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by Poet in Residence, Julia McGuinness

To wander past the dead is an exercise
in arithmetic. Subtract birth from death
to get a life, peg a cliché:
good innings, tragic loss
among this company of the mourned,
galleried in memorial tablets.

Perhaps Mary Lloyd, too, walked here
with sister Martha, skirts rustling
their bodies warm in Cathedral chill,
till the April she left Martha’s arms
bare-branched, bereft of blossom
as petals wept into wind’s snatch.

Mary’s heart, too gentle for the stone
they placed for one so entirely beloved,
every mason’s incision a twist
that deepened the wound,
but left her birthdate untooled,
age smoothed to marble silence.

A life of affectionate deportment
that cannot be numbered
leaves us standing at a loss,
our wonder an echo of Martha’s Why?
while Mary slips the open grave,
uncontained as Lazarus.

Julia McGuinness
24 April 2020

The Memorial Tablet in Chester Cathedral’s south aisle to Mary Lloyd, who died on 28 April 1722, was commissioned by her sister Martha. The stone is blank where her age should be inscribed.