Leaving the mason with his cement gun
to glue down the desk-style headstone,
we enter the church. The door thuds shut.
A musty silence but for our footsteps,
the immortal draught in the tie-beamed roof
harrying the candles we light,
the harried light setting the font’s lions
and wildmen dancing. Along the south wall,
the Great War memorial bears more names
than Orford has roofs, a congregation
that would cram the pews long since ripped out,
replaced by Victorian schoolroom chairs
with little bible-holders on their backs.
We go among them, admiring the knitted
hassocks depicting local landmarks, crests:
the WI, Methodist church, Scout group;
the houses in the road he grew up in,
the road shelled by friendly fire.
We’re given the all-clear. Against the wind
we arrange favourites in the inkwell
to soften the newness of the sandstone:
pink tulips, white narcissi, purple speedwell.
We take photos, then all cram in for one:
a family with two members un-there.
Divining the smokehouse by its smoke,
one of us buys eels;
we watch the fish boats and tugs clank
against their moorings on the glittering ness.
Time, and a long pilgrimage, narrows
the daylight between mourner and tourist.
(originally appeared in Ambit, No 233, July 2018)
Taken from Robert’s first collection The Coming-Down Time, which is published this Thursday by Shoestring Press. You can buy a copy, priced £10, here.