When I am dead, place me in the ground
away from the crematorial flame
where only the sun burns the grass,
rain jewels the lichens and the moss
and people tread with care their voices hushed.
Choose a headstone hewn from fine granite
with lettering deep cut to its gritty heart
that graveyard people cannot fail to stop
and read the dates, sum them into years
then sigh for me, themselves, their own, the dead;
that when in time death’s litter overgrown
men come to clear the names beyond recall
to make a ‘Garden of Rest’ or ‘Country Park’
clear and flat and easily mown, mine will be
among the stones they stand against the wall.

Little lingers beyond that quiet place,
little is preserved to tell life’s tale,
few clues to trace the precious moments back.
Odd thoughts perhaps empty with the loss,
sorrows beyond the vagaries of time
or wry remembrances of happy hours
come visiting on gentle lonely days,
anger too for wrongs that can’t be fixed
whose source in deafness gathers silent dust.
A generation on these too are gone,
no one treads the weary graveside mile
nor places flowers or dull memorial ads,
just those who pass by on others’ errands
and chance to pause and read an old old name.

Photographs may last a longer while
with paper smiles unfolding from the book
one Christmas afternoon, when children cry
“Who’s that? Who’s that?” and for a solemn while
someone may know, have kept a name with care;
or perhaps among the attic’s debris find
an old cassette, and hear a distant voice
forever young on old magnetic tape
before it gives its space to others’ junk.
Today, videos too. Will these be played,
fixed smiles and silly antics spin again
or like old spools, projectors gone before,
be thrown unusable into the trash
a million magnetic ghosts perhaps one day
to unroll among a junk shop window’s dust.

There are but few that make a wider mark.
Musicians and actors on a silver stage,
politicians bent like cliff top trees
statesmen, industrialists and great leaders
death-masked in weathered stone or bronze.
Scientists stare in academic halls,
explorers too and revolutionaries.
Generals, murderers, tyrants, sportsmen, kings,
adorn the fables grown in history’s soil;
and those that by some chance, did something first.
Great men who toiled on the tender page;
composers, playwrights, poets, novelists
speak volumes yet through centuries of pain
whose fragile pens beyond death’s precipice
warm our minds with their transcendent flame.

I love the ancient splendour in the grass,
the old lich-gate, the arched and oaken door,
the polished pews and hassocks sewn with care,
the organ pipes all glazed with candlelight,
the wooden lacery round the pulpit’s tower,
the lectern’s brass, the chorus of stained glass,
the altar with its fine embroidered cloth,
petrified branches reaching to the roof
beyond my sight where ugly faces stare,
and cool cool silence on a summer’s day
when furrows of light are sown with sterile dust
and fine prose chiselled into the ancient stone
settles in my thoughts dry seeds of death.
Yet still I know, as I have always known
Heaven dies in the mind on the last breath.


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