A Memorial Service

Alistair Elliot

The cathedral was not great.
You were a better poet
Than it was a building. I forgot
To look for the graffiti of imprisoned Scots,
My possible ancestors – and yours –
And stood there in my Sunday best
Wondering if it had been spoilt by the restorers
Or if it had always looked like red fudge
A little mouthed by the weather of the north-west.

Hundreds of us were in our best
To honour you – ties added in haste
In the graveyard where we stood
Chin up, in Peter Rabbit’s attitude,
While our companions’ fingers adjusted the knot.
It might have been some consolation for dying,
If you had needed any, and perhaps not
(Weren’t you a Christian?), to see how many, strange
Or famous, had given you their evening.

Limp ties, or stiff necks, something insincere
Can spoil these timed explosions of honour.
Not this time – it was the glory-encrusted bishop
Who made it natural: his hair stuck up
Behind, as disobedient as a boy’s.
The choristers came chanting up the aisle,
He followed: you’d have laughed to see the eyes
Of the mothers spot that tuft, and waver, and exchange
With other women a complicated smile.