A Country Burial

A Poem by Edward Reilly

 

Brennan was put to rest in a northern suburbs cemetery.

An apt enough place, for, as James has it, we’re all suburbanites

When it comes to the literary world, there being no city

Where writers type up copy in this lumbering language

Other than London or New York, where journals can reject copy,

So that we remain condemned to a sort of provincialism

All dullness and pretence until such time as we accumulate

Those multiplicities that characterise the Great Barrier Reef.

These days I can walk through the Forum and imagine

Romulus ploughing the contours of the city’s pomoerium,

Cicero orating in the Senate chamber, Catalina cringing,

Sweet Horace burbling his welcomes to a drinking party,

And everything that happened before and long afterwards.

But here? The clank of traffic and emptied shopwindows.

Sick of this town I drove out into the winter countryside,

Parked the car over by the old churchyard and wandered,

Bag and claspknife in hand, looking for red mushrooms,

Slippery jacks, shiitake and even some humble buttons.

For once the bag was full, and there were enough for seconds

Had I been greedy, but there would be other days to harvest,

And I was needy for a black coffee and a bite to eat.

In the café I sat and read of the locals’ plight, their sadness

At being told they’d have to work harder for much less

When the combines had offered a contractual paradise:

Who can be trusted? What can be guaranteed these days?

Then the coffee came, doused in sour milk, cold like the day,

The cake looked as though it had been baked last week,

Like all promises. But then, who really believed the Gracchi?

It was raining heavily still when the cortege passed me by

To pull up at the graveyard, pastor and congregation,

Mourning family, friends and the various assembled,

Umbrellas sprouting as they shuffled in a slow line.

By now the sky had cleared and they were bathed in light

That drifted in from the west like summery cool change,

A single voice lifting in a spontaneous hymnody,

Others following the line as chorus, repeating lines,

In the way their grandfathers had fashioned a theology

About a certain grace that their souls would be saved,

The staves circling around stones, in between feet,

Fluting over the church’s slate roof and black cypresses,

Up and over the turned paddocks and down to the river,

Where the sons of Clovis drifted to the unforgiving sea.

My discoveries went well with ham and eggs for tea,

A cool white wine, some icecream with winter berries.

After you had gone to sleep I looked up the newspapers

To see who had been buried. No one there whom I knew:

A farmer gone to his rest after a life at the plough,

To the darkness of the milking shed, a returned soldier

Who had seen more than enough of inhuman misery,

And yet had carried on: eleven grandchildren, eleven.

Edward Reilly has published poetry & criticism in journals such as James Joyce QuarterlyPoetry Ireland ReviewPoetry Salzburg ReviewTinteán et al. He is the founding editor of Azuria, a small literary journal published by Geelong Writers.