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)