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All Souls: 4 November 2012

All Souls

It was still dark when the rattling woke me.

I thought she was out in the street
throwing handfuls of grit at our window
but no – she was more subtle than that:
she’d sent hail drumming its fingernails
to summon us to rise and bury
her six pounds of grit
on All Souls Sunday.

We groaned
turned to each other
and clung together
covered our heads and wished
for the day to be over
hoped for better weather.

The car didn’t start.

We pulled on waterproofs
back-packed the plastic jar
of ashes, the certificate, the cheque
and set off on two wheels
into the rain.

Oncoming cars had caps of snow.
A mile from home
the road was a red-brown torrent.
We took to the pavement.

Even on the ridge road
we sputtered axle-deep
jinked on submerged stones
avoided floating branches.

Five miles from home we hit snow
saw it on hills to the south-east
where we were bound
turned round with caution
at a slushy junction

slithered home
shivering
lit the fire
rang the priest
and put the kettle on.

Later (no more rain,
intermittent sunshine)
we set out again.

Receding floods had left
meandering moraines
fields had become lakes
that mirrored tarnished oaks
and dissipated sky.

At Bruton the River Brue
a brown tangle of brawling water
jostled under its bridge.

I saw, or thought I saw
snow on White Sheet Hill
as we crossed the county boundary.

The church was warm.

Rectors come and go
but Harry the sexton had buried
my father’s ashes here
half a lifetime ago.
We talked, of course,
of my late mother
but mostly of the weather.

The priest arrived,
bearded, blue-eyed, soft-spoken.

We went out into the cold.

A neat square hole was ready.
A neat square stone declared
my father’s name and dates;
its vacant lower half
told as clear as any words
what was still required of me.

Two kind neighbours
a gleam of late sunshine
a psalm and a few prayers.

On one knee in the wet grass
Harry poured the dust to dust:
sediment of ninety years.

An owl cried. The priest
spoke our valediction.
We shook hands.
Some of us kissed.

The setting sun
under a pall of cloud
lit the road home
glinted in window-panes
and flashed from puddled furrows:
much like so many Sundays
coming home with the children
after a day at Granny’s.

The children are grown now
and Granny is gone.

We shall not make this journey again.

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