The space you left is vast

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The space you left is vast

The rain held off for our arrival

I knew you would have laughed if I told you

we’d travelled to your funeral by train

so we stood with friends waiting for the beginning

of a service — a Mass of all things — in a scaffold wrapped church

bedecked with corrugated gun grey cladding

your coffin had lain in this place overnight

I suppose there’d been no vigil

the old ways no longer serve, no rites

old ways set aside, so just cursory farewells

and so it was that you were left alone

to begin the journey of your life's ending

the plaster of the church walls long perished,

crumbled and falling, a punishment maybe,

for the priests’ abuse of so many small children

a community of victims in silence remains,

and you a non-believer unable to protest,

lying unseen, in silence, for once in your life.

I sit open-eyed, while empty prayer words are mouthed,

I stand in silence, while once familiar hymns are sung,

as I thought of you, my friend, and what you’d make of this.

On this dank grey morning, in an Autumn graveyard,

I watched you laid beneath the turf in seeping clayed earth,

not far from the place of your birth, and all your memories.

Rain swept in while we walked away, a gravestone caught my eye,

five children’s names, a year between each birth,

marked out on jet black stones — life etched in months.

Remembering your voice, at our last meeting,

still raging at the injustice of a government — so cruel,

of its rough-trod way of breaking poor people,

of trying to destroy a small community -

that birthed you, succored you, raised you,

and the close knit family from which you grew.

I wonder whether the space you leave will ever be filled?

And so the small leaves come fluttering down,

to quietly cover the ground where you lie now.


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This poem is a tribute to my friend Peter Lenaghan who established our local whole food shop — one of those hearts that are the beat of the town. His political persuasions could be called communist — or as he would say “a citizen of the world.” He was proud of his Irish heritage — and also that his blood showed that his ancestors were Norse invaders of Dublin, or so he would like to say.

I first met Pete and his brother John when returning to live in Wales to study at Cardiff University — they ran the whole food shop out of a stall in the town market. It was the time of the miners strike, 1984, when there was opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s Tory Government’s aim of destroying the coal mining communities. The strike was long and hard. Small communities like ours bore the brunt of the government’s punitive activities, and out of work miners’ families were hard pressed with their back to the wall. Miners’ wives took a major role in organising a resistance to allow the community and poor families to avoid starvation. Pete and John donated the entire contents of the shop to the cause — families who had never eaten brown rice or whole-meal pasta were able to widen their dietary horizons from this generosity and helped to survive. This is what resistance is about! Basically, Peter would oppose any oppression from any source and side with those victims, the oppressed of any country, colour, race, or religion.

Latterly, Peter’s life was marred by alcoholism and the tribulations caused by the side effects of a flu vaccine. Over and above that, he was highly intelligent, possessed with a perceptive mind like few others and one of the best sense of humours I’ve known.

Put simply I miss him, and the space he has left is massive.


Rob Cullen artist, writer, poet. Rob runs “Voices on the Bridge” a poetry initiative in Wales. Walks hills and mountains daily with a sheep dog at his side.

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