The Reading of the Names

Please listen; first you need to understand
that here the dead are laid in shallow graves –
precise, immaculate of course – names etched
in tiny trenches clean as crosshairs – light
as whistling in a field behind the lines –
a little deeper than the brass they lie
Please listen; every year, these dead will march
again inside this hall, for we who live
will stage a soft parade; the name
of every man who died will step into
the air, a list straightforward as the alphabet –
two hundred names and more will move aside
the silence, pause a moment, then make way,
aloof alike to honour or indifferent stares

John Birnie

[The author taught at Waitaki Boys’ High School where, each Anzac Day, the names of the war dead associated with the school and commemorated on brass plaques in the school’s Hall of Memories are read aloud.]