The Apology

For Lorca, Fiona, Yul, Layla, Jake, Freddie and so many more.

My grandmother saw the subs in Sydney Harbour
In 1942.
They were black, menacing, 
And undeniable.
They told the story plain and clear:
War was on the doorstep.

My father, nearly sent to Vietnam fields,
Saved by that tall, great man
With a voice like sweet thunder
Making my birth just that little more likely,
Relieved from that war they swore 
Was almost on our doorstep.

Mine has been a charmed life,
Safe from man-made quakes and thunder,
Bringing down walls and cutting off breath
And scarring bodies and minds and landscapes,
Killing both civilians and dreams.
These are saved for my television screen,
For I know war has never been on my doorstep.
But now I see the flames, and the dry,
Records broken without fanfare,
The blackened stubble of ancient forest
Rattling with the screams of fauna burned beyond nightmares.
The death count grows,
And river flows
Cease
For longer than they ever have before.

So I look into the eyes of my sweet friend’s child,
And I say:

“I’m sorry. 
They lied.

They said war never changes,
But it has. 
And it is here.
Only now we are not fighting men,
But man’s hubris.
We are not dropping bombs,
But raising degrees
And I cannot guarantee
That you will see
A life as full of green glory
And safety
And luxury
As I have been blessed to be living.

I’m sorry.
They lied.
Because even the blindest of us can see
This is not business as usual.
And yet here we are,
Standing in the middle of our very own D-Day
Wasting time as the clock ticks away,
Our greatest obligation
Ignored,
Refusing to acknowledge
That the war 
Is no longer on our doorstep.

It
Is 
Here.

I’m sorry.
We failed.
We didn’t beat down their doors
Threatening to eat them alive if they didn’t pay attention
Change the direction
And take the bitter pill to fix the sickness
Early enough
Or often enough
And now the burden is yours.”

Because she was born in smoke,
Two months old before she took a clean breath.
And I, three decades gone,
Only now with the fire in my belly
To match the rising temperatures.
But is it too little
Too late?

“But there are other considerations!”
Like what?
Party donations?
Tell that to her little, sweet face,
That won’t know entire species
Her mother drew pictures of
Out in Namadgi Forest.

Like what?
A coal-fuelled economy?
Not in this century,
Where even our buyers are looking to bail.

They’re criminals, all of them.
Warmongers, baying for blood,
When the time comes to send our children to battle
For oil
For false democracy
For whatever the septic tanks call for.

But a war that could be fought without a single life lost
No drop of blood spilt
That is already here?
No, that would be too much for the budget to bear.

But the war we waged on Earth is still here,
And we are not winning.
We are a heartbeat away from defeat,
With only ourselves to blame,
And only minutes until midnight.

And some of us could not be more sorry.

*****

This was going to be my submission for the Dubbo Eisteddfod 2020 in the Original Poetry section. But then Covid19 happened, so I’m putting it here instead.

Because even though we’re all stuck inside because of one disaster, we’re on the pinnacle of another, and we’re running out of time to stop it.

Flanders Fireworks

 

My dear Edith,

Your last letter has been pressed to my chest for the last month, and I apologise for not replying sooner. The rain has been unrelenting, and I did not want to spend ink and paper on a letter that would likely be destroyed by the wet. Please know that the delay in my response does not mean my love for you has in any way diminished. On the contrary, it grows each day, as does my longing for your touch and your company. You are the heaven I carry to get me through this hell.

One of the photographers from the War Office visited recently to take pictures of how we’re all getting on. He was here two weeks; he got lice after the first, and took ill with a fever by the second. It must be nice to be able to head back home because you’re itching and have a warm head.

Before he left, he showed us some of his photographs from his last visit to Ypres. Some of them showed just how ghastly it is here, but some were strangely beautiful. We spend our days and nights living under the constant shellfire, so it’s hard to see any kind of bright side to it, but one of this fellow’s pictures of the night sky over the trenches was remarkable. He had let the exposure of the film run longer than usual, so you could see the trajectories of all the artillery fire overhead. Upon seeing it, I was struck with immense awe, the paths of flying gunpowder, metal and death somehow breathtaking. (The irony that they also take away the breath of those they hit was not lost on me.) The sky was lit up like Guy Fawkes Day, lights streaking along high above the horizon. I feel grisly thinking about it, but it was so beautiful, perhaps more so because it was trapped on film and not aimed at our positions.

But none of those fireworks could ever shine as bright as the torch I hold for you, my dear Edie, and no photograph will fill the ache in my soul that comes from being robbed of your darling smile and wit. (Please send me one all the same – I would love to show the lads what a prize and joy I have waiting for me back home. They will be terribly jealous, and I will be terribly proud.)

I love you forever, my darling. Give Mother a kiss for me, and thank her for the socks.

With all my heart, and all my kisses, I miss you and love you dearly.

Forever yours,

Bert

 

*****

This post was inspired by the photo at the top of the page, highlighted by a post on r/WritingPrompts. Click on it for a link to the Flickr page for the original recolouring.

Please note: this story was written on the fly as an exercise, so I can’t guarantee that any of the historical elements are factual.