The train is winding slowly: a poem about war, love and longing.

Poem by Harry Searle

Above is a poem by my Great Uncle Harry, killed in action at age 23 during World War II, in the battle of El Alamein (1942). I’m posting this today, on Anzac Day, to honour Harry and acknowledge the deep loss felt by my family at his passing. I’ve written out a transcript of the poem below. Written for his wife Beryl, it’s a poignant and tender poem, speaking of love, loss and longing during wartime.

IMG_20210425_110732_519

The train is winding slowly
Through a strange and foreign land
And as far as the eye can travel
Stretches the shifting sand.

Along the dying daylight
Into the darkening light,
The turning wheels are taking me
Farther from your sight.

But though I travel farther,
Even to the end of my day,
My love shall be as your love
For ever and for aye

Dear Dad

It’s ten years today since you left, yet it’s longer than that since I last saw you. The last time was when we danced in the nursing home together, remember? First, jiving arm in arm down the hall, big band bellowing from the communal TV. Then, whirling and twirling to Bach fugues and laughing and clapping and singing while Glenn Gould’s fingers flew on the keyboard so fast that they blurred while yours snapped in the air and then I kissed you through joy and tears and said I love you Dad and thank you and goodbye. But you didn’t leave then, well, not quite, though you were already gone.

You always wanted to hear me sing and I always felt too shy, like you’d see my innards, witness my most treasured secrets, take away my soul. But now I know you just wanted it to sing. I didn’t have a voice, but you wanted one to emerge. Last night I sang along with the Miserere by Allegri and I hit the high C. I have no idea how but my body remembered and as it soared it unlocked me and the me that died when you did. The music in me died back then because I thought all along I was doing it for you. My music was my gift to you, an offering to the father god who placed his girl-child on a pedestal and never took her down. It was a tricky place for me to be, but was strangely without condition and more about your belief in me than exaltation, so let’s just call it love, shall we? Yes, I’d like that.

Lord knows I need some balance but I didn’t know it was there all along. Sometimes it takes a different way of looking, a way of reaching for the light like a hungry plant, to see that the darkness can be avoided if only you choose life. All I needed to do was peer in the mirror: my face like yours, my eyes your eyes, my voice yours but higher, my music a cultured, trained expression of your own raw talent. Your love constant, your belief in me stable. Never pushing, only encouraging. Steady. Known. Bedrock.

That time you followed along on the footpath while I marched on International Women’s Day 1996 through the centre of town. It was so taboo then, so dirty to be a feminist, yet you clapped, cheered and smiled from the sidelines, raised your fist in solidarity with your daughter cautiously being herself, quietly finding her voice among familiars. I smile thinking about it. My belly feels warm.

And I’m glad, Dad, that there are things you’ve missed. Like my struggle through the aftermath of you going. I’m glad you never saw me this way. I’m glad you missed the fracture of the family that came undone with your leaving. You do know you held it and me together? Like psychic glue, I wonder more and more about the power of you. You missed the ascendance of idiots in positions of power both home and abroad, and senseless attacks on citizens by terror-inducing maniacs, escalating fear and fiscal folly, increasingly wasteful consumption and the election of a fraudulent orange-hued strange-haired man to the highest office on the planet. You would have been aghast, yet curious. And I’m glad you missed the smart phone, and social media’s spiralling rise and its co-opting and ruining of human relationships and language, and I’m glad you missed the music, which got much, much worse and much more boring and much less live and oh how you would have hated it. Especially after growing up through rock ’n’ roll and The Beatles and singing in opera choruses and musicals and of course in the shower too.

And I’m sad, Dad, that there are things you’ve missed. Like the orange cat who is my constant companion. She is pretty special and full of spunk and chirrups and I reckon she would have let you pat her. And the farm with the sheep and the million yellow flowers and the snakes and the mice and the tiny town nearby that looks like it’s itching for a gun fight. But I’m not sad that you missed the disease, this dreaded thing that’s forced us into our homes, into a great disconnect that feels like death while living while we wait and occupy space, while we all hold our breath. Placeholders we are, waiting to spring into action and hug and dance and sing again, once the invisible threat is vanquished. You, as always, would have been fascinated by it, but I’m glad you aren’t here for it. It might have killed you if you weren’t already dead.

I imagine you doing your crazy dance in the loungeroom, making us laugh, knees bent, twisting inwards-and-outwards while your feet pivoted, head jerking emphatically, clicking fingers, always embarrassing us. You were such a dag, Dad, and you didn’t care. Such abandon and freedom in the body that betrayed you too soon in the end. Such wit and spark in a sharp mind that became so cruelly muddled and confused. The purity of those final days, sitting in the sun on a bench outside with you, cuddling and smiling at one other. You had no words and love needs none.

Love needs no posturing for it is felt.

_________________

This piece was originally published on medium.com in April 2020.

The train is winding slowly: a poem about war, love and longing.

Poem by Harry Searle

Above is a poem by my Great Uncle Harry, killed in action at age 23 during World War II, in the battle of El Alamein (1942). I’m posting this today, on Anzac Day, to honour Harry and acknowledge the deep loss felt by my family at his passing. I’ve written out a transcript of the poem below. Written for his wife Beryl, it’s a poignant and tender poem, speaking of love, loss and longing during wartime.

