town after the speeches
               and glory were done.

       "Dad needs his mates and a beer", was Aunty May's theme,
       as she shouldered her way through the crowd
               to the door.

               Well! The matrons were shocked,
               and they tried to ignore,
               the fuss and annoyance,
               the scuffs on the floor,
               not to mention our Dawn
               with her pigtails and socks
               wanting to know
               how d'you turn off the truck?"

              The general's aide whispered,
              interrupted the mayor,
              and the soldiers silently
              formed up a square, orders
               sotto voce', 'bout turn!'

       All solemn and quiet,
       and full of respect,
       they clip marched so sharp
       to the door, past badges
       and medals and matrons
       and drinkers and all.

               the whisper of arms at salute
       they escorted our May
               cross the floor !

                       And he sat,
       the great man sat down
       by the side of Dawn's dad,
       put his hand on his shoulder
       - spoke quiet -
       for a good hour or more.

       "He was glad, he was honoured,
       he'd thought Dad was dead"
               and he paused
       like a gentleman, waiting, while Jack
       coughed his lungs out
       again by the wall, said,
                "It's an honour to meet you
                                MR Orr."

       Well, they sent him his medals out in the post
       but no one round there ever knew,
       just what they were given him for.

       You'ld see him sit sometimes, rubbing his thumb,
       on the bridge of the cross or the crown,
       pull at the braid with his fingers
       while he coughed out his lungs once again,
       on the porch, in the sun, by the wall.

Alice Thorpe
April, 1999