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.