WHAT DID YOU SEE JUST BEFORE YOU COMMITTED SUICIDE?
in memory of Heidi Clow
What did you see just before you committed suicide?
Did the snake mesmerize the bird that used to sing inside
your rib cage, turn it to stone, dis the lyrics of its song
with a cosmic hiss that underwhelmed all other sound?
Did you die from the inside out or the outside in?
Was there a light that summoned you to the end of the tunnel
like candles on the hillsides of Blue Skies, or did you
step out on stage in the glare of a bare lightbulb
in an interrogation room where you finally answered
what you were keeping secret from yourself? I won’t ask you
to forgive the candour of this if it’s cruel. I’ve been
the kind of demonic fool the earth opens up
and swallows from time to time, so I know
death has its jewels as well as life and when the dark energy
expands your eyes like space, you can see them shine
like wolf’s eyes in the black mirror of a midnight lake.
And I’ve always found the brightest diamonds of clarity
that could cut through everything like the clear light of the void
in the darkest, deepest diamond mines of my igneous soul.
And I remember the cotton candy clouds of the pink angels
before I jumped from paradise, but that was so many shrouds ago
I’ve learned to keep my fire at a distance from inflammable hair-dos
that have been backcombed and hairsprayed too much.
I don’t graft a crutch to the tree of knowledge
and expect it to bloom. And even when the moon blossoms
on the dead branch, what fruit ever comes of it?
I don’t think you ever liked me much, but if push
had ever come to shove I would have thrown my weight
like the mass of a black hole on your side of the argument.
My heart was too much of a stump to efoliate
in the fires of spring and I was autumns away
from the gates of the garden you brought to the door
with flaming angels and untempered swords
that weren’t hard enough to fall upon yet,
but you were in love with my room mate for awhile
and I gave up my studio to the two of you
so you could both work the guile and wile and style
of your respective arts like alchemical spells upon each other
while I retired to the living room like a benign sunset
with a smile on its face over the darkening hills
to re-read Spengler’s Decline of the West
intrigued like a ghost at a seminar-seance
by the morphology of knowledge forms based on metaphors.
And I remember you coming over once,
bombed on Fireball Whiskey, grabbing the neck
of the half-finished bottle like an unexploded artillery shell
and falling backwards over a table into a large rubber plant
as you collapsed like a laughing inferno that bounced back
in adolescent tears as we picked you up like a circus tent
or an emergency parachute that didn’t open in time,
covered in potting soil, as you apologized over-crucially
about the slashes and striations that scored a painting of mine
I finally repaired years later with scars of pthalo blue after you died.
And I thought of you as a high wire act on your spinal cord that night
as I mixed the luminosity and values of the hues
on a palette that seemed like a small, sacrificial altar to you
of my grief and affection in the crazy wisdom of a human insight
into the nature of the tragic follies of love and life and how
we endear loss to ourselves like wounds, like graves, like flowers
we inflict upon the heart in such a way they’ll never close
because the sorrow is what binds you to us
like a rose to the thorns in our bloodstream.
And then all your friends came over in a squall of concern
as Spengler and I went and stood by the large bay windows
and looked out into a vast night we knew we’d never understand
as you poured your beauty and passion, darkness and doubts
out on the couch in a flashflood of tears and alcohol, realization and laughter.
Only ever saw you in passing after that and sometimes
you’d say hello back and sometimes you wouldn’t
as you seemed embedded in some kind of tempestuous trance
oblivious to the world as you danced around your own fire
deep inside, though I never thought it was any of my business
to guess what it was you were praying for or whether
you were firewalking a warpath into the military as I later
heard you did and thought how strange that such a dancer
should want to learn to march and even Spengler didn’t have an answer.
Or I’d watch you from the Perth Restaurant, strutting your stuff
up Gore Street like a model on a runway, range-finding
the effects of your cosmetics and high heels and auburn hair
on an encampment of your boyfriends absent without leave.
But I never saw you, rare for the young women of this town,
being led around by a donkey like an eagle on a leash
and by that I knew the intensity of your vulnerable independence
and the savage innocence of a passionate heart in the wilderness.
Then, I forget who told me, but in a single sentence, you were dead.
An ice storm had shattered the rose like a crashing chandelier
and blunted all its thorns like those stilettoes you used to wear
The dance, the strut, the march was over. Late frost
on an early metaphor for the springtime coming into its prime.
But I need to know, when you fell into the black hole
did it turn into the fountainmouth of a white one on the other side
of a whole new universe that hadn’t grown as old and blind as this one?
Teach me the signs so I can rearrange the stars in time
like new astrolabes and starmaps to keep the Milky Way
from turning into the Great Barrier Reef that rips the hull
out of the lifeboat of the moon as it passes over
the brain coral and starmud of other shipwrecked minds
that put to sea looking for salvation in the oceans of the rose
only to return like salvage from the storm washed up
on these isolated shores of haunted islands in the mindstream.
Unborn, unperishing, I believe we’re all here indelibly
because you can’t pour the universe out of the universe
or where’s it going to go, and since the whole is in every part,
that includes you and I and everyone in one way or another
eternally. Is it so, Heidi? Do we move like waterclocks
from world to world, our eyes evaporate into the light
because whatever form we take, fireflies or lightning,
we are, perennially, the shining of our own unique insight
by which the light is known by the light we cast upon it?
That we’re the light by which the stars are known
and those immensities in which we hold them deep inside,
as now we do you who have added yourself to the whole
so expansively we must grow like space to keep up with you
and the way we humanize the unknown, as the stars do
like lanterns entering a dark room, is to embrace it as intimately
as you have like the available dimension of a future
we’ve all been moving into like supernovas and galaxies
from the beginningless beginning of all things, tomorrow
like yesterday, here, now, as you are, and have always been
as if the history of seeing were the biography of the light
that blossoms in each of us like wildflowers in the starfields,
or in every wild rose, as you were, the incarnation of a passionate insight,
even in its passage in the autumn when the rosaries
of the Canada geese call as they’re crossing the moon
high overhead, transmigrating the souls of the dead
to the thresholds of new constellations hidden under our eyelids
like Venus in the Pleiades near Aldebaran just before dawn?
No death or birth in the moment, like time in a dream,
how can here and now where we all abide with the stars
and the planets and their shepherd moons ever be gone?
It’s night now, Heidi, back in Perth here on earth and it’s raining.
I’m watching the ripples in the puddles playing water like music
all up and down Foster Street from my upstairs apartment window.
And how the streetlights are dancing in their garish gypsy scarves
barefoot to the rhythm. As I imagine you’re doing right now
among similar wavelengths just out of reach of my eyes
Though I can see you so clearly when I see you with my heart
as I do the stars and the willows and the waterbirds
down by the Tay River when I stand on one bank of life
and look up at the other like the far shore of the Milky Way
wheeling like the girandole of the spiral arm of a starfish.
And though I thought of putting poppies and wheat upon your grave,
remembering you were a sailor back in my hometown,
and hope is a lifeboat that keeps us all from drowning in our tears,
it reminds me of you somehow, and I make a wish upon it
like the star of Isis the ancient sailors used to tattoo
on the left palm of their hands to make it through the storm
and had, somehow, come through the squalls of time like you
there in the heights, a water-sylph of the radiance
shining on like that star just to the right of midnight,
breaking through these clouds of unknowing, like Heidi Clow
looking down upon us all on the nightwatch,
whispering like the carillon of the rain, three bells and all’s well.