Poem – Chris Orsman

(i.m. Pvt. Robert Brownlee: obit. 14/vi/1916)

Whatever challenge is carelessly thrown down
there are those who will always soldier on
when strangers loom and cast their shadow.

It’s dead low-water on Memory Harbour:
a crab patrol sidles across the mud,
pincers erect, feeling the air, deriding
the reek and glory of the known world
native to crustaceans.
And to three brothers
crabbing barefoot across the flats for a dare,
armed with callow youth and manuka spears.
Bones of drowned trees have risen on the shore
and the morning’s ripe for casual warfare.


What can staunch the savage birdsong,
or surprise a frog’s oily leap of faith
into reeds? A lone duck whistles overhead,
and shags scrounge at their posts.
Rumour of ordnance
flickers across your bowels; a low wind
ripples the pools on Memory Harbour.


A dresser lifts the bandage on your side;
fluids seep – now blood, now something clear.
Hard-shelled death prods and pinches you,
its stilted eyes refuse to withdraw,
gazing upon the one it has pierced.

I hear you breathe the scorching air of dawn,
I see a fly bruising you as it alights,
and nothing to be done that changes that.
I dip my finger to cool your tongue
but you have fallen back to Memory Harbour
and there’s no one to catch you anymore.


You lie at Armentières, north-west of Lille,
big-boned, inconspicuous in your prime,
not far from where you succumbed to wounds
in a quiet sector of the Front.

Near the mouth of the Kaituna River
sweet water spills into shallow brine
sluicing the mud flats of Memory Harbour.
Hail and Farewell! – rest easy, brother!

Chris Orsman

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