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Nan’s funeral

In the cold aloofness of death and the silence of the half-hour tale completed
We rode into the graveyard of winter mourning
Dressed in a lace veil white
Towards the snow-casked car park
Caked in gritty ice
And the damning chimney on the rose-bud cottage.

Inside, a hall of heavy discretion, redolent of wood:
Thumbnail greetings sent on cards of air and quiet,
Anxious to be forwarned of emotional disturbance.

Subdued voices clicked their mantras of meaningless quotation
And sombre thought,
The circling of bodies as eddies in the night,
Not quite touching.

Red-eyed, grimy, Grandad greeted us and smiled,
Confabulating,
Shrunk into a too-tight suit of black,
Frightened:

Led away to the prayer room
He left a whirl of hush behind.

Our turn, picked, we followed on,
Trooping round the open coffin
In respectful dismay.

Behold! A waxwork, gaunt, mere model,
Nothing,
Without life ,
A cipher to occupy the eyes
Without touching the brain.

In an effort to comprehend I reached out and felt
Solid, chill, dead flesh.

Myself, one day, so soulless.

Then back to the wooden room where everyone’s uneasy,
And time for the final grace.

We file in carrying our careful patterns of sorrow,
And wait for the angel-dressed prelate to arrive.

In solemn theatricality he intones his divine rights and blessings,
Rattling off the bread and butter platitudes
Like fish swimming from the mud of his mouth,
Sincere grief like the pious retching of a raven delicately crunching bones,
Until laughter tempts my throat and I sigh and look down.

Reality becomes a farce and my dazed mind skips from his sermon.

He calls my Grandad by the wrong name and nobody shouts out.

On the grand stage this mouse-tempered man struts and washes his whiskers,
Until all the noise has left and his parody is completed….

Outside we eye the line of wreaths,
And marvel at the mendacious speed of the set-up –
The fakes!
Fifteen minutes flat, and the next ones are arriving,
Seen through the veil of mices’ concern.

By the cars and the crisp snowballs,
The dark tumbles and glee,
Confused between grief and cheer,
A kaleidoscope of images,
We stand and take photographs to preserve memories,
Linger and drift to the wake,
Driving through a moon-picture to the sun,
A stretched mirror of soft-breath,
A smoothly eerie shared solitude
On a bitter-sky’ed bleak day.

1989?

This poem describes my Nan’s funeral, held in winter, and the journey in silence to the snow-covered crematorium.

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