I hear the accusations like the Lutine Bell: nostalgie de la boue or blood and soil; found poetry or cento. Nonetheless it makes the Mersey look like churned-up mud, the curt cuts of an accent awaken roots inside my parents’ head. After the long drive north from the flat lands of Cambridgeshire we’ve pitched up at an unknown cousin’s door. Dad’s scouse resurfaces, mum’s ‘like’ returns. I’m out of place. Here, on loved ground to which I’ve no real claim except by blood; where the wind knocks the words out of my mouth.
i. It’s covering his head as he drags branches across the grass. Its floppy weight is in my hand like a well-read newspaper. I hold it to my nose when the damp is in it. I can smell the curls of bonfire smoke but not the clean, cool, outdoor scent of my father himself. ii. It’s tucked under my grandfather’s arm as, eyes closed, he draws a folded handkerchief across his brow in the smoky gloom of a pool hall. My father slides his thumb across the sweatband and hears a sound like the clink of a cue-ball on the black.
With the snow-blinding heat of the piazza left ajar, you slip cheek-first into the gloom. Sweat cools suddenly against your neck. The improvising hum of traffic gives way to the cave-like echoes of the visitors, their watery, half-distant whoops, the shuffle of shoe-covering softened footsteps. And what you feel is the pure privilege of being there: the chance to try and get your head around the disquieting thrill of its straight-faced, gaudy pomp. But then – like a rebuke – there’s Mary, Mother of God, still indifferent to all of it as she cradles the supple, still-warm body of her son.