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'War Cemetery' won first prize in the Peter Cowan Writers Centre Patron's Prize 2014.

War Cemetery

Leading Aircraftsman Harry F. J. GUESS

RAAF 8.12.98 Age 75

Garden of Remembrance - South Australia

Here amongst red petunias the ghost ship of my

father’s Lancaster touches down

a final time, and all his wars are stilled in the

green wet spring of lawn: particularly the last.

An ex-prisoner of the Ashford Private Clinic -

all tubes and wires. And in the black and white

evenings a gaunt reminder of old newsreels.

Swathed in thin hospital cotton, his thin

emaciated shadow flickering on numb silent

hospital walls as he stumbles towards me

clutching at my arm. And are these my father’s

fingers? His huge workman’s hands come down

to this? that held the stick so true - flying north

flying north - looking behind me with morphine

sunken eyes. I ask about the pain and watch

his dry cracked lips reply. _Time to get on with it’.

Flying somewhere past me now - easy

with final coordinates; the logic of essential

logarithms and navigation and an antidote

to my banal and silly, already wilting questions.

My mother leans in on her stick to his new

fresh glinting plaque. Somewhere amongst her

souvenirs his last stubbed cigarette she kept-

five decades past. His final smoky kiss.

Does she think of that now - the last of leave.

A difficult time for both of them. Now flying back

to this soft terminal landing here. A consummate

quiet taxi up to the small brass cross

amongst a legion of memorials. My grief

is unresolved and hers - so unrequited,

as she stares and stares into the empty cabin

of the morning for one who isn’t coming home.

Jeff Guess

©Jeff Guess 2017

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