No 26 - 2005
It begins as a day
to push into the light,
to haul like a dark burden
out of its coverings.
Into it I stumble and sleepwalk,
trying to find my way
down a faceless hallway
to a place I can recognise.
I decide that,
the mirror reflecting back nothing,
I can risk my hair down loose,
a dress of black and white,
and that my father’s disgust
at my tailor-made flippancy
is a small price to pay
for shifting at all out of the shadows.
The taxi driver wears an air of nonchalance,
an eye shade and a gold watch.
He drives with no urgency,
as if suspended between departure and destination,
spinning the wheel smoothly in his hands,
slowing and accelerating without a break,
taking no leeway,
making no unneeded gear change.
“City’s looking a bit dead today,”
he says at a red light,
the tension between tyre and road
having slackened and ceased.
From behind I feel his embarrassment,
his shoulders taking on the hard line of self-defence.
Out of the windows greyness has settled,
the streets solid and immobile,
no heat to make them gleam,
melt and liquefy between the stones,
a river of mirages.
The driver falls silent.
We drive north out of the city
past rows of weatherboard houses
like drab faded cut-outs,
painted two-dimensional streets of film sets
hiding wreckage and scenes not fit for the eye.
In these, a professor of sociology told me,
people can live quite happily,
content with a family on the instalment plan,
a new bath with overhead shower,
the latest kitchen whizzes
blending all the humdrum of domesticity
into a pabulum of the happy-ever-after.
Fences trail off into bush and gorse,
empty sections alternate with skeletal houses,
glaziers’ stickers still on the windows,
carpenters’ sheds resting in the long grass.
Tall chimneys stand on the horizon
gushing waste, soot and sediment high in the air.
Jets circle into the wind
and rake birds inside their engines,
disgorging feathers over the land,
a fine covering of soft ash.
For us, the road veers to the right,
steering us to a taller chimney ahead.
The wheel spins and the car stops
amidst the roses, parked to the side
as if waiting for a rendez-vous.
And here we are in borrowed suits,
with scentless flowers, ugly hats,
tacky bags, homemade dresses,
hired cars, at a §200 funeral,
careful over tear stains or smiles.
The cab driver fades and re-forms
into a pinstriped man in the funeral business.
The glass and concrete of the place
are balanced on a fine edge of decorum,
wide windows showing fountains, rocks,
a plaster-cast heron aloof on the grass,
the apex of the roof opaque
to hide the chimney.
The coffin, shiny and gilt,
will sink at the zenith of the service,
silently, they hope, with no hitches.
We hover in the foyer of the chapel,
widowed, orphaned, alone,
and finally sit at the front,
in the first and second rows.
For the sake of the cleaner,
we are asked to move to the other side.
We take our secondhand clothes
and our bagged sadnesses with us.
The coffin, I am told, will be used again,
the body thrown out to the fire.
The body, we are told, is only a shell,
a covering for the soul.
Around me all is calm and still,
but the great gulf of death
draws me in and grief rolls up in waves,
wrenching tears from me,
heaving the heart of me.
An aunt taps me on the shoulder,
commands me to control myself.
This grief is not for the faint-hearted.
I feel the emptiness of this encounter with death
and remember another funeral up the river at Jerusalem
where tears fell freely on the ground
and voices swore and told stories,
grieved and gave thanks.
The voice we heard was the C of E drone
comforting words falling on deaf ears,
choice promises of another life
that makes this life meaningless,
family anecdotes which capture as much
squalor and as little humanity
as the pallor of wedding speeches.
My mother is not there.
The inside of her head has always been a hidden terrain.
Her feelings and thoughts and the gap
between her mind and others
are lost forever.
Her agony is as mysterious and questionable
as the pain in the death of a tree.
I know it no more than I know anything
which happens behind the eyes of others.
But I know she died alone in the dark,
at 3.30 in the early morning hospital,
before the coming dawn.
So the crumpled lace,
and stalwart shoulders
fill me with despair.
This ceremony bows to nothingness
and will not rage at it.
It makes us acquiesce to death,
marshals our emotions,
denies our sadness,
erects chapels to tastelessness,
when we could bury our dead
in the brown earth and cry aloud for our loss.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The