Published in Darwin, 1966.
Reflections of a Fool
The shrunken body,
but feeling nothing.
Shunned by those I loved,
tormented by the people.
I have given almost all.
There’s still my life,
the final heathen offering.
Not troubled by yearnings:
ideals have died.
There is only body:
my mind is dead.
A shrunken mass
of busted bones
and flowing blood.
But he is dead.
we all must die.
The world dies
when I die.
The shrieking crowds
all wanting fatal ends –
grant their wish.
They killed my heart.
So what matters
if they kill the body?
The kind old priest who came –who went.
I would have rejected him
if I only had the strength.
His words meant nothing,
all his efforts were in vain.
I never looked at him.
I know not how he is.
He is old
the trembling words.
Does he pity me,
a mental wreck,
a physical shadow,
oozing pain – unfelt pain?
The understanding masses,
lost of understanding.
My words are lost,
my meanings unconsidered.
I killed. I sinned.
The High priest dead,
His men still following
his well-worn path.
What is freedom?
A pleasant state of mind
a lack of fear.
I died for freedom:
a new freedom:
an old freedom.
there is no freedom.
Yet men will war
to prove there’s freedom,
they have for millennia
and will try again.
A lost ideal,
it must fall.
War means nothing
Tomorrow we all die.
Those I hated,
those I loved,
we’ll all die.
I killed for an ideal,
killing to prevent a war.
Yet this pacifist
must die alone.
The masses die together;
the masses dead,
And so to battle, let’s listen to a soldier.
The battle cry.
March dead men.
The bugle sounds.
Rifles to hand,
They tell us to fight.
Who are they?
Sitting at oaken tables,
pens in hand.
In our hands – guns.
eighteen hours a day
and have their
We work twenty-four
and give our lives.
March dead men,
the call to duty –
Fix bayonets –
They lie in bed
when night falls
beside their wives.
We lie in the hell
of snake–cast jungles.
They ride to work
in cosy cars.
We march through swamp
March dead men.
A park is ahead and someone is speaking.
War you shall learn
is not politics’ concern.
It is the farm boys and the clerks
who lie in open parks
with white crosses
covering all the green.
Politicians will discern
but not the VCs earn.
It is the farm boys who die
under white crosses lie
with uniforms of grey covering all the green.
Another speaker and perhaps he has something different to say.
The rose has withered, brothers,
it has died.
Our boys now fight a dirty war
in which there is no pride.
They kill, kill women, children
and men, old men
before they have time to hide.
The bombs rain down by the thousands
like dirt down the mountainside.
Peasants run for shelter
they’re mown down one by one.
And as each body fertilises the soil
I see the soldiers and understand,
the work for which they’re paid so well
I seek shelter in a coffee shop.
The silent sound of slaughter far away,
the noiseless drops of blood running down,
and the cries of little children in the dark night
as their mother lies dead on the ground.
I can see the napalm raining from the sky
and feel it burning children’s skin.
I thought I saw a bullet tearing flesh,
an old woman stumble and then die.
I know this is one war we can’t win.
Then I must run and hide in a corner with a poet friend.
Oh rocket fire and cannon ball
you are the mightiest of all
cause you alone bring man’s downfall.
A soldier stands with gun and knife
he knows how to end all strife –
simply take away all life.
Gun and hand grenade,
you are by man man-made
and into graves you’ve many laid.
Little bombs and big bombs
now we have the Atom Bomb.
It shall make the world a tomb.
Oh clever man
with reasoned thought –
you’ve done away with
To ensure no soul is bought
you have mortified the lot.
Slowly I slink past the servants of reason in search of the street.
I saw ten thousand soldiers
march down a seemingly endless street.
Some carried wounded comrades
to the sound of a muffled beat.
As they marched they were surrounded
by the cheers and the screams of the crowd.
They were ten thousand heroes
the roar of a million so loud.
From office windows high above
paper squares fell like rain
and streamers formed an archway.
It helped forget the pain.
Tanks rumbled in front of the soldiers,
rocket carriers brought up the rear.
Mounted police rode alongside
all around there rose a cheer.
These were the men returning
from a long unending war.
They had served their time in Viet Nam
that’s what the celebration was for.
A man, a woman and a child
stood at the far end of the street
“Thou shalt not kill” read their placard.
Was their thought crushed by a million feet?
But I alone know the answer.
Peace is as elusive as the shadow
which I pursued on a dark night long ago
when I chased the sound
of my footsteps down a valley
and found my feet fixed firmly by the sea.
