St Mary’s Churchyard Walmer


As if some subterranean beast
worried the bones beneath this hill
gravestones in gouged ground
cant over each sunken plot,
from twisted kerb to kerb
I trace black dates
down white maps of stone
to find at last my uncle’s slab
toppled on the grass
staring dead lead-lettered
at the sun.

Straddling the hollow
above his bones
sadness at first
bleeds into the soil,
then anger burrowing,
revenge clawing,
scratch at the sockets
of his empty skull.
Fisting my pen
I slash an epitaph
beside his name,
stand the stone erect
for all the world to see.

The first time I returned
to this tumbled place
was just to retrace
old schoolward steps,
but I never knew his body,
his corpse, his bones
rotted in this soil
so close to where I passed
a thousand times.

Neither did I know
what pain he thrust
into my sister’s life,
I never heard her silent screams,
never saw the tears that scarred her heart
or noticed in her eyes
the despairing plea for help;
words she could not say,
I could not hear.
Fifty years later I glimpsed
the desperate pain
she had to live back through
to bury him at last.

Too late now for revenge,
words cannot rattle the dead,
I cannot break his bones
by jumping on this grave;
no one left to shock now
his silent generation’s gone.
‘Child Abuser’
I wrote beside his name,
as if the world would note,
people passing rage,
the sky fill with family ghosts
to storm around his grave:

but only the trees will see
and the grasping grass
scratch this marble slab,
sunlight and rain
erode this epitaph
and history reclaim
its crooked path.


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