• Tuur Verheyde

The Last Post

I


Whenever I go and listen

To the Last Post, to the echo

Of its bugles breaking upon the

Monumental marble, I let my gaze

Glide upwards and land upon

The greatest poem against war

Ever composed by craftsmen’s

Hands, careful and considerate

In their carving: the list of names,

Its stern dark lettering most of what

Remains of men who were made

Into cannon fodder, then war heroes,

Symbols of soldiering or fatherland.


These men speak voicelessly

Every evening in that bugle call,

Imploring us to remember them.

We murmur we will, tucking

The numbers and names away

To sink into files for forgetting

The moment our shadows slink

Out from under the white archway.


II


Look again at the unmoved death-ledger;

Pick a name, at random, do not let its sound

Plaster the image with shallow hues, look

Closer into the face that your mind forms;


See a face: English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish,

Perhaps Canadian, Australian, South-African,

Indian, Kiwi or Kenyan, see a face of every race

With a history and home; see a youngest son,

See an older brother, see a father of three, see

A man of the moment, see his family, see

His friends, see private stories and banter,

Trivial bickering, glossy childhood memories,

Lifelong grudges and festering losses, see

A world of melancholy, music and merry;

See the titanic tales of triumph and regret.


See the whole picture, this face as the tip

Of a branch stretching back generations,

Blood burdened with uncounted scenes

Of sorrow, marvel and binding exultation;

See the frail buds cradling the future’s dreams.


III


See now that face, kaleidoscopic as a life

Of boundless facets shines through it like

A hallowed summer. See it now, ended, brutally,

Mown down by machine gun fire, by mustard gas,

By pulverising artillery, by agony and illness;

See that lush life story and its gruesome death

Multiplied by millions and millions.


See now the face of War: uncounted billions

Of bodies mangled, futures unwoven, families

Rent, stories untold, entire histories hewn from

The world’s memory and countless bleeding

Tears opened upon the fabric of life itself.


See it all now, as you read the names upon

Whitewashed stone, see it all in its tragedy

And farce. See it all and let the fallen impress

Upon you the greatness of their loss, and further

The greater loss of the wars before and since.

See it and say now, truthfully, ruefully:


“We will remember them.”