States of Poetry 2016 - Victoria | 'Diary of an Anti-elegist' by A. Frances Johnson

Even poetry dements in the end; fatal attractions to dank earth
and ash albums don't fool or buy time. Poetry cherry-picks
memory for its own ends; yet that's a medicated narcissism for
some. Earnest elegies are often rejected by dogs and children.
Listen to them howl. Voting for life outside of ritual.
I'm on your side; I'm with the hounds and the kids. I won't let elegy
make you over into a bad oil painting, don grief's sack cloth
pantomime.Next time I see you walking down the street, checking
for spot fires in unseasonal autumn heat, light fidgeting up the shape of you
between drunken ghost gums, I will laugh and say:
the death of my father
has not made a poet out of me,
no, not yet.

One thing: If you do the clanking chain and sheet, let it be pure sight gag.
The quiet wit of the dead is yours. We expect nothing less
than theatre-restaurant ghoul. Our task, to entreat you
to turn up late to a Xmas of bad bon-bon jokes
and re-gifts. We will be waiting, in sodden crepe crowns,
drinking from someone else's warm stem glass, rare cooked animals
pressing down on First World intestines. All of us vying
to claim you. When it's too ha-ha or too sad I will bang my glass,
as ageing relatives blow fluoro party whistles,
hoping they'll be first off the sinking ship. Before she jumps,
one loved aunt flushed with booze
and sundowner syndrome, confides en passant:
the death of your father
has not made you a joke teller,
no, not yet.

You chose a plain pine box, authenticated lightness
a clear and quick return. Death's a quick diet in that respect,
though the anorexic spookhouse cheapens –
neither sums you up nor summons you.
Most days, light and lightness refuse to pun.
Meanwhile, daylight's broken projector screens your old movie
in fits and starts, in the shady zones. I guard my ticket jealously,
fighting the light to scratch you out of faded Kodachrome.
Some days I catch sight of you sweeping leaf litter
down the coppery tow paths of late afternoon.
You always put a plant in the earth the moment it was
given to you. Weighted it in. Now I am putting you in,
not as swiftly as you would have liked.
You have no technique I hear you say. Build it up around the bole.
Water it in, pat it down. That way it will flourish.
I laugh and say: the death of my father
has not made a gardener of me,
no, not yet.


A. Frances Johnson

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