Only men stood in the passageway,
mumbling their ailments to those who cared,
clearing the black phlegm from their lungs
into large white handkerchiefs in preparation for song.
A conversation of grief loomed over those who never spoke,
acknowledging their mourning with a nod of the head.
They wait impatiently for the first hymn.
Heavily perfumed women pass quietly
through the black dressed mourners,
giving a respectful funereal smile, as only they knew how.
Those unable to squeeze into the narrow passageway
stand in solemn dignity on the rain soaked pavements,
puffing cigarettes under ladies’ umbrellas.
When the singing starts, their damaged lungs
bellow a harmony perfect only to the untrained ear.
This familiar sound brings tears to those looking on
and a flutter of curtains from the uninvited
on both sides of the street.
Young men, not yet affected by the coal dust disease,
carry the coffin. The house empties itself of the family grievers;
they disappear behind darkened glass of funeral cars.
Others slip into their family saloons, offering a lift to those left standing.
Dressed in top hat and tails, the undertaker steps in front of the hearse;
he lowers his head in a gesture of respect.
Rain’s solemn tune pauses for a while, as silence strikes the hour
and time whispers its last goodbye.
© Rowland Hughes February 2014