The Land War

We sang and joked.
We prayed and joked.
We listened to the radio and joked that
if you couldn’t hear the bombs you must be asleep.
How anybody could sleep through that racket
I didn’t know.
And it was getting closer.

It was clear we couldn’t just do nothing.
First they’d taken our land.
Then they’d taken our language.
Now they wanted to take away our will to live.

The bombs kept falling.
And it wasn’t so bad, we joked,
until they went off.

They went off like thunder.
Like thunder they made short exclamations –
What the hell!’
Then came long rumbling sentences we heard begin
on the radio, that echoed out over the surrounding hills,
encircling us down in the valley.
It was loud and exciting.

There were comings and goings all the time.
People arrived with fresh information
about whose place had been hit and what
bridges were still up
right through the afternoon.
It was like years of gossip in a couple of hours.

The radio stayed on into the evening
with no let up in the noise of the explosions.

And our place shook.
And I ran between the two houses
to keep up with new developments.

By evening the mood had definitely started to change.
The jokes were thinning out and no longer
defused the situation.

The old people were arriving.
The sense of affront we all felt was becoming rage.

The women and the girls were leaving the men to gather
around the table.
A crowd of them sat.
Some pulled up beer crates.
Some sat on chairs.
Others were leaning against the wall.
And Uncle Bill was standing.

He pulled down plans and maps of the area.
Old ones with landmarks on that were no longer there.
That had been taken.

He showed that the bombing was likely to precede
a ground action against us.
That this was not a new hostility,
simply another round of the old
which had run for miles underground
to blow up now again in our faces.

There was a judgement in his words.
And his eyes glittered.
As if he was saying –
I told you so‘ and
I would have done differently
to the old people.

I went back to our place.
And lay for a while listening to the bombs
rain down around the valley.

I think I slept.
And then I was back again.
It was later.

And Fred was there.
I was so pleased to see him and
we did our special handshake.

A tighter group had formed in the kitchen
with Uncle Bill in the middle.
Fred went straight in and sat down.
Right then,’ he said.

Behind their backs
Grandmother turned to me and smiled.
She was holding Dad’s old double-barrel shotgun.
And she shook it.

She said: ‘It’s all right.
You and me, we’ll sneak around.
And come up behind them.
Like this.
We’re all right, us

Later that night I remember waking.
And hearing music in the silence.
A song which seemed to make it richer and darker.

I got up and went over to Uncle Bill’s and Selma’s.
A record was playing on the stereo.

And apart from that everything was still.
Fred was slumped at the table.
And Uncle Bill had gone to bed.