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the last of last words spoken

I pulled all the books of poetry I've hoarded over the years off my shelves (provoking a terrible avalanche of toys and old paper) and tore the house apart until I found an anthology I vaguely remembered called Night Thoughts (under my futon, as it turned out, having been stolen by the very flat monsters). I stopped on the way between emergency site updating on one of my leave days and the local beer festival to buy the Penguin Book of Garden Writing (Granddad was a skilled and enthusiastic gardener). I spent half the afternoon at the Oxfam Bookshop (I work there Saturday afternoons) flipping through cloth-bound, dust-greyed books. I even fed a line I remembered into Google. Research is so important.

But Alex, Alex, Alex. Older sister, stressed-out mother, Very Spiritual Person. Look at the rest of us, so eager to follow the path of least resistance, cause as little upset as possible, keep the peace. I expect she regards us with contempt, and sometimes I feel I deserve it. I don't take stands, or ride rough-shod over the feelings of others in order to make an important point. Is that wrong of me? Ask me after tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we head off up country to see off my Grandfather, who would doubtless be horrified at this mess of panic and pain gathering around his passing on. Between the five of us (four, if Alex decides the horror of taking a fractious toddler through a two-three-hour train journey is beyond bearing, and if she does, good for her, I say) we have two minutes to say goodbye and Dad has vetoed nominating one of us to speak for us all.

So the poems not only had to be right, they had to be 30s or less. I always knew that the English degree would come in handy for something. Funny how things turned out; the Anthology of the Night turned out to be practically worthless (though it was good to find Dover Beach and The Darkling Thrush, if only to exclude them) while the old Dragon and Puffin anthologies of my childhood turned up poem after poem of well-worn words and well-known emotions for, if truth be told, there is little in the world that is more common than grief,. Would you say that your pain is somehow extraordinary? Look at the words of the long-dead, the still-living, the anonymous and the traditional. The world is full of weeping, and the dead far outnumber the living.

So, back to the classics: Tennyson for George, the youngest of us all, practical and strong, with Tennyson's snide comments excised by a kind pencil, come not, when I am dead.... For Elle, sweet and kind, Shakespeare, who knew about everything; Fear no more the heat of the sun.... For Vic, dark and mysterious, racked with her own invisible sorrows, Christina Rossetti, and if thou wilt, remember, and if thou wilt, forget.... And me, what should I read?

Saturday. I yanked a pile of books of poems from the shelf at the shop, half an hour left, and all my lovely books priced (happy, as usual, to find the treasures we are given and pass them to new and happy owners) the window filled (what fun, to be able to put out biographies of Gilles de Rais and the Marquis De Sade in one display) and money made not to make anyone richer, but to help those in need (another record-breaking day) the dust of other people's houses and the soft feel of paper polished by other people's hands. The book feel into my hands, fell open, the poem chose itself. Why fight?

the last of the last words spoken is, good-bye

Alex, Alex .... if she comes, she'll read her own poem. None of (the rest of) us like it, it's sentimental and personal, will cause tears and embarassed stirrings and maybe shouts and screams and recriminations as well. I don't exaggerate. But she wrote it and it means a lot to her and her needs (as is usually the case with the person who shouts the loudest) always do come first. To me goes the task of keeping the peace, and then picking up the pieces. To Elle the task of looking after everyone, and caring for any kids in the room. To Vic the task of calming down Dad, enough in itself. To George the task of being defiantly good, and friendly, and kind. It's going to be busy.

I would rather say goodbye anywhere else than at a funeral.