Sunday, January 8, 2012

Far away time

In that far, far away time

there were no trauma counsellors.

So when the woman drowned on the beach, we had to deal with it as best we could.

It wasn't a dramatic drowning;

she appeared to have fallen forward

and gone on breathing water

until the end.

Her companions hastened

to reassure us, or themselves:

she was just out of hospital,

heart trouble, had been filled

with delight at the day's outing,

drowning could well have been

her favoured choice of death.

I don't know how my brother

received this bromide. After all,

he was the one who brought her in,

laid her face down on the stones,

turned her head to the left

and knelt beside her

unavailingly pushing down

on her rigid torso,

listening for the first gasp of breath.

I remember standing beside her

but not her body

being moved from the beach,

nor our walk up the hill to lunch,

nor even whether we told our mother.

But I do recall waking in the night

to my sister's silent sleeping

and having to stand by her bed

until I could actually hear her gentle

in and out breath.

I do not know how my brother

coped with his futile contact

with dead flesh.

We never talked about it again,

didn't go in for “do you remember

the time when the woman drowned?”,

any more than we discussed our

shared distress at the cramped

quarters given to the big cats

at the visiting circus.

Emotions were not to be displayed.

For all that, a few years later

when I first encountered Shakespeare's

Mutability sonnets, I responded totally:

his fear that time would come

and take his love away; the fragility

of “summer's honey breath”.

I felt them on my pulse.

Would counseling have smoothed

such awareness away so

I would no longer have acknowledged

that life was transient, that death

could come unbidden even

while I was swimming in

a calm sea, under a summer sky.

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