'Good poems and good funerals are stories well told.'
For one evening you were my brother.
We talked about poems
and titles for poems
and how the stars moved around the Earth.
You loved the woman
I loved from afar. New to this
I held my tongue
and as we waited for her
in my rented room
we formed a bond for life,
out of which you were banged
next day by a car.
I remember sitting on the roof with you
eating porridge; your beard and motorbike;
the reckless laughter
painting walls at night.
And, of course, two days dead,
when you appeared at the foot of my bed
all light, like some silent blessing.
You were my first Death.
I hardly knew you,
but your ringing voice
and pure musicianship
accompanying me on stage
cast some light to see you by.
You walked, I think, where Angels walk,
having to see the terrible bright face
of what was true: love and death
like hot wires round the skin.
Your scars were real.
And then I heard you'd made life simpler,
ending the tumult -
you'd died, hung
by your own hand.
I threw stones into the pond.
Now, I listen to your music sometimes,
grateful that your voice can still be heard.
When the darkness comes
the light of song is what I turn to -
your frail flame has not, just yet, gone out.
When they came for you, the Angels struck
with sudden fury
as your bashed head met the pole
the car wrapped itself around: your son died, too.
I never saw an emptier stretch of road,
nor one so desolate. Death, it seems,
finds its natural place. We found
your jacket in the boot, and saw the blood
that was yours still spattered on the car -
its squashed frame a tormented mouth crying.
Your red dancing shoes
were somewhere else - no longer moving,
no longer singing to us
of the lithe frame spun so casually
on those long, long legs. In all the years
since, I've not been able to swallow them.
This is how it is: a hard death lingers;
shattered hearts never quite re-form;
the limp and scar are visible
as our lives run out.
They say its time that heals, but I don't think so -
how do you heal Death?
Like the spider in the corner, it sits there
and doesn't move - we live around it.
The love that grew from your ashes
is gone now. Your daughter, grown,
I do not know.
I put a notice in the paper each five years.
And in the darkness of the longer nights
your absence is a living thing
inside me. Yeats said it:
all is '...changed, changed utterly.'
8 September 2009