They gathered in front of the fire in our back kitchen
Wearing sombre black coats, boots shone with thick black polish
And scrubbed to a shine with tiny brushes,
Ties held to perfection by glittering tie pins
And coloured ribbons holding all that was left
Of fear and loss and longing.
Their pale, quiet eyes had seen too much destruction
Before they had the chance to become accustomed to beauty,
Gazed on too much hurt before they had known love,
And endured far too much world far too soon.
They had been sold a lie, all those years ago, and in their innocence
They had followed it to what had felt like the end of the earth.
They did not speak of pride, or duty, and you knew not to ask.
They spoke only of those who they had lost, privately with each other.
Their gathering was always early, always mindful.
The valiant hearts they sang about were not their own.
Those around them could not guess their thoughts, nor see what they had seen,
They made sure of that.
And so they still came, year on year, to stand shoulder to shoulder
With those who did know and did not need to speak of it,
A silent tribute to those whose voices were silenced in their youth.
Those who they had laughed with, teased, grumbled about,
And watched as they died in a terrified, stricken moment.
No pride, no thankfulness, just the stoicism of grief long carried.