It is one year since my brother Ray took his final voyage. I visited him in Port Douglas, Australia, while he was working with chemo, and have him and Donna to thank for steering me away from the cancer identity that had begun to take over my mind.
Ray was always some magical creature to us... always away doing something incredible: a captain in the army whose valour became almost mythical, grappling with the Zambezi, teaching skiing in France, raising a wonderful daughter Claudia,
starting a Seafood Shop in Australia.
And then it was over. 1980, Ray in the photo with Prince Charles, ceremonial handing over of colours and flags… and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.
And Ray returned to the bush. He and a handful of others pioneered the Zambezi canoe safaris and then white water rafting at Victoria Falls, choosing the communion of this mighty African river to the nonsense of the world. And so it was for all Ray’s life.... going ahead, making it safe, showing people the way... and so he did with his dying. Even as he was diagnosed he met his soul mate, Donna, and the two of them took a journey of such delight and doing to the end, one that took them to China and back.... seizing life and the delights of just being, even as they parried with the onslaught of the cancer that determined he had work to do elsewhere.
They took me snorkelling on the barrier reef... but as we sank into the blue and breathtaking infinity of coral & fish, I looked out into that darkness that is beyond our vision and from out which one imagines terrible sharks will come... but Ray took my hand and all was well. In the evenings over a whisky or wine we talked and talked. Ray taught me backgammon.... and I wove together the pieces of a poem that had been with me since those terrifying days in the dark on the farm in Karoi ....
Wonderful! they said, and now said Ray you could write a verse about him returning to his true love… but I fear words failed me.... nothing could match the love story that was unfolding in front of me, of the bravery of the woman who took such tight hold of him even as he was disappearing.
I have to do something, I said to Ray... I have to sail my boat up the coast, take her to sea, and his eyes lit up with that old Stocker mischief. What advice can you give me I asked?
Just this, said Ray: Can you imagine how hard this will be? Well, when you actually get there it will be harder than that. Do it. And his eyes twinkled and we laughed loud and hard and raised a glass to all the young young men in the photo he couldn't find.
I’d like to dedicate this poem to Donna…
|Ray, Donna & Skwork|
Hail the Heroine
Hail the heroine
Stands at the kitchen sink
In the blink of an eye
Are her men folk gone
To the joke and the stamp and the strut
Of the nonsense men call war.
Not for her is the feisty rush of pride,
She must bide her time till her boys return,
Churn with terror and death,
Each prayer a breath, each breath a prayer,
Till the air is ill with the wait and the want
Of sense and stilling sanity.
Hark the soldier
Suddenly wakes on the battle ground.
Hunting down was a rush
In the sweat-love company of several men,
Boys defined by their wit and strut
Suddenly dead when they’re hit by spluttering steel.
Distant muttering rifle fire hits home its spitting death,
Mindless strafe splits the head of the hero and the hem of the cook,
Seems not to look for worth or girth or circumstance.
And the men and the boys, forever changed by the noise
Know death of the enemy and death of the friends
Is as one. Nothing ends, nothing cures.
All that endures is the love of the men,
Their smoke filled lungs and the earth on their tongues
As they lie low.
At last I've got youtube... here's a video of
Ray with Skwork