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This poem is taken from PN Review 112, Volume 23 Number 2, November - December 1996.

The Somatic Nobility: Book 3 Les Murray

Synopsis: The horror of seeing helpless 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 or discomfort, 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 that remnants of the same hostility lie in wait for him. The need to find his missing mother keeps him from the sea, working around the port city of Newcastle and the nearby but still remote 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 marry a stuffy German nationalist and return with him to her native country, and a contretemps with police obliges him to change his name and work for a travelling vaudeville troupe. A more serious though wholly innocent run-in with police and criminals in Queensland then forces him to face either a life sentence or worse at home, or the task of going to Kentucky and bringing back a man who has defaulted to America with the funds of a ring of Queensland crooks headed by a Minister of the Crown known as Sir Peter.
 
At Auckland, and all the way to Suva
I thought of jumping ship and sending for Laura
and Joe to join me. But how would they have liked
to live away from their home country forever?
And I was wild that government and criminals
could run me out of where I'd settled back to living.
I was going to beat that.
After a bit, too, I enjoyed the deepsea work again.

We had a decent crossing. Storms in the Tasman, then calm
right to Hawaii. Off Diamond Head, waiting to sail in,
we sighted this swollen skyscraper lying down in the sky,
 shining like foil, getting huge, coming on over us.
The crew ran to look. It had engine-houses out on sponsons,
Diesels beating away. It had the Yankee red spot
 on a white star, and sailors in gob caps waved to us
...


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