The central character in this poem was real. The nucleus for the idea of the story-line had its origins in a C&W song by Marty Robbins called Mr. Shorty.
Dave hailed from Western Australia. He was a good friend for 5o years.
(Dave passed away in 2017 - R.I.P.).
“What we’ve got here ... is a failure to comm-uni-cate!”
- Frank Pierson (writer); uttered by Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke, 1967.
'Shorty' or Dave
'Shorty' or Dave
Nobody knew much about him,
A quiet man, from out of ‘The West’;
Fitting in right,
In spite of his height,
He’d prove one of our best.
Obviously, not a large man,
And in fact, he was rather quite short;
Yet his lack of size,
’Twas just a disguise,
A lesson we all soon were taught.
Claimed to’ve been mainly workin’,
Aiming for a farm, trying to save;
“Shorty’s my name,
But if it’s all the same,
I prefer being called, simply ... ‘Dave’!”
Being proud of that tag of ‘Nasho’,
Never seen to shirk any task;
Guts he didn’t lack,
Humping full pack,
Carried out each chore, they would ask.
In his eyes, you could read a story,
A back he was willing to bend;
Though some had tried,
Unable to ride,
Unbroken, he stayed till the end.
I recall that day, in the jungle,
A Vietnamese young boy, lying dead;
Tears in his eye,
‘Shorty’ just asked me: “Why?”
Tenderly cradling his head.
Stumbling out from this ‘bar’, during leave,
Grinning, as he lit up a ‘cig’;
Rejected once more,
This time shown the door,
Knocked back for being ‘too big’.
One night in a ‘club’, in ‘Vungers’,
Buying a girl, from an old Mama San,
Large Yank like a lout,
Called out with a shout:
“Hey Shorty! She needs a real man!”
Sitting at tables with comrades,
Drinking, playing euchre or poker;
By booze I suspected,
‘Big Jim’, a real bully, played joker.
‘Shorty’ at this stage ignored him,
Enquiring, how the young girl might feel;
If paid for one night,
He’d treat her just right,
Eager nod indicated a deal.
Yet, the Yank continued to taunt him,
Ignorance, ’twas part of his ilk:
“ ‘Shorty’ you know,
If you wanna grow,
You ‘oughta’ try drinking more milk!”
Both eyes of this little man narrowed,
All friendliness wiped from his face;
Gone was the smile,
There for awhile,
Anger had taken its place.
When ‘Shorty’ spoke, he made certain,
Everyone present had heard;
Whilst slowly turning,
Yank’s ears now burning,
As he emphasised every word.
“I can tell that you’re lookin’ for trouble,
And I’m aware, I’m not very tall;
Yet here North or South,
If it comes to a ‘mouth’,
Yours makes mine look very small !”
‘Big Jim’ pushed back hard on his chair,
Emptying the remains of his glass;
Those all around him,
Supporters about him,
‘Mates’ slapping his back, let him pass.
‘Shorty’s’ hands now on guard, in position,
Two feet balanced, just right on the floor;
I hadn’t seen him,
Ever looking so grim,
I’d never seen him angry before.
’Twas clear that he was now ready,
He leaned slightly forward, and said:
“ ‘Shorty’, you see,
Follows a ‘Mr.’ for me!”
The Yank’s face now fuming bright red.
The bar room ’twas brewing in silence,
As the ‘loud-mouth’ stepped out on the floor;
A ‘CLOSED’ sign quickly hung on the door.
A smashed glass became a cruel weapon,
‘Big Jim’ scowled, tightening his grip;
“ ‘Mr.’ be damned!”
Lashing out his right hand,
Jagged edge matched the snarl on his lip.
Both ‘Shorty’s’ hands, fast as lightning,
And his two feet, also the same;
Short trip with boot,
Short jab followed suit,
Clearly living up to his name.
‘The big bloke’ hadn’t even connected,
Disrespect had brought him undone;
Felled like a tree,
Right next to me,
Damage to Shorty, ’twas none.
The little man stood there a moment,
Now ‘tall’, unsmiling but calm;
“ ’Tis often this way! ”
I heard him say,
Then left, with that girl on his arm.
Many years have passed us by now,
Yet most can’t forget his disguise;
In card games we play,
Recalling that day,
When hearts made the difference in size.
And I will remember him always,
I’ll remember the lesson he gave;
When we meet you can bet,
That I don’t forget,
To say: “Hi…Mister ‘Shorty’!”...or…“Dave!”
Members of B Company 5 RAR at a Holsworthy re-union 1990. Geoff Luck, Kevin Borger, John O'Callaghan, Dave 'Shorty' Mellowship, Colin Cogswell, Doug Hillier.