Half-Life

Even now, I remember well the half-hatched ordeals
Of that autumnal evening; beginning not with
Someone’s finding of the student,
(Not a friend, but a caretaker or cleaner),

And then the conjectures revolving into rumours,
Around the cold corridors of dormitories;
And again, the next day, nameless officers confirm and
Light up a truth which quickly dissolves

Like a tooth in a tumour, or a blinking eye
In the dark damp womb of our creations. Self-stopped
Like half a clock at the 19th hour,
Nothing more to absorb, confused, alone.

It did not begin when some other freshers planted candles
With a different future’s blossom, some flowers, some cards
Expressing half-life-sorrows, blocks of bewilderment
For a young man they neither addressed nor uncovered.

Twenty-two years have now slipped through that noose,
Twenty-two years of what-ifs and the bruises and confusion
Which do not diminish in those poor parental hearts,
A dominion where dear grandchildren are not born,

Where the extremities of life contract and reduce,
Where no one cries from their jaws for sadder times and joys,
Where a disease tore into graduation photographs and
Glasses of champagne once filled, left altogether untouched;

A thesis which unlocked the shift and pulleys of the universe
Unpublished; and an unmarried wife who wed her lesser wish,
(Died ten years later at his hands, discovered there in plastic bags
By tracker dogs, over the hills at Nightingale Woods).

Decades later, a specific chair was not moved into
A specific space at a celebration of alumni as they gobble port
And profiteroles in prestigious campus chambers,
Because no one there remembered, despite those dreams

Which govern and gnaw, without a name there is no lore,
They shifted on their feet, exchanging nouns and verbs,
They noticed people who whetted their mouths
Eating grapes and canapes in shades of green and purple.

No, it started many lives before, when someone somewhere
Did not say a vital word, a necessary term, a contract with Life
Left unassigned, unrehearsed, over and over until unlearnt.
Outside, Australia is burning.

And so we hurtle on, now unrepentant exiles of that time,
Post-internet, where anything seems accessible,
We stand still in illusions of luminous currents,
In the vacuum of chronically forgetful republics.