Poetry

Leonski’s Grave

West, the jet fighter rising from Hickham Field over the less silver though sunlit ocean
is distant enough to be quiet, a leisured, tilting seabird.
Here, the grass is light green, island green in the sun,
as it slopes up by bent trees, ever mourners, to the whitestone altar
of the National Memorial Cemetery, United States Forces,
a little way east of Pearl Harbor.
Up here, young men with military caps, old women in track suits and bumbags
lope, stand, raise pointing fingers slowly to the names of heroes. They seem to touch it.
From there to Eternity. For just over the mountain north-east in a deep vale, unlikely,
in some discreet peace offering for the Pacific War, bows a Japanese red-lacquered temple
beside a pond of stones and black water and carp.
The trees here are intenser green, a hedgerow in Hawaii.
We have to go north-west to Schofield Barracks, to a lawn corner of its Post Cemetery,
to find one soldier who did not die for his country, yet by the wish of that country is dead.

Eddie Leonski, what do we think of you now,
buried here in this Oahu grave to which no sign leads,
no heart tends, except maybe your mother’s, or the line down from her?
Ebullient GI, you strangled three Australian women
in the brownout, tram-dark Melbourne winter of ’42,
one in rain so long and cold her remains
had to be cleansed, in the morgue, of thick yellow mud.
Because, you said, you desired their pretty voices.
“Any more dames you want choking,” you called through the bars, “I’ll fix ’em for you!”
It’s clear now you were insane but we needed your Army,
and though it was Australian civilians you murdered, upon native earth,
we let your own army try you and hang you, with benefit, if not of therapy, of clergy.
Father Hannan, with the smell of the new Pentridge rope in your nose and his,
sought your soul hard, and you fell through the trapdoor a sudden Catholic.

The war went on. They lay you in the Ipswich Forces’ in ’45 but that was temporary
and in the end they brought you home to these beautiful islands.
We do not know if your family, from Seventy-seventh Street New York,
ever visited. Did the three Melbourne families ever forget? You were surely
the hardest part of their price of peace, the General MacArthur tally, our southern Lendlease.
It’s long ago now and where did their memories go?
Into what sudden stories after Christmas dinners in a hot fibro street,
an aunt the kids never met, or a sister just a Box-Brownie pic on a mantelpiece?
above a tabloid newspaper blossoming black with other wars:
little wars, guilty wars, wars where we still needed your army.
Criminally not responsible, Eddie, in our modern law, yet for you to receive a visitor now
seems the last taboo. Corner of old shame for your country, your people,
you still sleep here with her other soldiers and they are not dishonoured.
This green Hawaiian earth has known so many tears, it receives these too.

John Stephenson

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