When Nan died she
became a mountain,
I don’t know why and
it seems churlish to ask.
She suffers terribly,
forcing her craggy cave
of a mouth into the shapes
that form words…
It took Gramps a year and a bit to die.
Not one to do things by half he died three times:
the first time he said, “You know I didn’t feel a thing,
it was just like I was floating.”
Somebody at the hospital brought him round;
the second time his eyes turned into the top of his head,
Mum went hysterical, and the ambulance men
asked her why Gramps was so grey…
He had started that grey thing the summer previous.
Mountain Ana made his left hand to swell,
so that he could no longer grip, and when holding
with his right, the cup, on his saucer, shook.
Nan’s way of saying, ‘Hello, I’m missing you,’ perhaps,
was to try and turn Gramps into a mountain too.
When Great Uncle Tom started shaking cups…
he lasted a month.
But for Gramps such mortality was an affront. “It’s come
on me in a week, all this,” he said with angry eyes.
And in time the swelling eased, his grip returned
and the tremors no longer troubled him.
“It’s the pain that turns you grey,” said Dad…
His face flush again and sitting up in bed Gramps
said, “The doctor wants to know why I’m in here.”
Mum thought she was going mad:
“Do people think I’m trying to kill him?”
That third time the morphine proved fatal.
“They’re going to give you something Dad, to rest you?”
A nod of the head.
When Gramps died,
the knot in Mum’s stomach dissolved,
and the weight fell off her.
She grew old in one day.
Now, she looks like Nan.
When she is offended she speaks like Gramps:
she raises her right hand,
and projects her voice above it,
directing her gaze upwards and beyond.
Her fingertips tremble in the air.
When Gramps died,
the crying god laughed.
He laughed from the top,
left-hand corner of the chapel of repose,
where he crouched on the upright coffin-lid.
His laugh gave me an inkling:
the divine comedy is real life,
and the world is a womb.
How small we are without
the animating principle
to make us big.
How dull and cold,
like overworked wax.
To look on the dead is to confirm,
that things could not have been
any other way…
In olden days it was the family’s place
to dress the dead for their curtain call.
Would we have turned Gramps out like
this – his ‘tash and ‘brows unthinned?
“He looks better,” says Uncle Jim’s Maeve.
I keep expecting his wink.
Too frail for our duties we can only complain:
“Did it look like him?” asks cousin Fran.
The strangled shake of a head,
“He isn’t there any more, is he?”
Here comes the coffin.
The lid is down but I back away as it wheels passed.
The crying god is in there just as surely as Gramps is not,
and if he starts to laugh again the congregation will panic:
our unreality manifest, the performance will have nowhere left to go…
From now until the wooden box enters the earth we follow the dead.
There is no laughter but Mum stands on the wrong side of the hall, and when the music starts up, over loud, I wish there was.
“What tunes did he like? Not these.”
The vicar’s summing up is formal and unfamiliar but we cry anyway.
The sense of futility feels immense yet not quite true.
“At least he got our names right,” says Uncle Jeff.
The young and the old handle things best.
Great Aunt Evelyne talks in the hearse like she is out to shop…
‘Show some respect,’ I shout in my head but say nothing.
Little Becky thinks the ceremony
a part of our Nathaniel’s birthday.
At last, the Cemetery makes sense:
a place where the dead are not.
My clutch of sand
bangs on the coffin lid.
An answer to the fear of laughter.
Three nights later,
and Gramps is standing
in a field full of light.
Mum is with him.
He seems quite calm but the rings under his eyes have darkened, “Not long now,” he says, as Mum tidies his clothes,
and touches his hair as if expecting company.
The beating of wings overhead dwarfs us all…
Mountain Ana is pleased:
her cavern mouth,
become a golden flower,
breathes out clouds of pollen.
– Giants Dance
Giants Dance – Stuart France & Sue Vincent