This Time Last Year
At first we didn’t hear the Fates
Singing over the ice locked land,
Saw only hoar frost,
Breathed in fog.
In our mouths the taste of snow.
When the owls carried his name
Through the darkness around the house
We allowed through the cracks
Only owl talk
While, out on the hill,
The ewe lamb broke into the pheasant bin,
Filled her belly with corn
Is a man’s life no less precarious than that?
He phoned us,
This time last year.
Familiar voice warm and lively
But bringing with it
A strange unfamiliarity -
The sound of the Fates
Who already knew
What he and we did not.
One Step Beyond
I didn’t know you until I was in my thirties
but by the end of the decade we were on
first name terms. I remember our first words
in a cold room at the chapel of rest;
I knew you were a bit bloody weird then,
beaming with pride at a job well done.
You even said: “It looks like him, dunt it?”
referring to my scrubbed up dad, on your slab.
It was Yorkshire empathy at its best.
I wanted to say you’d been inappropriate
but what could possibly be appropriate
in the presence of the dead?
Since then, you’ve done my mum, neighbours, an old school friend,
and each time I see you, the closer we become.
I’ve even dreamt about you in your black suit,
and a bowler hat, playing the trumpet for Madness
to One Step Beyond, like some cockney grim reaper.
But you’ve never ventured down the M1-
you’ve been far too busy
burying those I’ve lost and loved.
One day, you waved at me from your hearse –
I waved back. We were like bus drivers
who’d known each other for years.
Listen: don’t take this the wrong way mate
but can you just pretend you don’t know me?
No offence, but please, just look the other way.
Larnax, embossed with a perfect celestial star,
yolky gold, glowing emblem of the Temenids
descended directly from the Gods.
Within the quiet chamber, delicate diadems
forged from sunlight. Tiny laurel leaves for high birth
and myrtle flowers, symbol of immortality.
Silence. Gold and ivory couches, silver ladles, cups,
amphoras brimming wine. Plates of figs, olives, cassia
moulding. Persephone’s fate in faded paint.
She waits for her guests, deep in the underworld,
with libations for the dead. The powerful, the beautiful
drawn by the sleek stallions, jewelled and bridled.
Purified by fire, great King, encircled by weapons: his sword
greaves, iron helmet, shield. His ash wears an oak wreath.
He lies inside his chamber, held in this metallic womb.
When they break through, centuries have stacked in the gloom:
great wedges of dust, crumbling stone, warped iron nails.
The faint shrieking of horses, screaming from the flames.