Poetry

The Will

Stones of the cemetery, wind off the sea,  

a preacher intoning the old poetry –

words from the Book of Common Prayer.

Next to the graveside, in salt-laden air,

a dozen survivors in grey mourning suits

all looking down at their sand-speckled boots.

“We have come to remember your late Cousin John,”

the clergyman started; but could not go on.

Except for the sea-sounds, there was silence until

a woman’s voice muttered, “Who’s seen the will?”

A shallow depression in dry sandy ground

was carved with a spade, which then passed around

along with a casket of powdery ash.

The voice was still hissing: “He had lots of cash.”

Had anyone thought of the fate of his soul

as the bone-coloured powder was tipped in the hole?

A once-living body, and its badly-cut hair,

downcast expression and permanent glare,

reduced to a heap which might well remind

anyone else of the grey dirt which lined

a used-up vacuum cleaner bag; mortal dust

which once swelled with breathing. “I’ll speak to the Trust.”

Sandstone and granite, and overgrown paths;

marble memorials shiny as baths;

and sparse vegetation except for some flowers

wilting in jam jars. At least they’re not ours,

unlike the name that will be carved on his tomb.

Most of that life had been spent in one room

while the Trust account paid for a few simple needs.

Gravel plots under the spring’s spreading weeds;

salt breeze and cold light angled over the hill:

“You will all pay if I’m not in the will.”

That voice again. All of us wanted to hide,

being the cousins on his father’s side,

from his mother’s hard-faced adopted niece.

It would be her, interrupting the peace.

Her and her lawyers. If he left an estate

equal in height to the cemetery gate

her legal advisers would make it their task

to erode what was left to the size of the cask.

But none of us spoke, and she then turned away.

“Apart from the wind, it’s a beautiful day,”

someone else said as we walked to the cars,

past gravestones, and gravel, and sad empty jars.

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