“1942” by Katherine Gallagher

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They’d hoped he’d be back for Christmas –

the lights shining down on him, the tree

somehow shielding off the horror. A break.

The family hadn’t seen him as a soldier,

in his uniform, among harvested paddocks,

the dried stubble that pricked your legs.


Arriving home, he said Merry Christmas,

hugged people and slapped them on the back.

Wandered about the place, eyes crinkled

with strain, lines dug

into his forehead. So young, he seemed

to be either laughing or very sad

as though, in between,

there was nothing.

(From Tigers on the Silk Road, Arc Publications, 2000)

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