Chapel of Rest

In memoriam Albert Penhouët, 1931-2004

I never saw you, living, in a suit, my dear old friend
and here you lie, all buttoned up in single-breasted beige,
white shirt, dark tie, prepared by other hands to say goodbye.

Your own hands – builder’s, gardener’s hands – show forth their healed-up cuts
and calluses to contradict the attitude of prayer
they’ve been forced into to console us that you’ve gone somewhere.

You had no truck with that. For you, to work was not to pray.
I found you harvesting potatoes one Assumption Feast
and made a joke about you working on a day of rest.

You stopped, and said, ‘I don’t believe. I never go to church.
In my philosophy we’re born, we grow up, fall in love,
we work, enjoy ourselves, and help the people we can reach.

We hope to live a good long time. That’s it. And then we die.
The spuds are small this year. Too little rain in May and June.
But it’ll make them tasty. Bring the barrow over here.’

Today, no object in the room commemorates that speech.
The crucifix and candles offer comfortable lies
in case we can’t abide the truth you faced with open eyes.

Listen to this poem — read by the author