I know they ashed my flesh, milled my bones,
sealed the flour of my body in a casket,
and buried it out of sight on the north side
of the churchyard, to be half sunk flotsam,
caught in a wave of tombstone buoys whose tip
and sway through the calm between tempests,
cannot be measured by those who disposed me
I know it was October. I was ashed but still here.
On a moonlit night I crawled out
feeling damp turf against toes, knees and palms
that I no longer owned. I sensed without discomfort,
a chill washing over skin no longer worn.
Tongueless, I tasted the air, the turn of leaves
about to drop.
I know I was not alone. Others came out of the earth,
looked skyward. There was light, birdsong, voices.
One brushed dirt from clothes with fingers
long since whispered to dust.
Here stood the assured and the confused, leaning
on lichen-crusted markers of their mortal lives.
I know one had his old moon face buried into folded arms.
Others, dressed in the way of their day, greeted
like old pals across the gap; a spark
between their eternal bed and the next.
Many, like me were naked.
Perhaps we were the burned ones;
alternative members of the same occasional club.
I know a young man in a white collarless shirt,
reached out a hand that was once his own.
His other pointed to stone-carved words;
Charlie, who fell asleep in nineteen nineteen,
in his seventeenth year. He blinked, not at my nakedness.
We didn’t care. And I know in a far away voice
he said, I believe this is your first?
3rd Prize in the 2018 Bridport Prize
Two Girls and a Beehive
after ‘Two Girls and a Beehive’, 1910
He has these butcher’s daughters
(both ginger-haired as honeycomb and sunset),
smelling roses, just that, as if oblivious
to the hovering of the holy ghost behind
and that box of whispering bees.
He loved them both, those Wooster girls,
dressed them in shades of privet green,
gave them an evening glow and posed them
on puddles of light; the last gold lily-pads
of the day.
At times they would sit, Dot
and Emmie, on his garden wall, chatter
and giggle, backs against black railings,
and hedge of that same viridian hue.
Perhaps he felt himself to be
supernatural, as he watched
from the nursery window, thinking,
I can look and linger on you my two loves,
but you cannot see me.
But what of the bees, the honey-makers
in their Mill Lane hive? He paints them at rest,
contained, still as evening, a potential
for both sweetness and pain.