Dancing Dust

Poems by Mollie Caird (1922-2000)

Dead elms

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When our friends die we do not even dare
To contemplate their absence, cannot try
To live without them while their corpses lie
Still above ground, being here and not yet here.
In parlour, at the funeral home, on pyre
The body; we in amorphous limbo, grief
Biting its nails, foot shuffling: making them brief,
The rites, the shovelled clods, the sliding fire.
But years-dead elms make morgues of every hedge,
Monochrome carcasses, sky-outlined, flat,
Uncoffined coffin-wood at grey lane's edge.
We shall not see again their bright leaves shaking,
Yet must we stay a death-warped lifetime at
This dreadful wake whence there will be no waking.

In the 1970s Dutch elm disease all but wiped out this familiar towering hedgerow tree.  An estimated 25 million trees were lost in the UK with many of them standing dead for years before they were finally removed.

The Dancing Dust and other poems, 1983