Hospital room. While my uncle and I tried
to tend to my grandmother’s needs, we heard
behind the curtain divider
a granddaughter and grandson discuss
and how the west has avoided death
while the east (both fresh from travel) takes
the wiser path, rubbing
face and hands in body ash
and staring death’s immanence in the eyes.
“What a drain on public money,” they decried,
to describe their grandmother’s dying days.
I fetched pillows and poured water into
polystyrene cups (she never drank from those
when she had a choice)
and tried to stare my last enemy down.
Where is your victory? Where’s your sting?
All I could muster as prayer was, Come.
And what have we done?
The year will pass regardless, yet
opportunity arises now to ask
if our deeds have sown death or life,
has sprouted from our dying deeds.
Dying, however my breath may deceive,
I must ask if my hands have turned to tend
my own grave, or a garden; if my steps have bent
towards the straight, or the bent,
roads towards our inevitable death.
With clenched fist or cross taken, all of us walk
towards a year that, one year, will not renew.
And so in these dying, flowering
let the last things be our first things
as we tend our new year.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
You’ll be glad to hear your tree is sprouting leaves
and in the midst of blossom, tiny fruit.
Your little brother’s learning all the names
for almond, flowering gum and bottlebrush;
yet you by now will know far more than this.
The grass is thriving; this week we had it mown
and all about’s the fragrance of fresh lawn.
All this you’ve never seen: the buzzing stuff
of life, but life for us waiting like
an almond tree, a hopeful Jesse-shoot.
The bursting things of spring have nothing on
the harvest feast that sings where you now dwell.
We never knew your smile, yet this we’ve known:
for every tear we’ve shed, a seed is sown.
I did not see them go there with their flame
to burn the city’s heart, the city’s bones.
I did not see the past fall down in ash
or hear the cries of covenant in pain.
I did not hear the gongs of history clash
or see foe-cities’ gods fight in the square.
Yet in me is a city dead, and groans
of all our cities lost and yet to come.
In all our homes are ghosts, and everywhere
are souls displaced from homes, and everyone
has lost their way from some-where to where-else;
I do not know their places or their ways,
yet in me is the city’s call, the pulse
of beggars in a dust-heap singing praise.
If what Christians believe is true, then Gide knows now what all of us will know before long. What is it that he knows? What is it that he sees?
(Francois Mauriac, “The Death of Andre Gide”)
Was it better by far to be wily, in the end?
Maintaining to the last where Montaigne had failed,
were you applauded for living your art?
The wager – held firm to the last –
carried you further than most will willingly go.
Even Sartre, expelling God to the margins of thought,
rejected your logic, your choice of your filth.
Was your choice for all? In clenching your jaw,
you made God relevant, at every call.
Headphone-bound, children sing as I round the corner.
The nonchalance of late morning traffic greets
a flutter of flight – black and white feathers –
painting the street in uncontrolled strokes:
a rise, a swoop, a leap, a fall.
Ballet-graced, yet deadly in its implications:
too wild, too close to the turmoil of wheels.
Cars persevere. Children sing:
Veni Domine, et noli tardare.
O come; no delay. Around the tyre-tracks of the day,
a magpie fights death as it flies.
The bee is not afraid of me,
I know the butterfly.
Busy as themselves, they bustle
in explosion of hum and hive.
Contained, less fearsome, they pattern out their piece of wall
in splendour of black and Emperor’s yellow.
Intricate weaving, a tight-packed fabric of sweetness and protection,
this is nothing to startle at.
Yet children cannot play with them or with each other,
and deathly stings signal the sickness, not create it.
Until lion and lamb are united,
and babies can rest in the serpent’s nest,
until we have no fear of bees killing or dying,
until then we wait, and watch glory from afar.
Beauty still buzzes and demands our sight.