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The Least You Can Say

What was there to say at the wake
when the man in the coffin on view
(the coffin lid propped at the wall)
had had, as the mourners well knew,
no virtues to speak of at all?
What minimum tribute to make?

No guest in the house felt inspired
to bestow on the dead, who, in life,
had been bigoted, humourless, mean,
harsh on his children, cold to his wife,
now thankfully passed from the scene,
the praise that good manners required.

The silence weighs down like a cloak
but for coughing and shifting of feet,
each visitor dumb where he sits;
till a neighbour gets up from his seat
for a cigarette. ‘Well,’ he admits,
‘he certainly knew how to smoke.’

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Joe Mahon