Somebody died three houses down
it was the girl – and this is what I want to say –
she was sixteen and could not breathe
air failed to travel its path and floated
just beyond her reach. She could not speak
and worst of all, no one heard her reaching.
Silence is never silence;
darkness and cloud-cover cushion volume
but they are not impassable.
I sat outside; no wind carried the pain
from the home three houses down
yet I felt death by the handful emptying its load
onto my lap, skin absorbing the heavy loss
it spilling from my chest, my eyes
pouring pictures out, tacit words shooting
from my mind. You were there:
in the op-shop hammock hanging
from the longest branch, you near-winter rapt
to be lazing, drenching in the big sun
and a thin grey jumper, there was a bottle
of water resting in the curve of your hip
the novel you had been talking about
sleeping on your full breast, and then
you were dead –
the loss of your breath
felt in the stillness of the leaves.
Death was not death that day
even in autumn, when sunflowers refused to rise,
but something like silence, like darkness
and cloud-cover. Sometimes I reach
for your phantom body as if I am trying not to fall.
I cannot breathe or speak
and this is what I want to say – I might die
the heart ceding to long stretches between go
and go, the brain too tired to dictate to the heart
and no one, my love, no one would hear my reaching.
Heather Taylor Johnson
1 February 2014