In Nunhead cemetery
saplings smoke out of the organic dead
in trances, webs of spider branches
creep out crackling, dripping into sunshine,
bulletins in stone tell you everything succinctly.
This Victorian woman outlived her seven children
by sixty years. The little space of life between
each birth and death suggests her growing hope
that this dear child, surviving longer than the last,
might make it, but year by year they died,
the oldest six- they must have thought
she’d cleared the post, she hadn’t.
Imagine all that time alone
side by side with the empty space
where your babies should have grown.
The dog flourishes in between the stones
chasing the pungent odours of life,
rabbits, foxes, badgers, voles.
Crashing through the branches we startle
visitors who’d heard our whistle.
Next time we should dress up in long white nighties
and jump out-
and here are the Weightmans!
Harold twenty four, Marjorie twenty three,
Olive three, David seven months,
killed by enemy action in 1944.
A little family bombed out
in a South East London terrace just like mine.
I like to visit the Weightmans.
Their grave’s only recently been uncovered
by the cemetery restoration works, hidden all these years
under a reign of thorns like Sleeping Beauty.
No one to come and remember them.
Every possible descendent evaporated by that bomb,
So I read their stone and make them mine.
Harold, sleeves rolled up, mending his bike.
Marjorie making pastry in the scullery.
Olive tottering by her brother’s cot.
Sirens, thunder, darkness, black horse carriage,
then this place,
the creeping blackberries and birdsong,
sun between the smoke, me walking.