Monday, October 07, 2019

An Undertaker’s Son

We don't often do poetry on the Diary, but this one resonates particularly with me, writes Brian Byrne. It's by my nephew Daragh, son of my late brother Des, and Josephine.

The background is the generational legacy of the Byrne family being involved in funeral undertaking from my great grandfather's time until Des's own passing. I was part of that line too.

An Undertaker’s Son

You would find him on a wet November
Wednesday, sideways rain in New Abbey
Filling the freshly dug six feet, sheets
Of plastic fake grass half covering the gape
Hid until the last lowering of the departed.
His grave face for the graveside -
Black woollen full length coat, black hat
Black borrowed hearse, bright burnished heart.

There is in every churchyard a statue that
Weathers the storms we can't. Strong walls
To break the wind while we are breaking.

Above the pub brass plaques engraved by hand
A tinny drilling nib to carve the names
Familiar to the town - Dowling, Kelly
Mitchell, Nolan, Berney
Each bright plate mounted on a casket
From a stash of angled pinewood boxes
I later learned not found in every home.
A procession of passings - poignant punctuations
In the long rambling paragraphs that wrote
Kilcullen down, invisible ink inscribed across the years.

At the houses of the lost he'd take the reins
Make the arrangements - call in the death notice
Lean on Billy Dowling for the laying out, raise up
Naggins of Powers for the old men who'd lift the clod
Bent over in the shadows of bent trees
Supplicate the parish priest he'd only ever see
While undertaking, honest in his faith.

He followed his own father in the trade
Continuing with pride the family name.
Sons only follow fathers if they wish to -
Or so they think. I did not escape his ways.
Decades later when I find myself patient
Heart open to somebody else's pain
I see the line time drew from me to him -
Remembering I'm an undertaker's son.

Daragh Byrne

Photographs use Policy — Privacy Policy