‘Come, memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.’
Donald Justice, ‘On the Death of Friends in Childhood’
I think of you now for the first time
in about five times as many years
as you actually lived, so uncomplainingly,
they always said, as they do of the dead.
Your name shadows me
as we shadowed your small coffin,
toggle-straight in our uniforms –
why, I have no idea, for my memories
are all school ones, not Scouting:
playing at tents or precipitous pranks,
crossing perilous roped bridges
in front of elders and getting stuck halfway,
intimations of later strandings.
Not so much your face (smooth though it was,
olive, Scandinavian?) as your manner
comes back to me, masculine
as your forthright name (‘Ahoy for Murray Hoy’
we chanted). Yes, manly somehow,
though you were nine or ten when you
eventually died, shunning the ‘bald of hell’,
the titans of accomplishment.
Short though you were,
shorter than I and most of the boys
(though not Beverley Wattle, who shot up
like the skyscrapers we traced in exercise books) –
what made you so precocious,
gifted you with such gravitas? Was it Death
they told you about in private classes,
the notion spared us as we pecked
each other behind saplings
and practised lethal samurai attitudes?