The Last Enemy

Could we locate the enemy of mankind
(I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,
Not some mere outpost, or segment of the network)
Our Search and Destroy operation might succeed.

Sometimes we seemed to have it in our grasp
That final victory, the enemy mainforce beaten,
No more than mopping-up now left to do
Before the breakthrough to the land for heroes.

But then the erupting skin of our sick globe
Broke in a carbuncle with another core.
The infection was not finished, must lie deeper,
Go further than we guessed.

   Though we were wiser
Than our young parents, in their delirious joy,
The war to end all wars. We saw it coming
Again, more schooled to meet demoniac forces,
Went tighter-lipped to a job that must be done
Yet hoped to win more time, hardly believed
How swiftly above a charred bunker could form
A cloud of another colour, vast, pervasive,
Ringing the world, passing through walls and doorways,
Noiseless, odourless, sapping the soul. Was this
The ultimate foe, the apotheosis of evil,
The field of Armageddon?

   It would not do.
For one thing, there were too many border-crossers.
Love and hate breached the frontier. The questioned prisoners
All breathed and spoke. If you pricked them they would
bleed.
The line blurred. We could not use our weapons,
While the mushroom shape went climbing, climbing, climbing
As non-aligned as the sun and rain of God.

In such confusion who can see to fight?
Is there no enemy? Was it all illusion?
The stench of death, the valleys of dry bones
Merely the moon-scenes of a mindless planet?
Or is the Prince of Darkness passing by?

It was in the morning I met him face to face
In a fraction of time brighter than a thousand suns,
The enemy of the world. We knew each other,
As he looked from my shaving mirror with level eye
Returning my gaze, telling me a bare-faced lie.

Richard’s choice

  • Australia to her Children

    I am so old, oh very old, my children,
       Ye that are so young,

  • Music and the Heart

    Music and the Heart run hand in hand
    Naked over the shining sand,

  • Chemistry

    In the summit song of youth
    A quiet quick catch of the breath.

  • Colours

    Before I loved or knew you were
       I spoke as I had eyes,

  • After

    Out of this questioning, eventual truth;
    Out of this doubt, faith rooted in the rock;

  • Acknowledgements…

    Not vile, body, nor foe, flesh,
    Your joys deluding, triumphs trash,
    Fit to be foiled your every wish.

  • Alone

    Alone to walk the dripping woods of spring
       While daisies spy you?

  • Mutability

    ‘All things are flux: there’s nothing fast,’
    Said Heraclitus, ages past,

  • Detachment

    …the thunder growling,
    And winds mounting, and the sky falling,
    And night, and you not here.

  • The Tunnel

    This is where the water hurries under the archway,
    This is where we enter the long tunnel,

  • Australia 1914

    Gone away, away,
    Suddenly at a word departed,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • The Tactician

    Spring held her fire
    So long, the long pursuit, the watchers wondered
    Would there be ever an end

  • Coming into the Clyde

    Part of me for ever is the January morning
    Coming into the Clyde in the frosty moonlight

  • The Jervis Bay

    ..The fifth day of November, Fifty North and Forty West,
    Was edging to its departure, like an undecided guest,

  • A Vision of Degree Day

    The drowsy air, the throngs that gaze,
    The ceremonial stir,
    Mixed with the drone of Latin phrase..

  • Flying to New Zealand

    Hauled headlong starward by the quadruple conviction
    Of lion-lunged engines in their pride of power

  • My nine-hours son

    My nine-hours son, so wrinkle-faced
    Wry concentration of distaste
    To find your Person so displaced,

  • Autumn Song

    The sun like a centaur leaping the ranges
    Shoots to the heart my garden, shatters
    The dew in a volley of wild carillons

  • The Gull

    Riding the wind, in planetary sweep,
    The gull wheels on the radius of a wing.

  • Creation

    Straggling off the highway in search of firewood
    Past the tins and bottles, through the rusty wire,

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • Genesis

    You spoke, after long years, about the morning
    That followed the night your first-born son was born:

  • Rain after Drought

    Waking to a diapason in the downpipe
    I peer through curtained panes to a curtained sky

  • A Talk to the Willow

    When you were caught red-rooted in the drain
    You wept of course, but did the same again

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • Pause

    You are late coming home
    To the house we share
    An audible silence
    Chills the air

  • Splitting the Red Box

    The tree-trunk rounds, a fallen Doric column,
    are tumbled on the grass beside my gate.

  • Sea Waif

    No dolphin it was, but a six-month suckling whale
    gashed and shark-mauled, tribeless, motherless,

  • Farewell to Skye

    Little death of a little dog
    In a death-wish world of news by body-count

  • Ballad of Old Sox

    They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
    Just two weeks since he died.

  • Airport Departure

    My love, I watch you thread your way, and turn
    with a small timeless smile, and trail your trolley
    unhurried through the gate of no return.

  • Yin Barun Road

    Crossing the highway, furtive as a snake,
    it slips through bush towards indeterminate hills.

