'Monkey' On My Back
’Twas many years, well before,
Following on from my father’s war,
Down from Kokoda’s jungle track;
After returning home, once again,
Mum claimed he wasn’t quite the same,
Somethin’ ’bout ... a ‘monkey’ on his back.
Too young to know, just quite why,
But as the years, rolled on by,
Love started tearing itself apart.
Parents stumbled alone, along that course,
Of separation, then divorce,
One with a badly broken heart.
As for me, in ‘the burbs’ way out west,
’Twas at least, Life’s toughening test;
A time to ‘grow up’ had finally come.
‘Twas a choice of sink, drown or swim,
’Twas often either them, me or him,
Life played by a simple ‘rule of thumb’.
During adolescent’s growing phase,
Through high school’s often foggy haze,
Youth drilled about ‘red, white and blue’.
Homage paid to a foreign Queen,
Other icons and values there had also been,
Told us things that simply were not true.
And so, came along another war,
Unlike all those gone before,
Still, young men trooped off just the same.
Full support had been assured,
Ribbons and medals ‘twas our reward,
Yet, homecoming marred by blame and shame.
As I write words down, compose this verse,
With lingering thoughts, I often nurse,
And wonder why? At the way I am?
There’ll be little chance, in this I know,
Any change for me to the status quo,
Too many memories ... of Viet-nam.
Searching, perusing history books,
I find that each one overlooks,
Real answers, to comprehend.
And whether overt physical scars,
Other wounds still serve, as mental bars,
Remain unhealed and never mend.
There’d always been, those same old sounds,
Same old circus, merry-go-rounds,
‘Right’ was ‘White’ and ‘Wrong’ was ‘Black’!
I’d returned with hope, here back home,
And yet I found, wasn’t on my own,
Carrying a damn big ‘monkey’, on my back!
Author 'socialising' with a 'local' in Vung Tau - August 1997
'Monkey' On My Back
For many veterans, even after 40 years, it has been nigh impossible to return 100% to a previous lifestyle, past social values and philosophies. The soldier in this poem is still trying to shake off the ‘monkey on his back’.
“You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye,
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know,
The hell where youth and laughter go.”
- Siegfried Sassoon in Suicide in Trenches, 1917.
“War takes a blender to standards and values …
Men come back and spend the rest of their lives
trying to find out who they are …”
- Harry Whiteside in Vietnam – The Australian War, by Paul Ham.