Today I attended the funeral of a friend. By friend I mean he was someone I knew a little. I guess you might call him an acquaintance. And by funeral I mean the wake, or after service send-off. I didn’t feel connected enough to join family and close friends at the main event but I am sure I would have been made welcome. So it was to the pub that I went and an hour late I arrived, not wishing to be seen devouring the sandwiches that others deserved more than me. Hungry work burying the dead. The quiet solemnity of the formal proceedings inevitably gives way to a sense of relief and a desire to speak loudly once more. And eat. It’s okay to eat now. And talk.
For this was no ordinary send-off. This was a farewell to a much loved local poet whose involvement with spoken word open mic events was well known and it was now the turn of his friends and family to toast with words his memory and our loss. For he will be greatly missed. There’s no doubt about that. I stood amongst the crowds and watched and listened as one after another his friends and family took turns at the mic to read something by him or something by themselves or something by someone who couldn’t be there in person.
Every once in a while a special person will enter our lives and spark a connection and we wonder how on earth that was possible. But when we begin to look around us we see the number of people that individual had touched and always in such a positive way. Such enthusiasm and encouragement also. On June 1st I had messaged him simply to say how much I had enjoyed his readings that night. Always courteous, his reply: ‘I assure you the feeling is mutual. I await your novel with interest’. If that novel ever reaches a printing press then his name will be in the list of acknowledgements at the end.
A few hours after the news of his sudden death reached me via social media I was compelled to write down some lines. The way bad news travels and creeps up on us unexpectedly, unawares and unwelcome can be unnerving too. I had been staring at the one centimetre gap between the door and the floor as if that was the route it had taken to find me. It also led me to think about the mental issues our friend had suffered with for so long and how difficult it must have been at times to have left open that one centimetre gap in which to communicate with the outside world when all inside was in such turmoil and disarray.
After the initial round of recitals an interval was called by our host. I found a seat and waited for the second half for I had come to hear the tributes, my own poem tucked in my back pocket. I had no plan to read it and I was not on the list of readers. My intention before ducking away was to pass it to the host and close friend of the deceased to read in private some time later. But as the last on the list had been up and spoken their words our host asked if anyone else, those who had arrived a little later, would like to come and say something. He looked at me and I couldn’t refuse that look. He is an exemplary host and compère and it felt an honour to be asked by name.
So here is the poem I wrote the day our friend died and which I read today amongst the good company of his family and friends. In some ways it is meant to be a celebration of all the good things that can be achieved when we share a common love of words. Rest in peace and know that you touched the hearts of so many, in big ways and in little ways. And thank you, gentle man.
A Cold Breath of Wind
A cold breath of wind blew down the street
Turned the corner, found its way below your door
That one centimetre gap was just enough
For scraps of paper with poetry and notes
To be let in, to be let out, to be I know not what
For although I knew you not at all that well, that is
Not much beyond a few polite conversations, nods
Of getting past the getting to know you awkwardness
When those around you knew you so much better than me
Past histories shared but the future not, turns out
You were, it seems, a masker of darkness, a fidget
A smoker, a kindly soul much loved and now much missed
I will rue the chance of getting to know you better
Slowly, through your eyes and mine and others
And the strange, uncommon bonds that often attract
When, when the news of your death came suddenly
It came blowing in on cold blasts of condolence wishes
As if your notebooks had been torn to shreds and tossed
Upon the gentle breath of your once spoken words, those
Which now, are merely echoes of your soft, fragile voice