16. Brother

The bones of this story are true – my grandfather died in the Vietnam War, my mum’s family fled and one of her brothers was lost at sea. It’s not something we talk about much, so the details are imagined. But it struck me that this story could easily apply also to many of the Syrians and countless other asylum seekers who’ve lost family while fleeing for their lives. My song Promised land is also sort of on the same topic, but ends more happily.

This was an…interesting writing process. I usually write at home on the computer but it’s making me too sedentary so I took my mobile studio (iPad, mic, baritone uke) out to the beach. Initially sunny, then the weather turned and I got rained out and froze my fingers off. There’s a version recorded at the beach but belatedly realised I’d almost completely plagiarised the melody of one of Paul Otteson’s songs because I’ve been listening to him so often. So I rewrote it on mandolin, didn’t like that, then fell back on my fave, the good old uke. This is a low-G tenor.


I washed your feet and I washed your hair
Your little hands that smudged your face
Out of the bath you ran around the room
Til I caught you in my warm embrace

Knock at the door and our mother fell
Through the thin walls we could hear her cry
Daddy is in a better place
Held back my tears, said “we’ll be alright”

Oh brother, where did you go
Oh brother, we’ll never know
Where do you rest and where do you sleep
When will you ever, ever come home

You grew up kind and you grew up brave
Shared with your brothers what little you had
“When I get tall and strong,” you said
“I’ll go and fight, just like my dad”

In dusty streets the sirens howled
Til one black day our flag was torn down
Hard men in boots marched to our door
“Sons of traitors, time to come out”


Fled in the dark, fled to the river
Me in one boat and you in another
I took your hand, said “don’t be afraid,”
“Meet you on the other side, brother”

But only I survived the night
Across the terror of oceans and waves
You were lost to storm and sea
The sunken depths became your grave



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