Rosewood Green Award – Open Age Local Poetry
by Brett Dionysius
For Norman Gibbins
School was church & church was school.
He knelt, transfixed by the cross-hairs of
Jesus, the clean lines of silver & wood he
Shot his thoughts at like the tin cans his
Mates lined up on stumps & blew away.
Here he was centred, focused on the job
Of collecting pockets, as if he was some
Apprentice ferryman in his dark training.
He grew used to taking orders. Masters,
Crow-ragged, their coal black gowns taut
As funeral shrouds, beckoned to him from
Their wooden pulpit. He left school, ears
& head ringing, a hierarchy of spirit hand
Sewn onto his soul's candy-striped blazer.
He helped his father nail iron & timber crosses
Over the western downs, as the congregation
Of industry flocked to the town. Mayors threw
Pennies to children from trains as they opened
Up the district, added a skeleton of commerce
To Queensland's body. Bullock drays were put
Out to pasture as new economies built up steam.
Here he was centred, focused on the work of
Bonding rail to the land, applying a steel splint
To the country's old bones. When he was done
Southern fIelds beckoned to him, a subtle twist
Of animal & earth, a need he wanted to fence in.
But other gates broke open, a stampede of ideas
Overshadowed his dreams of a grass empire.
He marvelled at their engineering. The lack of iron
In these colossal headstones as he shone his bayonet
Into the eyes of the photographer. He drew on their
Power, these Pyramids saved him later as he dug into
The cove's bone-coloured sand. Here he was centred.
Focused on the role of energising his men. Wounded
In the thigh & shoulder, he fought on for three days
Until his spirit escaped from the holes in his body, like
Water leaking out of a rusted rain tank; the ruby tinge
Of iron so potent on the tongue. Injured men flapped
Weakly as torn flags in a slight breeze, or heavy factory
Machinery shutting down for the night, as red crosses
Bore them out. Low whistles of steam left some; a spent
Fuel never to be returned to the body's soft engine.
Oh cruel! Cruel! With a wounded Bavarian he
Shared this thought, as he helped the man crawl
Off, then ankle-tapped the Germans' advance &
Bogged down their troops like a steam tractor caught,
In a creek bed, its iron paddle-wheels trapped deep.
But things turned blunt. His superiors needed a new
Thermopylae. So he gathered acolytes around him
& together they worshipped at the sap-head. Here
He was centred. Focused on the task of guarding
Their retreat. In a trench, men writhed like needle
Sharp rats after eating strychnine, so he jumped up
On the parapet, his gentle nature ending the giant's
Run. He stood, transfixed in the cross-hairs of a gun.
He was a child, hit in the back of the head by a stone.
The very end of all things. The government of the spirit
Ruled her decisions as she fought her brother's death
With all her life. Letters poured from her hand, as if
This printed fountain of youth could resurrect him.
She was centred. Focused on the need of fighting
For her brother's honour. She won. Bean penned
His great tragedy, down to the last turn of his head,
Checking to make sure that no one was left behind.
Purely a familial trait. His campaign medals halved,
Her power reached even France. Her words forming
On his wooden cross like a deep mist over no man's
Land. With my soul's homage and my heart's utmost love
To my beloved and deeply mourned brother. Her gutsy war
For recognition forged in the furnace of public awe.