Tears on the Drum

For R.B.


We are standing together, my long-lost brother and I,
On the sloping deck of a holed and dying luxury liner.
We are sharing a fine cigar because we have no jokes.
He is talking about the grandfathers who went before.

Today I understand, how these proud men,
Lonely and afraid, could rise up smiling
In far-off, strange, unhallowed places
With mud on their tongues and tears on the drum;

How they could gather, to pick sweet poppies,
The red, red poppies, and when they were gathered,
To walk together, into the morning,
The misty morning, and die together.

We need to weep awhile, my long-lost brother and I
But we both know the score – there’s never the time.
So we wave once more at the distant boats. Then
We smile, hold hands, and walk down into the water.

William Ayot