Waiting Room


I wouldn’t be saying this if you were here;

You’d probably talk again about the sight

Of terns alighting and assembling there

Out on the point, compare your imminent flight

To their long navigation of the night;

Had you not finally lived yourself to a standstill,

Did we not now gather at the white,

The hilarious, scribbled white of your coffin, and mill

Like gulls arriving hungry at the landfill.

For a year or so, I suppose, soon after your lungs

And liver had found themselves on the calling-round

Of the cancer, and your legs had just begun

Their own campaign against the gaining ground

Of gravity, you raged and railed and found

A fallen forest branch from which you pared

That staff, became a mad Moses bound

For the mountain’s shrouded summit, where

You’d cut a deal the rest of us could share.

Failing to scale the heights required to trade

At such a level, you turned your eyes from the peak,

Then cussed your way to us back down the unmade

Road. No more prophet vowing to break

The timbers in the door of divinity and leak

The contents to the waiting room below;

Instead, a softer strategy to sneak

Round into that other place through the slow

Decomposition of the self from stern to bow.

And so we watched – there was no other choice –

And waited while you acted the tactic out:

The rough whisper took residence in your voice,

Making a confidence from an intended shout.

Your once big bones now found themselves without

The swagger of their cladding, ribbing the air

Like the beams of a sand-locked hulk about

To dissappear below the land. And there,

In your expanded eyes, the knowing stare

Of plain audacity. We reminisced

About your battle thirty years before,

And how it was you very nearly pissed

Your whole life down the wall, and how the war

With alcohol went twenty years or more;

It took you with its flame-hands by the neck,

This strange alliance of flood and fire which poured

Only to parch, and floated only to wreck,

And laid you out on your own self’s lowest deck.

Rising back from that, you seemed to say,

Made any other after-lives a breeze.

On the Sunday, towards the middle of the day,

You muttered something about the need to seize

The fire, the one which eradicates all these

Stains of coloured glass from the white radiance.

We listened hard but missed the rest; the trees

Leaned over towards us in a chance

Gust of wind that caused the leaves to dance

Briefly against the glass, and freeze. Eventually,

We heard a breath go looping in but then

Stopping, like a pulled thread snagging. We

Waited for the motion to start again

In just the way it always had done when

Nudged along by your large insistent heart.

We all exhaled but you. I heard Amen.

I think I felt impressed by the sheer art

Of bringing off your most demanding part.

Here we stand in what you called this squalid

Squatted property, this illusory state

Of stone and scalding tears and too un-solid

Flesh while you, presumably, went straight

Into the proper light of your real estate,

And are even now regaling Jung

With evidence of his rightness, and your great

Role in the triumph of Spiritus Contra Spiritum,

Your staring out the blaze to kingdom come.

Off into the heat your body goes,

Flowers and all. The motored curtain draws.

Silence again, like just before your shows.

And then this sound, the first smacks of applause.

It grows and swells and spreads and turns to roars.

Believe me, this was wholly unrehearsed.

And next the calls for more, and now encores,

While you, so bashful now, have gone head-first

To the fire for which you really had such thirst.

What were we crying for, in the absence

Of one last, positively final bow?

Were we expecting you to recondense

Your form from dust to demonstrate how

It’s done, and smile, and say “That’s all for now.” ?

Or were we calling for the more we find,

Or hope to find, beyond the immediate brow,

Along the interior way that has still to wind?

Or did we just wail at being left behind?

I might be back in the room from which you passed,

Sheet-anchored to the bed, proudly foundering.

Summer leaves eavesdrop against the glass,

Taking inventory of the various things

Piled here by memory: plastic-armoured kings,

High-hung velvet drapes of mauve and mange,

Magic, self-surrender, shadows, wings.

The sound of the neighbouring room comes into range.

We hear the noise of nothing, and find it strange.