The cold is coming through his boots;
the Chinese there are white on white,
way across the valley,
well dug-in and peaceful now.
Strange to watch them keeping watch;
two sides waiting for their orders.
Pakchon, Kapyong, Maryang San,
they’re almost like a rosary,
the battles he’s survived so far,
Kapyong in particular,
the way the Chinese kept on coming,
those layerings of dead.
But now this February snow
has sent his mind off south by contrast,
the farm there with its heat and wheat,
the still sheep under midday trees,
the town with its small grid of streets,
the park there in the middle,
the World War I memorial,
the World War II names added.
He sees an extra plaque perhaps …
for three mates and himself
if things go wrong from here.
His captains and the major
all go back to World War II,
hardened in New Guinea.
The subalterns are all too young
but they have learned their something now.
Korea will be always foreign,
hard-slog mountains, sides of snow,
the rice green wedges in the valleys,
the language like a glass front-door,
frosted and opaque.
He has ten words of it at most.
He wants his flatness and the heat,
the slow clouds coming over …
and utes not that much faster with
a kelpie in the back.
“The wool has never been so good,”
a letter says from mum.
He’s been the second son and that
is why he’s in the RAR—
but he’ll be back there soon enough;
his seven years have just two more.
He’ll go back with his payout then
and find what’s to be found;
call in on the “family farm”,
stand there in the flywire door,
tell some stories in the bar
but nothing too unpleasant;
blow the froth from several schooners
to see what comes up next.
He’s got his double stripe by now
and wasn’t really trying.
The pyramid of rank on rank
was never to his liking
although he’s learned to suffer fools,
not all of them lieutenants.
The main thing is to get back home
and not acquire a Chinese bullet
now it’s nearly finished.
Rumour gives them three months more—
the flight back home, a train trip west.
He’s almost in the Royal already
reaching for his glass.