The Meaning of War by Katherine Gallagher

(i.m. Robert Phelan)

I remember you, soldier-uncle
on your first leave.
1942. Your homecoming
had turned the house upside-down:
Just arrived from Milne Bay—1
no garlanded Hector arguing loud
against the waste, though we made you
our own hero for your lucky escapes.

At that stage, peace seemed further away
than forever: behind your eyes
was the pain of going back.
You tried jokes,
wagered your nine lives,
drew the mad, mad terror—
‘In the beginning, half the time
we bloody fought with axes.’

Fought with axes …
You were the first to teach me
the real meaning of war.

1. Milne Bay—Port in Paua New Guinea, from which the Japanese advance in the South Pacific was first halted in World War II.

From: https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/gallagher-katherine/poems/the-meaning-of-war-0199023

Date: 1985

By: Katherine Gallagher (1935- )

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