Last Rites

  On the cusp of dawn
  the vicar considers
  the nonchalance of clocks,
  how they tock off vacant hours
  above a rumpus of congregants.

  Not in the best of order
  they shamble into pews
  looking for desks to lift or slam:
  shuffling their pockets, they dig
  for licorice twists, for dinner money.

  Someone unfolds a deckchair
  while a low tide rustles
  and shady dogs lollop into the rumpled surf.

  The head boy affronts the pulpit,
  counting out farthings of memory
  and licking his lips round a pencil.

  A duff bell clucks
  in the playground. They eye up the girls
  dimpling the brazen sand.

  Soon the nave is papered
  with a trite detritus of word;
  the men, hatless,
  size up the thicker hymnals
  for likely lines at bingo.

  They are trudging to school
  under the tousled clouds.
  The disinfected stink of heads.

  They dry their salted eyes
  on scrawny, corn-coloured towels,
  rubbing their ribs,
  and winking. Their lips sprout
  skimps of cigarette.

  The women dapple their lids
  with scraps of hanky
  and finger the bandaged psalters.
  Full house. The sunlight
  washes across the coffin.
  Someone knocks off the only coconut
  left in the shy. The organist
  rises to the occasion.

  Opening his satchel for apples,
  he turns on his neighbour like a sixpence.
  His hassock scrapes.
  "I knew his grandmother
  once," he whistles.

From the book Looks Familiar