The story keeps on coming back,
a man my father knew,
that grazier across the river
up north a mile or two,
a story that my father spun
to last me all my life
of how a man should not behave
when burying a wife.
All through the funeral he’d wept . . .
the priest there going on
about St Peter and the gates
through which his wife had gone.
His sobbing at the grave, Dad found,
was harder still to bear.
Then men in suits, the women in
the best they had to wear
knew deeper down it couldn’t pass,
no matter who had died.
Extravagance like this was always
better kept inside.
At last the man who sent his beasts
to die on Tuesday gave
one final, high unseemly cry
and leapt into the grave.
‘Mate,’ he yelled. ‘Don’t go. Don’t go!’
And scrabbled at the wood.
A friend reached in to fish him out
as any Christian would.
The women in their hats stood back.
Two men jumped in the trench
and skidding on the polished lid
contrived at last to wrench
him out and lead him to his car.
The clergyman intoned
‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’
They heard the broken moans
coming from a side window.
He hammered at the wheel.
‘Mate,’ he yelled. ‘Don’t leave me mate.’
Not knowing what to feel,
the mourners now were drifting off
towards their dusty cars.
My father always finished here
as if he’d gone too far.
But I could hear the slamming doors,
the hearse without much chrome
and dual decisions made to miss
the wake and head straight home.
‘Mate, oh mate!’ the man had cried,
releasing all their fears.
The sound of boots on coffin wood
survives them down the years.