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Justin Lowe

Owls in the Gutters

 

            for Micky Dayman

 

I.

 

this is only a beginner’s guide:

for the more advanced there is Bach

and that autumn leaf that tickled Bashō’s snoring nose.

 

item one:

do not roost in some dark corner

keeping guard over your cold body.

 

circumstances have rendered you lighter than air,

use this fact to your advantage, friend,

you are celestial now.

 

slowly, without your even noticing,

you will forget whose body that is

with the tag on its toe,

 

forget everything, even how to breath,

even forget that you are dead,

which is when you will start to loom large over your void.

 

death is best left to the living, friend.

you are the glint in the silt now

of the slow wend.

 

 

II.

 

sad is not an epiphany,

sad is not some underline in a diary:

sad is just sad.

 

sad growls what do you want?

me or ten years of lead-limbed mornings?

 

sad says a lot but slowly,

like the ground beneath us.

 

sad makes a point of fluffing the pillows

that your head can barely rise from.

 

sad says the tap drips

as a cold fact not a plaint,

 

pips along like a child

chasing gulls in some old Super-8.

 

sad nods her head in her sleep

as though confirming a whisper passed on.

 

 

III.

 

there will be

no more poems

friend

 

the words

once thought infinitesimal

have just about

 

run out

 

these

are the last

precious few

 

the void

has crept up

to the wire

 

we must

hold steady while

the darkness mills around

 

for

when you left us

you left us speechless

 

 

IV.

 

since the funeral

my shadow has become

a sort of pale echo, a limp tethered thing.

 

I noticed it first that morning

as Lindsay and I killed an hour

before the 11 a.m. service.

 

we were strolling down the rows of smudged headstones,

this limp form trailing reluctantly behind,

as though some dark ink had been spilled.

 

Lindsay’s beside it seemed so bold and so true,

like one of your stories,

while mine seemed to be saying dive into me, don’t worry.

 

so, the cemetery gulls duly obliged,

only to rise again sharply

with those dry crumbs that always catch in the throat,

 

water the eyes.

 

 

V.

 

I can no longer judge happiness,

other people’s or my own.

 

the nature of the fire on that distant ridge,

its scale and intent.

 

not that I don’t believe

that happiness exists.

 

I know it does

because it casts a shadow.

 

it’s just that happiness has always been

the simplest of constructs:

 

someone smiles they are happy,

someone laughs they catch the ear of the gods.

 

 

VI.

 

aged eight

I glimpsed my first widow’s smile,

 

a pale ember

in the cold ash of whispers and grimaces,

 

the laughing priest

never far from the banquet table,

 

all the pretty flowers

bursting with colour around the closed casket

 

where the dead always seemed to be telling some office joke.

 

I would run off with the other children

to play amongst the headstones, scratching my head,

 

listening to the breeze

sighing in the thistles as I hid:

 

the longer they took to find you

the happier it made you.

 

 

Justin Lowe lives in a house called “Doug” in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. His ninth collection is due out through Puncher & Wattman in October 2024, and he also has a novel doing the rounds of publishers Down Under.

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