I called in vain for peace throughout the land,
I cried until my lungs were spurting blood
but my words were drowned
by the sound of a military band
and my thoughts were crushed
by the feet of the marching flood.
The Shadow of Subandrio
A coup d’ `etat.
A civil war.
A million humans die.
Their leaders crucified.
I saw them cut his body down,
throw it in a trench
and then pour in quick-lime –
they left the rest to time.
The prison wall will crumble,
No longer shrunken face and twisted hand –
just the shadow of a man.
The Rape of a People
Dark night and the Curlew calling,
the campfire ashes glowing.
I sit in this shack that White men left me,
they have stolen my clan’s land
and taught Christianity,
Black night, Black man and black horizons.
I remember my wife smiling and dancing
she was a Brolga – a wild horse prancing.
I think of her now – shackled; a slave.
She’s the manager’s possession,
her reward will be a grave.
White man, white power, electric light.
The missionaries came and took children crying
saying better to protect than see them starving.
Taught the White ways and forgetting tradition.
School never taught a Black man pride.
They’ll live out their lives as toys of the mission.
Dark night and Curlew calling.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
I sat at a table looking out at a city
garish artificiality – empty rubble.
There was the life – the struggle.
It shared its competition
I lay on the sand looking out at the sea
black and noisy
a hollow sound.
Where was the life – the fish?
All that it shared was its solitude
I stand in a bar looking at the fat barmaid
entertaining a prospect
a meaningless murmur.
There is no life here – it is the land of the dead.
It shares only its depression
I wander out.
“No Buchenwald exists here we are free.”
Not for you my father, son or mother
but for the other,
the low black scum,
all idiot savants.
Good only for the primitive
they have no use apart from herding cattle
sinking fence posts
Those without work seek refuge in the camps
of Barbed wire men – protectors
whose cold cuts bite an undefended psyche.
For this scum – grey wire is a reality.
“They too lazy to find jobs are kept at our expense.”
They are kept
kept from marrying whom they please
kept from moving where they like.
Yes – They are kept
in huts which would shame
degraded waifs of Buchenwald.
“To have this camp of war of which you speak
we must have a war.”
There was war
white hands clasped muskets
and still the peaceful bush echoes the clap.
The little bushes retaining powder burns.
My awakened mind runs black-red.
A living sinful hell is shared
by those remaining,
it awaits those yet unborn.
We have laid our rifles down,
but if a Black escapes the camp
he might usurp a white man’s work.
Our weapons are now economic.
“We have no Fuhrer nor a National Socialist Party.”
Our leaders show not hatred
they, content with apathy,
adhere to paternal liberalism.
That tattered banner worn too thin
for the veneer to hide the smouldering Fascism.
Are not our people Nietzschean supermen?
With honour now we raise the banner
as we support “The white man’s burden!”
These half-savages providing nothing
weakening our economy.
“But Hitler Germany exonerated religious persecution.”
Oh ignorance you shall rule everlastingly
and knowledge cower beneath the sea.
These stark illiterates in trances saw a truer God
than you, oh mighty Christian.
Did Christ not teach tenderness?
Did he not say
“Love thy neighbour”?
We have read God’s words and knew of Christ.
Yet we killed.
Unlike Pontius, we can’t wash our hands,
the chair of judgement has been occupied
our forebears made the rules,
we abide them.
“To carry your illusion further
where is the wald?”
You father, son or mother
you are the forrest,
retaining your position;
but you grow and reproduce,
this shows life.
You sway to the gentle breeze of reform,
alas, your mind once more turns back.
Only a blizzard could tear at your roots
thus humbling your most lofty mind.
Oh that such energy should be mine.
This poem but a shadow
heralding the unveiled change.
“But where is the snow –
we must have snow.”
Your hearts are chilled
by the cold white mass
which falls so lightly,
blinding eager eyes with apathy.
If only the “wald” has strength
enough to rip its roots
from this asocial labyrinth
and glide with the blizzard,
the storm will dissipate in happiness and sunshine,
and tainted perception will exist no longer
when men accept their brotherhood.
But if your feet still search for food
in this stagnant quagmire
where they rot now,
I am but a zephyr.
Thus we will see the chamber oozing poison
and a noble people choking on its gas.
Then we will have our Buchenwald!
Originally titled “Buchenwald” and Published in Semper Floreat circa 1964.
Copyright © 2023 John Tomlinson