Washing The Dead

Our eyes are basins, cracked;
across them run bloodshot veins,
and round them swill
the drain-dirty waters of lamentation.

A bit elaborate.
For most of us, the corpses lie
stiff in the family line:
my father, in state, no glasses,
in the back of the florist’s.
His forehead was china.
You poor old bugger, I said,
under my clammy tongue.

And he’d said much the same,
his face concave
as if whistling inwardly at the sheer
effrontery of dying. We
swapped some platitudes, like keepsakes:
Own goal. Have to bite the
bullet. He had composed these
epitaphs, and possibly rehearsed them.

My sister was more sudden.
In her forties, the maggot in her eye
was cancer; out it came, and gave her
four more years.
She touched my hand,
straining across the table, it was Christmas,
board games again:
our second childhood come early. I like
playing games with you, she said,
planting the torn thorn in my memory.

The hospice bed, ten weeks later,
her thin body shrill
with silence, the false eye
teasing our tears out, the rest of her
hunched in the laundered sheets.
I remember the day she was born, called out
my mother. We held.
Heard our lives go plunging
down the basin, the pipes, the plug,
sins to be washed away,

stark white, vitreous,
like our stained and smarting eyes.

From the book Love Poems