In memory of Kathleen Mary Savage, 1929-2020
Beside thistled paddocks I make my way,
sun nestled in grey,
faint light peeking through.
These paddocks contain
the means of my flight,
and when I arrive where the fruit trees grow
I shall see what's lost of home.
When final breath is breathed in the night
and what faces we knew
we scarce recognise,
when all that we've lost
is in memories of home,
we will return, though some
And when the clouds part into light,
shall we see what the morning brings?
A grandmother young,
a conquering king?
In thistled paddocks,
still tied to ground,
the flight has not shown
what one day will be shown.
But this we know: the fighting shall cease
and when we set foot once more on ground
we shall be young among apple trees
and love upon love will return.
Here death is a vulture:
devours face and memory,
claws at carrion, feeds on fullness
like life was flesh,
fit for the taking.
But life is a million
intangible moments, all
dazzling and passing
in Eden-sunk grief
and Life won't go silently,
while Death - old materialist -
denies Life ever was.
We have seen it, and held it.
We bear its witness.
We stroke its unresponsive hand
and pray to beg it back.
Normally a Saturday ritual, it seemed
we should mark this day with pancakes too,
a breakfast-table recollection
of how feasting and fasting so often cohere.
Even, I thought as I mixed egg and milk
the night before, even mark the way
that air fills the batter like
pockets of life, as these very
ordinary, meager elements of that life -
egg, milk, flour - are mingled
and Spartan fare turns to luxury.
Yet how to explain to those for whom
life's a constant grazing table that
sometimes, though luxury's just
a whisking bowl away from our grasp,
it might be meet to go without,
to join the cousin in the wilderness
with camel's hair and the desert's lean pantry,
to turn our hearts to the sight of Life.
And how to explain to my own heart,
so accustomed to gorging and hairshirts alike,
that all is gift, when the breakfast ends and
the drive to work begins,
when Adam's curse taints feast, and fast
is sometimes only a puff of air?
How to tell the shriven soul
to take the fast and the feast in turn,
to sit at table and taste this grace
as death is at work, yet life is too,
as life is at work in you.
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.