Amber sand melts through warped fingers, cracked and calloused, baring the lifeline of a time-stained palm. Pink cuticles tampered by teeth, and nails. The hourglass empties. Silent. Breathless now. Like your lungs, infiltrated by slivered bone and the drowning creep of blood. Moving swiftly. Currents. Her scream echoes, an ocean away, like riverside shouting matches by the old water treatment plant, roaring at the graffiti clad walls of the trembling overpass, our push bikes, their neon streamers dangling from worn rubber handlebars, buried in the long-grass with the singing mosquitoes, levitating above the oil-slick skin of stagnant water. Underneath the purple September sky, of harvest moons that haunt my memory, like forgotten ghosts trapped in hollow walls of antique manors, and of fading summer winds blowing off the lake, filling midnight sails, whispering your name through the sinewy branches of washed-out willow trees, casting their sombre shadows on the shoreline of the Grenadier, roots protruding recklessly through the concrete path that breaks in fault lines at measured intervals. You rode past them and they watched you go, without warning, without a single word, toward the crushing light, and the still-warm pavement. A brown paper bag delivered by a detective (tweed suit, buzz cut, bronze badge) like a vessel for Chinese take away, grease stained, and breathing steam. And two watches found on the front lawn, origins unknown (one stopped at 10.43). Her bent-over body dissolves into a pool of silent tears, gathering like liquid gemstones, soaking into the hardwood, disappearing into a black-hole crevice from which no dust, or light, or glimmer of hope can escape. (An abyss of perfect non-existence) A loophole in the infinite silk-spun fabric of the swirling, waltzing cosmos, its astronomical thread, stretched and yanked and pulled, unravelled by solar winds and gravity, and the furious momentum of inhospitable planets (no life there) born into molten clouds of fire and gas and dust, many thousands of skyscrapers high, erupting in star systems still unknown. They leave thumbprints for forensic physicists of the future to uncover, and name (47 Pegasus A, or 18 Cassia IV) while spewing asteroids and matter, and debris; jettisons blissfully travelling through the darkness with wayward uncertainty, lost, falling. (Are you among these intergalactic voyagers?) Behind her, under the orange archway, its cracked plaster, like a statue, and a shadow, the lion in his den stands stoic and uncertain. Scared. Hushed. I’m an observer of this curious scene: a journalist taking meticulous mental notes, transcribing silence, listening to the ticking of clocks, and the thumping of blood-rushed hearts. Parental frailty exposed, trespassing strictly forbidden; (For months after you’ve gone, she’ll sit in her bedroom, on her twenty-something-year-old mattress with its squeaky springs, writing by hand to everyone you knew, crafting in her perfect kindergarten-teacher cursive, notes of thanks; recording memories, thoughts. Keeping you alive. And he’ll forever think about what he could have done: You’d complained the brakes were giving you trouble, and he’d said he’d get around to it … Your cold-skinned face staring up from that ply-wood box [not a coffin] and the stiffness of your crumbled, broken body, limbs unhinged, which they – with their latex-gloved hands, medical taxidermy kits and glossy magazine make-up artistry – tried to restore into something akin to a brother, a son. He’ll see your chest concealed by the black leather jacket we provided, and will remember your bottom half, too vulgar to display. He’ll regret the arguments and insults, and the disapproval of your lifestyle. And he’ll go on, passing lonely hours in the darkness of the city’s underground tunnels, with only his thoughts and fears to keep him company through day- and night-long journeys. And when he retires, he’ll go on tinkering with machines, and building things the way he used to, keeping his hands busy, his mind forever distracted.) In this kitchen-turned-tomb, the clarity of hindsight stabs at the subconscious, a dagger, plunged through flesh and tissue and strained muscle, to its leather-wrapped handle. I can still taste the bitter cherry wine you toasted, that night, before you left, in plastic cups. It lingered on your tongue, your throat. Danced, upon your final breath, that sacred oxygen, captured, and released, like the green frogs (Rana clamitans) we’d chase through the bulrushes and shallow streams of that summer cottage in Muskoka. You danced with lily pads over your nipples, and sang ‘i-koo-bay-beee’ , and splashed, and we’d dive into the murky lake water and get lost in its eerie depths, until our lungs, near bursting, forced us to surface, to gasp the sunlight, and soak up the precious air. (Those were the days.) Our golden retriever; pecan pies, and butter tarts, and raspberries from the roadside. Reading paperback novels in the hammock, and swimming to the island under dad’s watchful eye, as he paddled alongside with calculated, strong-armed J-strokes … Now aircrafts crack the skies like thunder, and push through wispy two-faced clouds on blue Saturday’s, reminding me I’m a world-away. An escape artist, fled like a fugitive to a distant paradise, hiding in a lover’s comforting embrace. Safe. And secure. And yet, her scream still calls to me, and I can see your face as it once was. In the portrait that hung in the bedroom, of you and I, young boys in blue suits with bowl cuts, uncomfortably sharing one of the old white lawn chairs (before the legs rusted and they disappeared beneath the deck). I imagine us, jockeying for position, while an unknown painter (a neighbour perhaps, from before I can remember) captures our sun-soaked faces, freckles and forced smiles, with careful brushstrokes, asking mum, all the while, to keep us still. Built fictions turn slowly into histories, and ease with glacial steadiness into truths. Remembering the boy is easier, I suppose, than remembering the man that never really got to be. So now, you stay frozen, in the amber sands of the emptied hourglass, settling between my curled toes on far away beaches, lost to turbulent surf, drifting, and free, and right on time. Your dreams scribbled in notepads, and on napkins, and postcards, are revelatory relics. You knew before it happened, I suspect, and perhaps all along. When the curtain opened, and you saw the light, growing brighter, you were ready, and you spoke, and it was the end. And we all listened.
The Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets is made possible by the support of the Malcolm Robertson Foundation.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
Subscribe | Renew | Donate November 9–16 to support progressive literary culture for another year – and for the chance to win magnificent prizes!