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PN Review 276
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This poem is taken from PN Review 115, Volume 23 Number 5, May - June 1997.

The Police Revolution Les Murray

Synopsis: The horror of seeing innocent Armenian women burnt alive in Turkey during World War I has thrown German-Australian sailor Fred Boettcher into traumatic shock. Unable to save the women, he has suffered apparent leprosy, which has then disappeared and taken with it his sense of touch. This condition, which he conceals like a curse and learns to cope with in the workaday world, is also something of a gift. It gives him rapid healing, great strength and immunity from pain, but it isolates him too, especially from physical love. After the War, in which he manages to keep his personal vow not to kill Germans or Australians, or indeed anyone else, he returns to Australia and finds that ostracism as a Hun has killed his farmer father, and remnants of the same hostility lie in wait for him. The need to find his missing mother keeps him from the sea, working round the port city of Newcastle and the nearby Myall Lakes, and during these years he meets and marries the war widow Laura Cope, who bears a son named Joe. Fred Boettcher finds his mother, who is about to re-marry and return to live in Germany, and a contretemps with police obliges him to change his name and work for a travelling vaudeville troupe. A further deadly run-in with crime sends him to America, where he lives for a time among the strongman entourage of an eccentric Australian criminal named Basil Thoroblood, who is expecting a new revelation in the form of a physical superman. The Wall Street Crash blows this idyll apart, and Fred Boettcher is obliged to cross America as a hobo, scaling trains. He comes to rest in Hollywood, playing wartime German parts and bit parts, then leaves America under dramatic circumstances on an airship, a type of craft which has long fascinated him.

When we got to New York, that is not paved with gold
but with dollars of chewing gum, I did get a job
on the L.S. Das Rheingold. I had to climb a lot of notches
down the high noses of her officers, from being a travel-guest,
a passenger. And I'm not proud how the vacancy
I filled got vacant. There was a rigger in the crew
name of Peter Salomon, that three of the others smashed up
in a bar for saying the German fighter ace

Joseph Jacobs was as good or better a pilot
than Hermann Goering, and I didn't stand up for him.
It saved his life, maybe. He stayed on in America
and I stood his watches over Far Rockaway,
over the Atlantic, over the pinetrees and fields
clear to Friedrichshafen, with its lake and church

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