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An ANZAC breviary

For here the lover and killer are mingled

– Keith Douglas: Vergissmeinnicht

1. Vespers

The architecture of solids that are
          not solid! Mass is
energy made manifest. Fireflies,
          particles perform
an electrical ballet: charging the dark

an owl hoots through. The universe was
          reduced to atoms?
To fireflies! Sizing up the luminous night

I get the measure of my self; enter
          an empty room. I‘m
insubstantial as a shadow that catches
          the mirror until
light flickers over my head: a firefly.

2. Compline

All graceful things are laid up,
produce for an abbey‘s tithe-barn.

3. Matins

When we left our matchless shelter
for a fire-damaged church
to thank God (such imperceptible blessings)
no absolute hung over us
only changing constellations. Lost

at school I cracked the bell
to caution cock-sure contemporaries—
loiterers before the peerless
staff-car, girl, or work of art. Never started
my self. A fellow traveller

now I lie wide awake, listen to the train
the Maori Battalion must take
to an ideal destination….

4. Lauds

No official history warms
the guy with two stripes—
his honour‘s earned by burning.
I‘ll forget my best
friend, the pair of us fugitives
from too much loving
under clumsy skies.

6. Prime

The nuclear family fulfils itself
in a fall-out shelter. The same goldsmith made
chalices utensils weapons to this end?
Behind bloodshot eyes I find
Anzacs like Davin and Mulgan
more despondent than waiters
at the end of the holiday season —
they share the burden of a stirring song
when the words are forgotten.

7. Terce

Soldiers‘ souls are fireflies in that
imperious spider‘s web spread
between fleurs-de-lis.

8. Sext

God is terminal, not initial
yet every thing remains
to be said. Since my last letter
an incendiary flare has topped
the apple-tree near our bedroom
but it survives, a potentate
with the divine right to subjugate
earth fire water air. It drips
bird-song over the river
our children will swim across
come summer, the percussive
vernacular of abundance.
But you speak a foreign language.

9. None

A dark age fills the vault.
The children collect stones
from the demolished church.

But not to throw at you.
They‘re going to rebuild
the spire. A boy‘s chosen.

Stretching down with spread legs,
reaching up with joined hands
he‘s ready. One by one

the smooth stones touch his toes,
protect his small penis,
support his worn shoulders–

those fingers tip blessings
over friends. Now and then
the spire is highlighted

by thirty-three candles,
by twelve bicycle lamps,
by two bright hemispheres.

4.8.1985, Waironga Road, North Taieri – 6.11.1987, Holly Road, Christchurch


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