would halt, on walks with me
when a cortège crept past.
would be doffed.
would get message-bags held in both hands.
would stop like clocks,
in seconds of respect,
as the black cars trundled on up the street.
That’s how it used to be-
an acknowledgement of the grief of others,
and this timeless freezing,
was a nation, familiar with death and loss,
doing the decent thing for strangers.
And as the century moved on
and we tidied away
and reduced our concerns to a manageable size,
death got brushed out of our homes into our hospitals.
At some point
we had to start leaving notes and flowers
In public places, when it swept
back into our tidy lives.
And then it was bouquets, football tops,
candle-lit vigils for dead royals,
organised grief parties,
and mawkish community wails,
now no one wants reminding
that each loss is a private loneliness
which can’t be indulged like a national sport.