Death employs him


I have shuffled papers for Death for several years,

Tidying his escritoire. Certificates,

Affidavits, Wills, and evidences

Require certification and correct accounting:

If someone dies, their affairs don’t simply cease.

He gave me a set of keys, not huge

And rust-worn but Yale-cut, with the code

For the burglar alarm, let me know my hours,

Took my insurance numbers and set me to work.

Death, in his boss’s office, will leave

Precisely at five, even if I take overtime:

He’s a stickler. As I file away the evenings

The coffee percolates. The cleaners come

Every Thursday and, oblivious, ask

How the holidays went while emptying the bins.


Some late-nighters, by the watchful glare

of the desk lamp, I consider opening

the master’s draw to see what files he keeps

on us.


I had not considered the secret life of Death. He places

The smiling frame of his wife and two children

Near to his monitor, next to his World’s Best Dad mug.

Stealing into his room this way is despicable,

Life-affirming; and yet, though the light is dim

And the master is unaware and far away

I still can’t dare to open the personnel file


And see what Death has on me. The ultimate reference, Death;

The proof of my last employment; the final P45…


Too great a risk. I click off my thief’s light,

Shut Death’s door, set the intruder alarm,

Text darling to say I’ll get the bus back. Not worth it.


It is fair to say that, when Death employs you,

Redundancy appears indefinite.


This is less characteristically obsessive over structure and rhyme, true, but it does hark back to a regular theme: DEATH. Specifically the mundaneness of death, from the perspective of a probate practitioner. It’s odd, working in estate administration. A gallows humour hangs above us. We work not “with” grief per se, but I think “through” grief, despite of the mourning families and sensitive subjects: we need to crack on and fill in tax forms, even if it means having to press loved ones for details and receipts. Through all of this however I do retain an absolute fascination with Death as a concept. 


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