I take off my hat and gloves
As I come in from the pouring January rain
Hands still red with the cold
And the church seems to have no heating.
I give my tiny hand gestures of recognition
To the many folk I know
Find a seat near enough the back
Not to feel I’m imposing on the grieving family members
In the front rows
But far enough forward
To give the signal
“I’m meant to be here
Not just a member of the local congregation
In to pray for a stranger’s soul
Out of the goodness of my Christian heart”
And then I see the coffin.
Bigger than I would have imagined
Had I tried to do so.
He never seemed tall
But I guess old men are commonly stooped
Their once grand stature
Buckled by the might of gravity.
My mind turns to dad, and mum
And hope they have years with me yet
And then, as always now, to Janina
And their pointless, awful early deaths.
I pray, in the Catholic style –
I’d use Polish if I had the tongue –
Out of ingrained habit.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
Full of grace
What a majestic image
And wish I was like that,
But I’m not, I’m sullied
By life’s forty eight years reality
My once grand stature of childhood innocence
Buckled by the might of emotional gravity
To know grace before I die
No God, no Heaven, but yes to grace.
That old man, my dear friend’s father
Lying in a wooden box, he didn’t have grace
He had a kind of grumpy non-acceptance
Of life’s bumps and friction
Though he was pleasant enough
But pleasant enough is not enough to do justice to being alive.
The priest gives the cotton wool
Version of his life, with all the hollow humour
Only men of the cloth can deliver.
Then my friend gets up to say some words
Face drawn, like a drained caricature, or a ghoul
He recites a poem I don’t get
And finishes with “goodbye dad”
And I dread the day when I have to say that.
Out in the rain, after the funeral
My hat and gloves protect me from the elements
Though something in me wants to be soaked and chilled to the bones.
I give my accustomed wave to my friend
And he smiles, wanly, as if his face would crack if he stretched it any further.
I decide to go to the burial
If only to feel the sleet whip my face red
And the wind shake my mortal body back to life.