Self Service Checkout

I’m afraid you’ll have to wait
the Self-Service Checkout Assistant apologised
These two are out of order
and this one
has an elderly lady stuck in it
She has the front of the till open
and is guarding it
until the engineer can come
Let me see, I offer
I always unblock the photocopiers at school
Mind your hands, she warns me
holding hers up for me to see
Those cogs are all oily
I’d wait, if I were you

I start to pull on one of
the old woman’s unfashionable shoes
My wife leans over my shoulder to see
She’s like that
can’t resist trying to help
Careful a bit doesn’t break off
she tells me, unnecessarily
or we’ll never get out of here
I know, I Know, I say
concentrating on tugging
the mangled old biddy
from the mechanism

There, Out! I exclaim
pleased with my work
But Stefi is peering deeper
into the workings
No, she tells me
There’s another one
stuck further in
An old fellow with a stick
and one of those wheelie bags

Let me see, I insist
trying to nudge her
out of the way
but she’s stubborn
grabbing grandad’s coat
and starting to pull
There! See? she says
as the last scrap
of oily pensioner
drops out onto the floor
It’s not just men
that can do these things
Excuse me, miss,
she turns to the assistant
who’s been checking her phone
discreetly while we worked
It’s fixed
Would you press reset
so we can pay
for our shopping?

© Daniel Stephens, 2019

I’ve been giving some thought

Illustration by Anya Lauri

I’ve been giving some thought
to how you should dispose of my remains
after I’m gone, I begin,
knowing that this won’t be
an easy conversation.

Obviously, donate any bits
that are still usable,
there’s a card in my wallet
and the A.S.L. should have it on record.

If it were up to me,
I’d say round up some neighbours
and drop me into the organic trash
preferably on Monday,
just after they’ve emptied it.
Leave it until the weekend
and I’ll be bouncing around
on top of a pile of pruned branches
and hedge clippings
for everyone to see,
which wouldn’t be respectful and anyway
somone would call the Vigili
and get you into trouble.

I had thought I’d like to be buried
back in the UK, but you know,
what with Brexit and that,
I’ve sort of gone off the idea.
Plus, it would cost an arm and a leg.
Keep the money for the grandkids,
when they arrive.
Did you know
that in Britain
you can be buried in the woods,
in a cheap carboard coffin,
or just a shroud?
Bet you’ll miss me telling you
how things are better there.
You can even bury a loved one
in your garden,
if you have one,
though a house with a garden in the south-west
doesn’t come cheap.

Which leaves Italy,
regulated all to hell
so as to guarantee some lobby group
a decent living
milking the rest of us.
If you really MUST deal with an undertaker
tell him you’ll only pay
for whatever’s legally necessary,
ask for a discount and,
if you don’t get one,
say you’ll try his competitors
down the street
and will only be back
if his quote’s the lowest,
just like Italians do
when choosing an English course.

Cremation could be an option,
though I hear it costs more
and you have to book ages ahead
like when you had that epidural, remember?
But then…
what will you do with the ashes?

I’ve noted down a few suggestions
in case you don’t have better ideas:

  • mix me with some cement
    and redo the grouting on the back wall
  • cat litter? Though it’s looking as if
    I’ll definitely outlast her
  • this one’s probably illegal:
    use my ashes
    to add a touch of wood-fired-oven authenticity
    to your home-made dinner-party pizzas
    (spread a little of the grit
    on a hard surface,
    drop the flattened disks of dough onto it,
    then pop them in the pre-heated electric oven
    and voila, just like in a restaurant!)
  • scattering me on the sea
    or into a river
    would be illegal in Italy, I’ve read,
    as are viking-style funerals,
    but there’s nothing in the ‘codice civile’ about sewers…
    So a model boat bearing the urn
    (a paper cup?)
    which catches fire ‘by accident’
    what do you say?
    We could have nordic music.
    Obviously, you shouldn’t try this if,
    on the big day,
    there’s a smell of methane
  • my favorite, get the pre-schoolers
    to do a ‘glue and ash’ picture
    of their late teacher
    (show them how to use glue
    to draw a stick man,
    sprinkle my ashes
    liberally over the A4 sheet
    while the glue is still sticky,
    shake the page to reveal…
    the finished ‘memento mori’
    is that the term?
    Have a dustpan and brush handy)
    .

© Daniel Stephens, 2019

A Tall Man

A tall man
standing at the open door
of a parked car
makes me wonder
as I pass
walking back from the supermarket
on a Saturday afternoon
with a backpack
full of groceries
(mainly wine and beer)

An elderly woman
hobbles towards me, smiling
“Ciao” calls the man
from behind me
his intonation
making it a greeting
“I didn’t know you were coming”
says his mum.

© Daniel Stephens, 2019