Countryside Collection – Belgium

The cattle are fat and muscular. They are full, like sacks at bursting point, like part-time weightlifters who have over-dosed on energy drinks.

Australian cows are bony. They are skin draped across skeletons with racks for hips, their flanks not hollowed so much as cavernous. Yet their bellies are often round and their coats glossy.


I am passing through Flanders Fields.

My grandfather’s younger brother, the youngest of five, was killed in the Great War on these flat fields. Where would I start to look for his body to take home to his mother, her husband dead in an earlier war? Where under these working fields would I find his disassembled bones? In this place of houses and signs, highways and wind turbines, where roses bloom on the motorway verges and even narrow strips of forest rest on a layer of inviting velvety blackness, where would I start? *


In the distance, that most cheering of sights: an elegance of wind turbines. They appear as stately dancers, their flurried heads adding to, rather than detracting from, their majesty. Their saviour-like function renders them aesthetic.

As we draw near, we see that one is being erected. A spindly crane has positioned the bottom layer. The external steps are in place and the door, the tiny inviting door, stands open like a portal in a Colin Thompson book. On the ground, neatly side by side, lie the blades. Our view is of the circular bases, the white skins and the dark internal workings. The graceful twist and flatten of the other ends reminds me of the translucent cartilage found inside a marron claw.


* At the time of writing, I had forgotten my great-uncle has a marked grave. Many bodies, however, remain in Flanders fields.

4 responses to “Countryside Collection – Belgium

  1. We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.
    I used to teach this poem. Hard to get the significance across to a generation raised on i-Phones and gluttonous plenty (although minus the tech my generation is not much different). I’m trying to revive victory gardens as an antidote not to wartime deprivation but as a response to the financial crisis and as a way to engage young people in the very systems that sustain their lifestyles. Wish me luck.

    • Hello MM.I reread the poem when I was writing this post. The stanza you have chosen is, I think, is the most powerful one and the most ‘approachable’ for those whom you teach who have not experienced war. I understand the popularity of the poem declined as people’s enthusiasm for sending young men off to war waned.
      You continue to be an inspiration with the projects in which you engage.

  2. I can’t imagine a skinny cow. (I’ve seen some before, but they were nasty, underfed women.) I can imagine your emotion in Flanders fields – there are so many places that were the theatre of misery and the last resting place of people far too young to die.

    • I suppose bony may be a more accurate word than skinny because only their top halves are so, well, their flanks too. Always a curious combination in my eyes. As to war, I can’t help but imagine the mothers losing their children. Now, of course, no-one is immune since war has come off the ‘battlefields’ and into the towns.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s