  • Willow Tree: Two Years After    

    Spring, at a bound. Once more the colourful chorus,
    Daffodils first declare their lyric yellow,

  • Canberra Autumn

    Land of the singing light
    Light that first I saw
    Eighty years and more

  • For HMST – 1996

    Now for your birthday the single prunus bough,
    by neighbour ’s kindness spared on a sentenced tree

  • Tsunami

    … obliterating in instant mini-time
    a universe of suns and planets
    with or without their myriad forms of life,

  • For HMST – 1997

    Always a step ahead, you’re eighty-three,
    My life-support, contending other me,

  • Just Coming

    Down arches of the years I hear your voice
    explaining serials of our late departures,

  • HMST – 1999

    Six years since your last birthday in our midst
    seems yesterday, in this same so-loved house,

  • Encounter Recalled

    Wrapped in my gown of self-regard sublime
    I heard your voice arrive from outer space.

  • Going up to the Rocks

    Knowing the time was short
    Yours was the instant thought
    ‘Let’s go up to the Rocks!’

  • Mousetrap

    With joyless spade I dig the tiny grave
    Asking, who made me lord of life or death?

  • Away Day – Ten Years After

    Ten years since that incalculable day
    When from all worlds we know you slipped away

Poems of War

  • Alone

    Alone to walk the dripping woods of spring
       While daisies spy you?

  • Epitaph on a New Army

    No drums they wished, whose thoughts were tied
    To girls and jobs and mother,

  • The Tunnel

    This is where the water hurries under the archway,
    This is where we enter the long tunnel,

  • Australia 1914

    Gone away, away,
    Suddenly at a word departed,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • If I should die

    If I should die, grieve not for youth
    Blighted, and towers of hope that fell

  • The Prophetic Hour

    In this dread hour for thee and all mankind
    Britain, be Freedom’s fortress or her grave.

  • The Jervis Bay

    ..The fifth day of November, Fifty North and Forty West,
    Was edging to its departure, like an undecided guest,

  • Christmas in Iceland

    We lay in Iceland winterbound,
    And heard the blizzard blow,

  • Stella Polaris: Homebound

    Above the great ship’s lifting bow
    I watch the Pole Star nightly stand,

  • Thermopylae

    The story, as now we see, was over-written
    By Herodotus, bless his warm Hellenic heart!

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • The Anzac Graves on Gallipoli

    You may not pass this place. Here you must stop,
    Though all the world’s great tides run heedless by

  • Last Post

    Heard how often, still the notes compel
    Unused to awe, we stand listening.

Poems of the Spirit

  • Life and Death

    Look where he lies, a clod of earth at best,
    Yet colder than a clod, for where there shone

  • After

    Out of this questioning, eventual truth;
    Out of this doubt, faith rooted in the rock;

  • The Old Convict Church, Port Arthur

    ..By a blue winking sea,
    The church stands in a green place,
    Green as Calvary.

  • Relativity

    “Boy killed on Bicycle”; smallest print, four lines
    Islanded in a tossing sea of type,

  • Easter Hymn

    Out of the cloud my Lord the Sun,
    Out of the earth my Lady Spring,

  • Milton Blind

    That dreaming day it was, the bell-like air
    Unclosed the naked admirable heaven,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • If I should die

    If I should die, grieve not for youth
    Blighted, and towers of hope that fell

  • To J.S. Bach

    Now, when the smoking ruins smoulder low
    Of what was Europe once

  • On Cathedral Mountain

    This mountain means discovery, since the day
    I climbed it first in boyhood and alone,

  • The Prodigal Son

    The ancient art of story-telling charms
    The ear, keeps its first hold on men
    The whole world over.

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • Post-mortem

    When a man dies
    We find that suddenly there’s time to praise him.

  • Space Window

    Waylaid by Handel’s theme, I think of you
    Now half a world away, and hear you say
    ‘His music always seems like coming home.’

  • Christmas Tree

    You hold the timeless in your brief green boughs
    The cardboard angels, home-made crib, the straw,
    The new-born baby older than Abraham

  • Passover

    Between the tumult of crucifixion
    and the diapason of resurrection
    that bar of absolute silence.

  • Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto

    …Listening,
    I am bereft, lost in the mystery
    of music leaping quenchless, undefiled

  • Astronomy

    ‘The love that moves the sun and all the stars’ –
    When Dante wrote there was no telescope:

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • Last Stand

    These trees reached up for light
    when Jesus walked on earth,

  • The Child and the World

    It was a terrible world
    And into it came a child

  • For Australia

    Lord of earth and all creation
    let your love possess our land;

  • Last Post

    Heard how often, still the notes compel
    Unused to awe, we stand listening.

  • Christmas Gift

    ..stamped with a star, but posted beyond the stars,
    marked ‘No Commercial Value’, signed, with a cross,

  • Farewell

    Fare well. We come to send you on the way
    we all must walk, so final, secret, strange.

  • The Word

    The greatest word in the greatest book
    is that conjunction, ‘Nevertheless’,

  • Extraterrestrial Report

    Arrived at the heavenly mansions, the blessed Saint
    (female on earth) was welcomed by St Peter

  • Canberra Autumn

    Land of the singing light
    Light that first I saw
    Eighty years and more