The Final Act

He seemed to be a worthless bloke—a village ne'er-do-well;
Unkempt and dirty, lived his life alone.
He scrounged around for food scraps, ate the stuff unfit to sell.
A misfit there from whereabouts unknown.

And someone called him Jack, although they didn't really know
His history or his background from the past,
And many were annoyed and they just wanted him to go,
And hoped his visit wasn't going to last.

Sometimes he'd walk along the creek just laughing at the sky,
And living in a strange and private place.
But other times, with head in hands, he'd sit and sob and cry,
Especially when the rain beat on his face.

And parents in that village told their children to stay clear
Of that old grubby man who graced their street.
In ignorance they spread around an undeservéd fear
Of this stranger that they didn't want to meet.

Old Jack was sitting on a log, outside the general store
And watching something moving in the grass,
When suddenly a toddler came out running from the door
And Jack saw what she was about to pass.

And in a flash he knew just what it was he had to do;
With painful limping step he bravely ran.
Then with an angry cry, a mother's voice was heard, "Hey you!
Now get away from her you filthy man!"

Jack did not hear the mother's voice—he ran his urgent race
And dived between the toddler and the snake.
It raised its deadly head and sunk its fangs into his face,
He felt its strike but knew what was at stake.

The mother grabbed her daughter, and she saw what might have been;
For death would come from such a serpent's bite.
And some who'd come out from the store and gathered at the scene
Brought Jack into the shade for some respite.

He looked up to the faces of the disbelieving crowd
And saw the tears there in that mother's eyes.
Instead of the abhorrence, thankful love now clearly showed;
Her daughter's life was such a precious prize.

"Her whole life's still in front of her, and mine is at its end,
And facing death is what I've done before.
I'm sorry I upset you Ma'm, I didn't mean t'offend."
His head sank down in silence on the floor.

The relevant authorities arrived, but just too late,
For old Jack's feeble frame gave up the fight;
The villagers decided straightaway without debate
To give a proper sendoff; that seemed right.

They searched his dirty clothing as he lay there in the street,
Found nothing but a paper, crushed and worn.
That grubby piece of paper was a pawnbroker's receipt
For a medal that he must have had to pawn.

And in that faded printing they could still make out a name
Together with a service number too.
They wondered had they had with them a man deserving fame,
And wondered, "John McGann, just who were you?"

The military authorities had records of this man,
How he had risked his life time and again
As wounded men were saved one day by Private John McGann
In bloody battle in the driving rain.

A medal was awarded, but was nowhere near enough
To offset all the trauma that he felt.
The change to civvy life again Jack found was just too tough:
He couldn't take the hand he had been dealt.

For Jack had left society and walked away from life
A broken man, a victim of the war;
And left behind two children and a broken-hearted wife
Who didn't understand the pain he bore.

And every time it rained that dreadful day came back to him,
Of dragging mates to safety through the mud.
The years had passed, his body tired, but memories wouldn't dim
Of gunfire noise and stench of human blood.

And there beside the grave that day, in ceremonial dress,
His captain and his sergeant paid respect;
And they'd brought Jack's grieving family, they could surely do no less;
And, solemnly, all gathered to reflect.

His children were both adults now and joined the village crowd
Together with their aging grey-haired mum;
All shared a common hero as they stood together, proud;
And understanding finally had come.

© Tom Chapman 2012