When I was twelve,
I did not think much concerning the Island Continent
I had had to learn about in sixth grade Geography,
except it was where the British
banished criminals who came back
to the English shores as heroes I admired
for a Dickens’ novel and was part of the pink
pieces of the map that illustrated
the scope of the empire.
Dickens always did have a soft spot
for the underclass struggling
and suffering punishment for not being
one of the English swells with a personal
horse and carriage, butler and footmen.
Then suddenly I was eighteen and struggling
to keep B-29s aloft over Tinian, Saipan, Okinawa,
and eventually Japan,
flying over the Western Pacific.
And yet what was Australia to me
by then, but the source of ancient mutton
shipped by slow freighter to feed the forces,
the enlisted men marooned on those little islands,
stewed to an unrecognizable state
by Army Air Corps cooks and the sun,
meat and men alike.
Both bearable until one learned that
actual lamb chops, tender and succulent,
went to the officers’ mess.
What would Dickens have made of this?