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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 she was more subtle than that

she’d sent hail drumming its fingernails
to summon us to rise and bury
her six pounds of dust
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
backpacked the plastic jar of ashes
the death certificate and 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 at a slushy junction

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

later in weak 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 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 my late mother
but mostly of the weather

the priest arrived
bearded, blue-eyed, soft-spoken
we went out into the cold

two kind neighbours
a gleam of late sunshine
a psalm and a few prayers

Harry on one knee in the wet grass
poured the dust to dust
sediment of ninety years
an owl cried
the priest spoke our valediction

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

the children are grown and gone
we shall not make this journey again



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