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 Looks Familiar