Old Leonard said it straight: ‘Let’s not pretend
That death is anything except the end.
You die, you’re done; you’re fed to flames or worms.’
He’d make his point in no uncertain terms,
And Jess recalls the loud and booming laughter
With which he greeted talk of the hereafter.
‘The here and now is all that we have got;
It’s real; the vicar’s fairytales are not.’
She thinks of how he’d neatly phrase a joke;
She clearly hears the forceful way he spoke,
And that ‘Oh but surely…’, with a dying fall
Which clinched an argument once and for all
His words come back to her today as clear
As if the ancient atheist was here.
It’s just as though he’s with her in the room
Though he’s spent years now mouldering in his tomb.
She smiles to think of him, and smiles again
To think how he’s a fixture in her brain.
She even caught herself the other day
Clinching her point in just old Leonard’s way,
With ‘Oh but surely…’ Should she then infer
A trace of him is still alive in her?
Well — a man of such large humour and such drive —
Why be surprised if something should survive?
Now, ten years on, Jess too is dead and gone,
But some things have a way of lingering on.
That ‘Oh but surely…’ with that intonation
Has somehow reached another generation.
Jane, Jess’s daughter, last week floored the board
Of the college with it, and so neatly scored
Her point that they in unison agreed
To fund her project. Phrasing’s what you need,
And Jane knows that, but what she doesn’t know,
Is that trick came from Leonard long ago,
And Leonard learned it many years before
From his Latin teacher. So, how many more
Homes will this little trick of speaking find
As it nips cleverly from mind to mind?
Though death is death, and funerals are for tears,
Some things can oddly echo through the years.
George Simmers has written many poems “about people dealing with what life has given them, for better or for worse.” Fifteen of them are collected in his book ‘Old, Old’. His other recent and more diverse collection is ‘Old and Bookish’.
George Simmers used to be a teacher; now he spends much of his time researching literature written during and after the First World War. He has edited Snakeskin since 1995. It is probably the oldest-established poetry zine on the Internet. His work appears in several Potcake Chapbooks.