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Saturday, 16 March 2013

Death Poems (Just a Light)


Frogs chant,

way out in the night,

like the old lady called Millie

who paces the corridor and cries

“Help me!  help me!”-

a plover disturbed from the tussocks

at midnight.

“Nurse!  nurse!” she wails,

day and night,

her voice reedy and rusted.

She is as fragile as a dogwood skeleton:

dry and brittle, and fine as tannin-stained lace.



Once, she almost flew back to her room-

glided on an arabesque of flamenco,

lifted on a warm updraft of memories of Rio Tinto

with her wild boy cousins in hot pursuit;

told how the gang of cousins had daily pushed

her wicker baby carriage around the old headstones,

so that she had learnt to read in a cemetery.

She would coach me to say:

Soy guapa!  Soy linda!

and I went along with it,

just to make her smile her beaky smile.


She broke her pelvis, they said, and

during the night, no-one could sleep

for her screams.

I heard it some days-

like the sound of a seagull

high up on a cliff-face

being buffeted by a westerly wind.


I would go to her, when I could,

and marvel at the unnatural fragility of her wrist.

I’m so ashamed of myself! she once said.

The day they moved her,

I heard her wailing like a banshee

in the corridor.  They pushed her bed along;

it was covered in a nest of cardigans and scarves

and it looked like a drowned albatross corpse

tangled in flotsam.


We found her room- she and I.

I put her to bed

and pulled the vinyl armchair to the window.

You’ll be able to sit here, I told her…

you’ll be able to see that patch of sky

and those two trees,

pointing hopelessly to the crowns

of two peppermint gums in the distance.


They told me she fell.

She broke her neck.

She’s sedated, now,

and her hands are trussed

to the sides of the bed.



Home again;

the place stinks of dead.

I discover a rat

under my bed.

It is light as paper

and leaves puffs of soft fur and skin

strewn around the floor like bulrush fluff.

The cast has been cut from my arm,

the limb a corpse belonging to someone else,

the muscles wasted, tendons rigid with a kind of dying.

Layers of skin waft through the stale air,

like desiccated snowflakes, defying gravity-

a waterless snowstorm in a dry and airless globe.

If this is death, I tell myself…

then it is as weightless as a dandelion clock;

as painless as a dead bird’s flightbone,

hollow and full of sunlight.



I picked up a cicada with one skew wing-

it was not an empty cicada,

but a full one;

something inside it was as dense as a sugar-pea.

Its eyes, I noticed, were brown glass beads,

and behind its transformer-like head

there was a velvet band, lichen green.

Its willow-veined wings

were filled in with isinglass

that crackled like paper when you poked a bit

and rearranged to see whether anything

was breaking out of that small crack at the tip of the tail.

The tan, articulated limbs flexed,

like the furry legs of a guru, in fact,

three little gurus

sitting in each others’ bony laps.


One morning soon,

there will only be an empty cicada shell,

crunchy, like a gum leaf;

its legs, splayed twigs.

Meanwhile, we wait.



Yesterday, Mrs Roberts said goodbye to her husband,

after forty-six years.

“He was my best friend,” she said.

Mrs Roberts had to say goodbye in a makeshift chapel

at one end of the big dining-room;

the chairs were the sticky blue vinyl ones

that scream incontinence;

and there were two big ugly vases of fake flowers

scrounged from the corridor.

A plate of yesterday’s scones were iced

with a jaundiced yellow

and served up for afternoon tea,

and the undertakers greasily eyed the staff

who came to give their condolences,

for what they were worth.

Two of the ladies appeared and sat through the fifteen minutes,

but they didn’t really know whose coffin it was.


There were just Mrs Roberts,

and her daughter from England,

the only two touched by any grief.

Having knocked back some instant coffee,

the slitty-eyed priest explained that the two mourners

could follow the coffin as far as the store-room doors.

After that, the undertakers would continue on alone,

across the gravel between a blue shipping container

and some wheelie-bins and builders’ utes.


Mrs Roberts’ daughter walked with her,

as far as the double doors.

The undertakers slipped through,

with Mr Roberts draped in the Union Jack.

I watched the backs of the two women

as the double doors closed.


was announced in duplicate,

as the heavy doors met and clicked shut.



Too early for work,

I drive to the esplanade

just to watch the waves.

Part of me thinks this is a waste of time-

not going for a purposeful stride

along the hard, wet edge,

but just sitting in my car for five minutes

with the window down-

watching the water breathe the air.


There are no waves.

There is just the faint swell and shrink

of the water’s breathing.

It is even too early for the seagulls.

All there is,

is the bright silver-white resting on the surface;

the silver-white glinting.


I let my eyes open to the silver-white memory-

the silver-white shifting god-thing.

No wonder people talk about God as a pure light, I think.

Separate sparks of growing-shrinking light

reach toward me,

like the burning phosphorous spittings from a sparkler.


Finally, I turn the key in the ignition to leave for work.

It is not God, I know that.

It is just a light.

I am glad.


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