Our boys were not the sons of Adonis

John Collard

Our boys were not the sons of Adonis
grown rangy under dappled skies,
slender saplings easily bowed by scorching winds.
The ragtag offspring of miners, factory hands and farmers’ sons
marshalled to become an army
as mothers prayed for safe returns.

They signed up at sagging post offices and public halls
where timbers moaned in the summer heat.
Grey haired women
wiped wisps from foreheads,
clenched withered breasts
and began to yearn for peace.

Grim-faced relatives accompanied them
waved them off from red-brick stations
as steaming giants swallowed them like prey.
Wild-eyed children
failed to keep pace
with departing engines.

They ripened into mateship
in trenches under Turkish skies;
darkening like harvest prunes.
Each sandhill burial
blinded them to freckled girls
knitting socks by empty hearths.

Upon return
they waved at crowded platforms,
tried to ignore splints and bandages
before settling into Mallee Scrub or Saltbush Plains
to spend silent years gazing into fruitless sunsets
apart from wives and sons who learnt there were questions they should not ask.