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This poem is taken from PN Review 118, Volume 24 Number 2, November - December 1997.

Lazarus Unstuck 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 contrives to keep his personal vow to kill neither Germans nor Australians, nor 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 detains him, working around the port city of Newcastle and nearby Myall Lakes, and in the same years he marries and starts a family. His mother re-marries and returns to Germany, and contretemps with the police drive Fred Boettcher first into working as Freddie Neptune in a travelling vaudeville show and then into exile in Kentucky. Until the Crash of 1929 he lives uneasily among the strongman entourage of an eccentric Australian criminal named Basil Thoroblood, who dreams of the physical Superman, the body's answer to the older hegemonies of soul and mind. Fred is then obliged to become a hobo, and ends up playing German parts and bit parts in Hollywood. Leaving America under dramatic circumstances in an airship, he then works for Zeppelins in Germany before becoming an itinerant showman during the transition to Nazi rule. He rescues a mentally handicapped young man from castration under the new racial hygiene laws and contrives to smuggle him home to Australia and his own family, with whom he lives the tinshack life up the Myall River until the Depression eases and he and wife Laura have a daughter named Louise.


In the middle of '39 we signed up with the Manpower,
Joe and I both. I'd managed to teach Hans
not to talk German around Laura or around strangers
which struck him half dumb but that was cover too.
As it turned out, the Manpower didn't check on him.
They gave us a number each, and said we'd hear from them
if and when war came. By then we knew it would.
Blokes were marrying wholesale. Any spinster could set her own terms.

As it came closer, I mourned how I'd forgot
how most things felt at all. Bag, stone, silk, skin, gravel, iron,
they all rubbed alike; fire was pale colours hopping
above brighter colours; water was a taste, a smell,
salt water another smell. Queer how I'd gone all the years
without breaking a main bone; I had some knubbly fingers
but that year the engine of a big International truck
...


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