Jeff McRae

The vets home boasts a pair of band stands
in case two bands honour them the same day.
We set up under the double row of poles—
POW-MIA flags half-mast and snapping—
on the smaller stage nearest the home so
the soldiers inside can hear us play music
written decades before they were born.
This final home, surrounded by a seven-
foot fence topped by four rows of razor
wire like a prison camp, holds them in,
safe from the traffic, all those cars free
to move across the earth. Veterans Day.
The town turns out in November cold.
Kids dump bikes festooned with bunting
on the dead grass, huddle between the
black monuments. The speakers don’t
try to sound eloquent—use homegrown,
well-worn words that disappoint the kids,
don’t describe bloodshed, battle. They keep
the occasion simple, heft old symbols and
figures of speech, hold them up for all
to hear in the crisp air. Town elders,
long-suffering wives know how cold
November can be. I almost forget
the building behind us is full of people.
It must be warm in there. Our trumpeter
blows hot air into his horn. We are ready
to strike up the music on the rickety
and weather-beaten gazebo where not
a single couple has carved their initials.