Men, uncomfortably well dressed in funeral black,
collars frayed, starched white, old shoes
thick with polish.
A woman pours tea into best china cups,
another empties the remnants of a second bottle
of elderberry wine into gold rimmed tumblers.

Outside in the street, women, wearing aprons
and head scarves, gather in stooped conversation.
Men shake hands with men and laugh about times past.
The Minister, Mr. Jenkins, is spotted, all gossip ends.
They move aside as he walks between them
like a fox through a cornfield.

He enters the house with slow reverence,
hair, grey and wild, eyes, deep sunk fiery blue,
warning those who dare question his faith.
He sniffs the air; cigarettes are quickly stubbed out
into chipped saucer ashtrays. Sad times, he says,
embracing the grief with a practiced frown.

A child giggles as Mr. Jenkins blows a trumpet sound
from his nose into an oversized handkerchief.
An added chesty cough is his cue for a medicinal glass
of elderberry wine, another for the cold weather,
and another, raised in toast to the departed.
I knew this man, he bellows, resting his palm on the coffin.

Mourners lower their heads as he splutters words
of Heaven and Hell. He speaks kindly of the deceased,
pausing to check the name engraved on a brass plate.
Hymns are sung as the coffin is passed through the window
to the men in black. And the child wonders why his granddad
sleeps in a box while a silly man pretends to know his name.

 Rowland Hughes ©