Epitaphs

John Tranter

It seems so long ago – tell me, did you bring your family
to our marriage of convenience and regret? I remember
your hearty cousins fresh from the Home Counties, so
pleased with their good selves, ready to chance an arm,
their knack with spoon and needle an astonishment.
Didn’t you find time for a quick shot of something
with the blokes? That one with a noticeable tic, that other
nodding and leaning on a stick, their brave future
shouted on the back of a toilet door?

I admit the first funeral was a fright, like
losing a finger in a kitchen appliance. As the clods
were shovelled in, a last drum solo thudding on the lid,
I thought I spied at the back of the straggling rabble
your old mates peering anxiously about. Could they
score, in this dismal field with thistles looking on?
Perhaps a snort behind the brick pissoir . . .
at the wake, propped up beside the urn,
their dopey equanimity was like an insult.
And then the hard slog, the mirror
suddenly an enemy with cruel things to say,
the slope steeper now, the promotions, when they came
at last, agog with thunder. When your father’s
daughter graduated from the school of hard knocks,
tell me, did you ask your trembling addicts?
And did they come, shambling? And remember
the party for the famous writer, gallons of grog,
tubs of meat and garlic? Oh what a throng:
magnates and turds, princesses and prostitutes
in a storm of money, and howls from the microphone.
Of course you brought your mewling, puking pals,
indeed, we had to hark and listen to them
barking in the lavatory like rottweilers, then
donating their vomit.
And then another coffin – of course,
there had to be, it’s only logical – and so again they lurk
and dawdle out the back, your dirty dozen, your disciples
imprisoned in their shabby discipline: thong, candle,
ecstasy.
No parson so tied to his parish, no
bookkeeper so enslaved to ranks of numerals
as they to their feeble creed, as you to your bookish
memorials.
Now dusk gathers and buses
trundle back to their depots, a whining machine
hosing down the gutters: you can hear the century
grinding towards midnight and the stroke of the clock.
Do invite your bony junkies, sheepish and shivering;
they will haunt the lawns, frail now, drooling,
their handshakes clammy, weeping for what’s been lost
and stroking you with their spidery hands, one on
crutches, one on his knees, the others shaking,
grinding their teeth and rehearsing your epitaphs.