Cousin N’s funeral

I do so few family things these days
the clan are spread so far & wide
in the world now
it’d make a very long road movie
just to go & see ‘em all
I’m in the back of the car
uncle F is driving a newish red Ford
he is the last of the five
four brothers & a sister
still births, miscarriages not counting
starting from the 1920’s
& he wears his survivor badge hard
I only know him as my dad’s brother
or from wandering the woods as a kid
where I’d find him in conversation, more
with ladies who were not my aunt
next to him in shotgun
is my mother
she married as second wife
the first having done a runner
into these country folk
being that way inclined herself
she is here to represent my now gone dad
as cousin N died early
being only 64 from a heart attack
as ever, her feelings, emotions
exist only within her immediate vicinity
we’ve been to the funeral
done all the things you do
mumbled a hymn, heard the eulogy
looked over from our side to the other
wondering just who these people are
recognising a look, feature, a stance
& wondering which crooked branch
they come or hang from
we were on our way to the ‘after’
drinks & food as a wake for cousin N
who may or not have been my brother
it is hard to know as all concerned
are now dead
it is our way
the tiniest secret can have a full blown smokescreen
& the biggest just left out to dry in the breeze
my dad only met his eldest brother G
five times in his seventy odd years
two of those times were at the funerals
of their aged parents
such is our exodus from this county of birth
not that I knew N well
he was older than me
we’d last locked eyes some 30 years ago
he was off out to see his girl
I was on my way in to see my grandma
home from navy leave knowing I’d not
pass by there again
she was gone three months later
& I could not get a pass to go home
to see her out
I guess this is the why we do the funerals we can
to represent those who can’t be there
we had vague instructions on the venue
were passing places I’d not seen in aeons
all somehow familiar yet somehow not
I see the two trees with the road between
there, right there, I point out as uncle F sails by
we need to turn round & go back, I say
they look at each other & mumble
F turns around & heads back
I point the trees out again as he drives by
they ignore me
I think I’ll stop & ask says F finally
good idea, confirms herself, to him
I’m looking at my hands: do I not exist?
he stops & asks a dog walker: over there says the blokie
pointing right at the two tall trees
now
in the distance
they murmur thankyou’s & bye’s
& we drive on back in silence
& it hits me
this is playing out some scene
from when I was a young’un
where adults would drive
& the only sound in the back
which was best ignored
kid chatter
can I have an ice cream?
are we there yet’s?
I need a wee
& as ever when with my people
I feel that I don’t exist
to acknowledge me fully
would be to open too many cans of worms
the why I left home early
the dubious parentage of me
between the now dead brothers
my absent birth mother
& what did I want by being here?
I chuckle all the way into the hall
where I meet the clan all over again
surrounded in warmth, food smells
a fug complemented by booze nipped from flasks
& toasts to N being given by the open bar
& of course I have the idiot grin on my face
from my realisation in the car
it is not time for smiles yet
there are stories to be mis’told
drinks to be drunk
toasts to be said
before any of us can retreat to humour
& raise the barriers again

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