Private Joseph Kay

My grandfather, Joseph Kay, Highland Light Infantry –
After his capture on the 17th of January,
Prisoner of war, Bourlon, Cambrai, and on and on
From the Second Battle of the Somme,
After the death of friends who did not become
Fathers, grandfathers, husbands, old sons,
Tram drivers, shipbuilders, miners,
Lovers, joiny-inners – never, ever raised his voice in anger.
My father, John Kay, boy, up at dawn,
Spies his father (shy man, bit withdrawn, shrapnel in his arm)
Polishing the brass buttons of his tram driver’s uniform,
(Heavy, green)
In a slot-like machine,
The smell of Woodbine, shoes shined, his voice rising
Coorie doon, coorie doon, coorie doon my darling
Lie doon my dear and in your ear
What was that Wagner aria?
Song sheets flutter. Blood, bone, air,
Ballads slide down the years, broken lines.
My father, ninety, still singing his father
There’s life in the old dog yet, John pipes
Private Joseph Kay takes a long breath,
Hits the note, hangs on, blows out.