I 446853 Private S A Campbell
Shot dead crossing an Italian stream.
You were always the most vulnerable
Of us, and the most gentle and able.
You were like a butterfly in a storm
In that foul war that destroyed you. I dream
Of you sometimes, the same improbable
Dream — that you’re alive and not dead at all!
And then I see you floating down that stream.
Dainty as your mother, did you rebel
Like her against life? Why did you bother
Then to bless me until the day you fell,
Giving encouragement like a father?
Wherever you may be I wish you well —
Forever hail and farewell, my brother.
II My Mother
Rebellion was in her character.
Sullenly beautiful, of ariki
Descent, childbearing utterly wrecked her,
So that she died young in Tahiti,
Where she was buried. (There’s a snapshot
Of her flower-strewn grave, with my sister
Morose with grief beside it.) I forgot
To cry, being puzzled, but later missed her.
Sleepless tonight in hospital I search
My memory, but I can find no trace
Of that rebellion, yet like a damp torch
It smouldered in her, lighting up her face
With unearthly beauty. What was its name
If not tuberculosis of the womb?
III Childish Pranks
I first experienced sexual love — such as
It was — on Atiu, when I was seven;
She was older — it was hardly heaven —
And her assurance mocked at my distress.
Original sin is not that we are bad
At birth, but helpless — love gives us control;
Parental love engenders in the soul
Serenity without which we are mad.
Wiser at last, I know my father’s fear
Was life out of control — that’s why he drank,
Played cards, chased women, bitterly aware
Of failing us, even when his body shrank
And he turned to the wall and died in tears,
Begging forgiveness for his childish pranks.
IV Spring in Porirua
‘He died of a broken heart,’ my aunt said.
(She knew bewilderment as well as I,
For her husband walked out and was found dead
Years afterwards by boys in bush nearby.)
How could she know? Have I the story wrong
Or she? If I had known the mother who
Loved him when she was beautiful and strong,
She might have told me what I wish to know.
Sane as the sun, I sit in the dayroom,
Thinking of that lovely man, my father,
Who died young of grief. The attendants come
And lead us out into the sun … Father,
Do you forgive me? Without any sound
The pear trees drop their petals to the ground.
By Alistair Te Ariki Campbell