Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Cremating a cousin in Golder’s Green


Over the large and empty field, but with diminished expectations, birds are circling.
Frost on the hard soil’s surface heightens the trace of the tractor’s path.
Soon gone is the longed for, comforting moment, converted neatly to abandoned history;
still to come is the deceitful and appalling aftermath.
Heaven or hell for these my fellow passengers?
At a rough guess, I’d say the latter for the larger half.

Each on their own reduced assignment sits and is busy in its preparation,
applies make-up, sips water, brushes away a crumb,
sends a final and definitive text, takes a moment to settle her features
appropriately to the minor judgement next to come,
looks to his laptop, guards his bag, flips pages, bites her finger.
But the zig-zag taxi will take each of us surely to an expectant crematorium.

Hiding a yawn is now hardly worth it;
dark mouths widen to their noiseless but original screams.
Preoccupations drop in shreds,
and once more everything is demonstrated as precisely what it seems.
This is the nasty face at the window; here is her fear; now is the hour he so correctly dreads.
Look – here come the bellowing horrors of our collective and recurring dreams.


Still breathing, after a fashion, is the photo, but stone cold is the photographer.
The thought, word, intention, curl away to hang as ashes in the whitening air.
After a while there is no value left in lamentation;
facing the facts, we face the front in coffin-wise procession, heading off feet first to God knows where.
Some closing words, well crafted and respectful, hint politely at conceivable redemption.
We give thanks for your zest, but we ignore the elephantine ghosts of desertion, disappointment and despair.

For a while there, I had forgotten you ever existed, but a death is a rough reminder.
Even so, your memory will be on a short lease, and in a closed niche.
So I attempt to reconstruct your other life, the one I didn’t know about, so can’t remember:
a clear Greek sky, your permanent chair in the Copacabana, boules and British beer on an expatriate beach.
Someone will empty your ashes into the Mediterranean. Outside the chapel,
I stare stupidly at your flowers, and know full well that nothing much of you was ever in my reach.

I catch up with your nieces and their husbands. Funny we only meet at funerals.
A hollow sense of duty has brought me to this curious place
to try to repay – far too late, I have to say – a little kindness for which I’m still grateful.
We were both exiles from the same small offshoot of the human race.
The other mourners leave for the pub, to raise a glass darkly, but I hang on a bit, examine the plaques, and wonder –
what in heaven’s name am I going to I say when I see you face to face?

Copyright Richard Warren 2011

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