A bird laughs in a bush and shadows lag

and dawdle round the spot where men will come

to pay their tribute to an empty tomb

a list of names stuck on a metal plaque.

And in the town the people stir and wake.

Young Tom is pulled from healthy childhood sleep

and Grandpa is wheeled out from his nice room

his medals shined up bright for this day’s sake.

He is the last survivor, for his mates

have one by one been eaten up with gout

or lie, diseased, with little yellow tubes

slipped up their nostrils, as the lights go out.

And now the tiny troop comes marching on

past sickly wattle trees and stringy-bark.

The bird deserts, the shadows slide away

and grandpa’s wheeled up to the cenotaph.

They place a wreath and say a mumbled prayer

and now go home to cozied cups of tea.

The boys will later go out for a beer

and come back filled with waring words and slur.

And yet who can deny our need for strong

and simple versions of a dying past.

Grandpa’s forgotten all he ever knew

but others now will take up his great task

One drunken man, at least, at the R.S.L.

knows bravery is just a fleeting thing

which overcomes us in extremity,

then sounds retreat, to plunge us into hell.