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.