When I saw this week's prompt at Poetry Thursday - an unfinished conversation - I thought I might just ignore it and post a poem I've been wanting to post for a while. Then I realised that this poem is at least partly about unfinished conversations. Or rather, it is partly about things that I never asked my father, because when I was young I was an idealist and didn't think there was anything to discuss. War is wrong, no problem.
Now I realise that there are larger issues. And that my father may have seen complexities when he was older that he didn't see when he was young and idealistic, at the time of the Second World War. I struggled with this poem quite a bit and it's been through four or five rewrites, but I think I finally managed to make most of the elements come together in a way that made sense.
"Writing the Australian Crawl" is a book of essays on writing by William Stafford.
On Reading “Writing the Australian Crawl”
William Stafford, American poet, conscientious objector 1914 -1993
Stephen Miller, New Zealand accountant, father, conscientious objector 1916 - 1976
At three, I pulled down my father’s books
laid them all cover to cover
around the room – a highway of words.
In one, black and white images
of swimmers in full length suits
“Swimming the Australian Crawl”.
Bill, I am imagining that same book on your shelves
when you wrote this essay.
The highway is crumbling
that joins me to my father
– a few letters, a few old photos.
I have more of your words
than I ever had of his.
You might have met at Monte Cassino,
or victorious in Berlin.
You might have danced with my mother
when the Yanks came to town
on “rest and recreation”
but you both refused to fight
I imagine you both swimming
in mountain lakes or city pools
and I want to know
when you saw those flickering newsreels
Dachau, Bergen, Auschwitz,
did you still believe
that water could hold you up?