IMG_20210425_110732_519

The train is winding slowly
Through a strange and foreign land
And as far as the eye can travel
Stretches the shifting sand.

Along the dying daylight
Into the darkening light,
The turning wheels are taking me
Farther from your sight.

But though I travel farther,
Even to the end of my day,
My love shall be as your love
For ever and for aye

Blue velvet

This feeling of solitude and playing with petals while sitting in dirt is familiar. I feel calm alone. I am hidden alone. Nature is my friend. I breathe and I notice. Plush blue velvet on dry brown dirt. Clumps like rocks. Tiny veined yellow petals fall on my pants and get caught in the wind. The crop behind acts as a shield and keeps me warm and sheltered. The sun is diffuse through heavy cloud. The yellow is fading to green. The dirt looks pretty on my velvet pants. Rust brown powder on navy sheen. I breathe and I am here. I am safe out here.

Scandinavian Observations

Scandinavia —
You are of this world and you are not
I have inhabited your lands for 54 days and counting
I have been to Lapland and Helsinki and Stockholm and Bergen and over and through many a Norwegian hill (180 tunnels!) and I slid smoothly through fjords and on to Oslo and onwards further still to Copenhagen.
Scandinavia, I have nearly seen all of your lands, but only a little bit of you really for you are vast and varied and 54 days is no time at all when you’re getting to know a place.

Oh Finland —
You wouldn’t play the Northern Lights for me and I am so sad for I travelled far and it was cold and remote and it was the right time of year (or so I was told) but it seems there wasn’t really even a chance anyway. I want my money back and my disappointment erased.

But Finland I forgive you because you are home to the dish drying cupboard, a simple yet clever invention that makes one scratch one’s head and think “why aren’t these everywhere?” It’s brilliant that one can dry dishes while hiding them away behind closed doors so nobody can see them.

Oh and Finland, you make great licorice too, especially the little salty balls coated in white chocolate and then in bitter licorice powder. Yum. Why can’t I eat you forever?

And in the countryside you put on a grand show for me with snow and icy lakes and sunshine and bear paw prints and great cranes flying and calling and dancing in pairs and all your little houses are made of wood and painted red and yellow and blue and sometimes pink and I don’t know how you did it but you always looked beautiful and exactly as the countryside should so thank you for exceeding my expectations and for giving me joy. Read More

The Path (a story)

I was looking for the path the other day and I couldn’t find it. All I could see was forest: slender branches and tiny twigs in my way, snow billowing underfoot filling gaps between trees that stood so tall and so close together. Where was the path?

Not knowing anything about snow and how it behaves made it feel dangerous, even though it glinted in the sunlight and tempted me in. Would I slip? Would I sink down? What was under the surface? How deep would I fall? Everything was so new, so enticing yet impenetrable. I carefully took a few steps, marvelled at the sparkly crystals underfoot, captured the moment on camera, and turned back, equally excited and frustrated.

She wanted to play in the snow. Put on her mittens and scrape it, scoop it, taste it, mould it, throw it at her brother. She was amazed at how it packed down in between her hands, got harder and icier with each slap. Big clumsy mittens flapping around on tiny little hands. Four-year-old hands so small and smooth, encased in mittens with smiling faces on them. She would grow into them. A green plastic rain jacket with white buttons like giant peppermints. A beanie matched the mittens: red, green and white. Little leather ankle boots, tan with striped laces. The snow came unexpectedly and was gone just as fast.

With each step my foot lands and falls, lands and falls. Momentary stability gives way to the unknown then finds it again. I find the path easily. I realise that I didn’t know a path could be made of snow. Until now, in my mind, there was only one kind of path: dirt. As soon as my mind cleared I could see the path. A new path. A new way of seeing. Read More

New anthologies We Will Not Be Silenced and You Are Not Your Rape give voice to survivors of sexual assault

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m a contributing writer in both of these necessary and timely anthologies, both recently published in print and e-book. Two of my poems can be found in We Will Not Be Silenced, published by Indie Blu(e), and my creative nonfiction piece Not Quite Here Yet is in You Are Not Your Rape, published by Rhythm & Bones Press.

Both anthologies give a vital voice to survivors of sexual assault and include poetry, creative nonfiction, essays and artworks. Proceeds and royalties from each anthology benefit a number of organisations that support survivors of sexual assault, abuse, harassment and trauma. Click on the links above for more information and to purchase.

Four Loves: 1992 – An Olfactory Short Story

One of my biggest loves and projects in recent years was a fragrance and olfaction blog, which is sadly no more, due to chronic illness and allergies stopping me from both using perfume and writing about it. During this time, I submitted a piece called Four Loves to Odou magazine, a  boutique magazine about olfaction. The piece was going to be published a couple of years ago, but sadly the magazine ceased production soon after my submission was accepted. For this piece, I wrote a series of four tiny short stories, each connected with a significant love/relationship of mine, from the perspective of scent and smell and their unique characteristics in each relationship. Read More