Thursday, 5 January 2017

Modus mortis

He died twice – they all did then
when far from home. First in Biscay
with a cruel sou’wester raging,
driving to the hateful shore
untamed by devout entreaty
from a thousand mouths; the sailor
at the straining masthead, no less
than worry-weary wives at home.

And yet he lived, and thrived a while,
an absent presence, butt of jokes
deferred to at a rustic bar
in England, far from rock-bound coasts.
Until a week old paper, creased
with age and use along the way
by hearty travellers’ heedless hands
brought the second shattering death.

A different kind of absence,
the terrible long forgetting.
One expression then another
lost to time. How did he smile?
Was it to left or right, that tilt
of puzzled head? So gradually
the laugh, the voice, the eyes, recede
consumed by dull relentless fire.

We will linger as they did not.
The time-disdaining lens has caught
a thousand moments, faces, ways
of moving. Speech itself preserved.
The sacraments of memory
surround, and comfort – overwhelm,
perhaps, the truth: what’s gone is gone.
A thousand echoes are not one voice.


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