Parson Hawker’s Farewell by Patricia Beer

Let no one wear black at my funeral.
I have not let blackness be the friend
To me it could have been. The black storm
Crawling with demons clambered up the sky
Each day. My eyes shrank. I turned away
And the prince demon tore the roof off my house.

I have passed through purple and grey to white.
I am as white now as the ship’s figurehead
The sea spat out on the shore one day.
All its paint licked off, it had a body
Still, better without gaudiness, a face
Hinting at what was behind the colours.

I have been compassionate at the lych-gate.
I have been made hateful by drowned sailors
Brought to me every one, some in good clothes
Others piecemeal out of the murk of rock pools
Where the biting and shaking sea at last left them.
Limbs, dispossessed hearts, all begging for burial.

Those storms. ‘A corpse ashore, sir.’ The words
Make me cringe even as the gap narrows
Between me and the men I every day sent
To resurrection. All ended with me, and I
Have been alone. Even my loving wife cannot
Ward off the blown leaves that presage storm.

My fellow clerics care mostly about food.
They eat pigs’ faces: cannibals, narcissists.
With gluttony they disgust their own angels.
What can I call them? Some Latin name
With a prim mouth and filth in the tail.
They know enough for that. Pigs’ faeces might do.

You see, I have rage still. At lifeboatmen
At coroners I have raged, at those who stole
My books, at the demons who chewed up my fields
Forcing me to buy corn. I shall always
Be angry but perhaps with a white heat
That seraphim will sociably glare back at.

Farewell to the bad roads and the steep hills
And London remote. I shall never walk
On the cliffs alone again. My last cats
Whose language I spoke fluently will outlive me.
Peace and defiance be with you all. What matters
Is not money or being feasted but soul safe.

 

© Patricia Beer, Collected Poems, Carcanet Press Ltd, 1990. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press.

 

Patricia Beer was born in Exmouth, Devon, in 1919. For more information about her life and work see her obituary in the Guardian, 19/08/1999.