There’s light and shade in this collection. For some reason, U and V and W have brought some darkness along. But there’s hope by the end. And speaking of the end, no more poems until next Monday. Next week will see the final two posts in the sequence. What I’ll do with my life after that heaven only knows.
The Undertaker: One Step Beyond (reprise)
I haven’t seen you in my 40s but by the end of my fourth decade, I thought about how busy you’d become, how you’d struggle with social distancing being an in your face type dude, how inappropriate you’d be, trying to say the right thing but failing, like you did with me back in 2001: “It looks like him, dunt it?’ And it did. A bit. I didn’t have the heart to tell you how you’d got his lips all wrong. Too straight. He was your postman. You really wanted to get this one right. I’m glad I knew that without you having to tell me. It said a lot about you, much more than you could say on purpose. You try too hard to be normal. You’re not. It’s not your profession, how you grew up around dead bodies, high on embalming fluid. Lots of undertakers have wives and friends but you were always the kid at school who tried too hard because you had to. It took a lot of work and no one ever warmed to you.
I’m sure you’re still trying to say the right thing in the chapel of rest, getting it wrong, making people smile by accident when they really need to. And when all this is over, don’t become too self aware. Stop trying to be a better man. You’ll always be the unlikeliest of heroes given your propensity to get too familiar: say hello in supermarkets, wave at us from your hearse, make us feel we should wave back. But we are not bus drivers who’ve known each other for years. You’ll always remind us of loss. You’ll always be the sum of all our fears.
There was only the faintest sound
of sobbing. It was cold that day,
as when Towton saw so many dead.
Soon, he hoped, when this is done,
things will return to as they were.
When he could deal with tumours, hearts
that stopped in shock. The mangled flesh
and bone, the aged
and those who chose to die.
They sat in separate pews, the broken
widow and the stoic son. No comfort,
no loving touch. An impotent priest.
This plague had come to his house,
the cross was on his door.
The Veenboer: Mòine Dhubh
i.m. Andrew Weatherall
When this is over you’ll find me at the peat bog
with my cutter and spade and a gallon of beer.
I’ll have made short work of flaying the turf
and raising a stack of slabs to be gathered.
You’ll want to hang back for the good stuff,
which means digging deeper into the moor
than has been dug before, but on my word,
though my back be breaking, I’ll not slacken
till I’ve extracted the richest, darkest nugget
you can imagine, and when it’s dried enough
I’ll tease out the fibres, pack them in my pipe,
pour us each a draught of sun-warmed beer
and you and I will partake of the mòine dhubh.
mòine dhubh – heavier and darker peats which lie deeper into the moor
When all this is over I won’t be a vulnerable person
but, I’ll no longer sit in my she shed watching the robins feed
and begin to build their nest
or see the flash of the blue tit
flying into the hedges making way for the robin on the bird table.
When all this is over I won’t sit in my she shed in the evening
with a chilled glass of rose listening to the radio
spilling jazz or classical music
feeling tranquil and serene, with the fairy lights
flickering on the lawn
making weird patterns with the shadows they create.
When this is all over, I won’t sit in my shed
and imagine I’ve been summoned
by Gertrude to one of her soirees
along with Hemingway and Ezra To the Salon of Des Arts,
and dream about the conversations we would have.
When all this is over I won’t get video calls
from my grandchildren using silly apps to make me laugh
Or daily limericks which shows someone cares
When this is all over I might feel more vulnerable
than I did before this lockdown.
After Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
When all this is over, thought the watchman,
I shall take to my garden, where
the light will be long as tomorrow
and the larks will not depart from me.
I shall lay on my lawn, lord of the morning,
and shed my black self, my shadow.
My watchlights will fill with the glisten of wings,
the tinkle of wrens on the terrace.
My whiskers will lift on the lip of the wind
and I’ll swing to the stars from the trellis.
When all this is done, thought the watchman,
and I stand at the gate of the day,
my garden will never know absence.
The swallows and sparrows will stay.
May your gardens never know absence. Have a lovely weekend. Stay safe, be well, go well xx