“Laughing at Funerals’” and other poems by Helen Burke

Laughing at Funerals.

Mam said you always should.
laugh at funerals,
that it was expected,
well at least by the Bootle lot.
Them being made of sterner stuff and all.
And anyways death is only a flesh wound ain’t it?
Its life that kills you, does the damage,
kicks you in the guts and ups the anti.
So, why not laugh?
In fact, life falls into two camps, she said –
Those who understand laughing at funerals, and those who don’t.
So, choose your fellow mourners carefully.
Sometimes, hearing the dead described – I cannot say I knew
them at all. They are superheroes, saints, but their
amazing save the world deeds, I do not always recall.
I must have been in a telephone box myself, at the time
– donning my save the world tights, and skin tight morals.
That will be it.
I look in the mirror and see a ghost in preparation.
And will it be my finest hour – whose to say?
I will bring Catwoman and Superman to my funeral so
We all can have a laugh.
And losing, thats another gift.
Our family has a knack for it, mam muttered,
take your grandfather’s arm at the Somme (well someone did)
and your great granddad’s left eye & him just back from the Goldrush –
down in the docks of Liverpool.
They made him an overseer then, when he could barely see.
Yes, you may as well laugh while you learn that living,
its a game that may only be won, when all is lost.
Two and two make ninety nine.
The dead get to travel, and the living get to stay,
and foot the bill for all the sandwiches that no one eats except
the kids, playing tag next to the coffin.
So break out your choppers, your very best false teeth
and have a bloody laugh.
You will feel the benefit, mam said.
And her being a superhero – she was right.

A Van Gogh Moment

I am having a Van Gogh moment when
all the flowers are leaping out from the soil
and capturing the sun and the rain –
and the blue flowers dance their way out of pain –
Yes, Yes!  I am having a Van Gogh moment.
I am in control, I tell myself, shout, in dribs and drabs
but the fireplace keeps talking to me, and the dancer’s
little hands (I brought her in from the rain )
through the mirror,
are laughing too.
And the letter I write is a spiders revenge.
I am having a Van Gogh moment.
Surprise, surprise !! sings the café owners dog
and the rippling corn of the green sea beckons me,
and the stars in my eyes whirl like oysters and
the clams Gaugin has brought us for tea
are repeating their alphabet by twos and by threes.
I am having a Van Gogh moment.
And my old straw chair – is crushed by the storm
in my head, and limps to the door.
You call this art – and though I live it, and breathe it,
every day that passes, I perceive it – as war.
I hear everything – even the whisper of ants,
the dance of the bees – the falling rain in the can at the door.
It is all too much. This whirlwind, this dragonfly, this open road that I take.
Over and over.
This gunfire in my soul, this madrigal of paint.
Yes, yes –
I am having a Van Gogh moment.

A Few Home Truths

Trust – trust is what flies out the window
when one man and two women walk in the door.
Compassion – compassion is what you’re supposed to have
when life has kicked you in the guts – usually
by the people you care about most.
Forgiveness – forgiveness is what you are advised to have
usually by people who have more money, time, and a bigger
house than you.
Faith and Hope – these birds go hand in glove –
and when one glove is lost – both are lost.
Survival skills – these are learnt at great personal cost and at
your own risk.
Religion this is what we buy into when we have lost all hope.
Humanity – this can be bought from any good drug store.
Freedom – this is what we think we want until we get it.
(then we cease to value it)
Friendship – you can count real friends on the fingers of one finger.
Beauty – If you have this – you do not need any of the above.
being gorgeous will always be enough.
Hypocrisy – this is a handy one to keep in the store cupboard,
along with a ridiculous talent for flattery and feigned naivety.
Breathing – try and practice this more every day –
on the in breath think CALM on the out breath think CHOCOLATE – where did I hide it -?
None of this will change the world.
But it’s cheaper than having several affairs –
one with an ex-monk and one with Bon Jovi’s second best herbalist.
And then – having therapy downtown with a man who thinks
he is a rhinoceros called Anthony.
I hope this proves helpful – yours affectionately,
-The friend I spoke about earlier –

A Day Out At The Skip

Used to be – You could have a good one.
No – I’m serious!
A really good day out at the skip.
But now – how times have changed.
They’ve made it so user aware, so people friendly
It’s a bore, a fucking nightmare.
Once you could mosey on down – and have a picnic,
arrange to meet a few friends there,
make a few new ones,
anything was possible at the skip.
It was a wild inelegant rampaging – a jumble sale of people.
It was a ragged hawthorn hedge – unkempt and carefree.
You could bounce on an orange sofa and recall the woodentops.
You could pat a flea-bitten dog and take him home.
You could casually offer a banana to a passing gypsy –
and trade in your fed-upness for someone else’s and realise
life was really quite grand.
Bring it back, bring it back – what have you done with my skip?

I want to be Barney Rubble again and you can be Fred Flintstone,
but, nothing doing.
Now – its like a sterile ballet – with a dead eyed duck overseeing,
and tarantula black coated women.
Lanes of calm, precede an air of menace. And paperwork.
You decide if your life is shredded or unshredded.
There’s a bin to recycle your laughter and fourteen hoovers,
all in a line like unwanted children.
Where has it gone, the madness – the luxury madness – the de luxe madness of old?
Once you could rummage and find a new set of fairy lights,
some salad servers, ten football programmes, a video of The Prisoner,
And a newspaper from 1944. All yours for the taking.
Now – the tarantulas are on the prowl – and you’re lucky to find
a crease free plastic bag with an Abba wig in – and that’s only
if you ignore all the traffic and hurl yourself into the bin marked Christmas cards.
Anything used to be possible at the skip.
I want to be Fred Flintstone and you can be Barney Rubble.
See my broken heart – which bin should I put it in ?
Bring it back you bastards – What the hell have you done with my Skip?

helen-bHelen Burke was born in Doncaster to Irish parents in 1953. A number of chapbooks, including Book of Beyond, Island of Dreams, Zuzus Petals, And God said Let There Be Chocolate, and Americana, are from Krazy Phils Press. Her full-length collections of poetry are The Ruby Slippers (Scarborough, Valley Press, 2011); and Here’s Looking at You Kid (Valley Press, 2014). She has won a number of awards, including the Manchester Poetry Prize, the Suffolk Poetry Prize, and the Ilkley Literature Performance Poetry Prize (twice). Also an artist, she has had poems set to music by an Australian orchestra and has performed with jazz, rock and folk musicians, with an especial reference to Irish folk musicians. (Profile: Irish Writers Online)

Krazy Phils Press

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