A Red Rhododendron

i.m. Ivan Hrvatin

She has signed the forms in her diffident hand,

sent his suits to the Salvos;

someone in this gap time, from a distance

has given her a rhododendron. 

Still in florist’s paper it stands

in the darkening hallway, a ferris wheel

of tiny red gondolas on the rim of colour

salvage from the porcelain cold of mourning’s reaches.

 

Fill your eyes, it seems to say,

fill your eyes with colour

a tinnitus of air, sunset’s last glimmer

a prospect that the dead keep us in their memory

as once it was our departures that they felt the more keenly:

kids pushed into the car, the thermos, that cursory wave,

terse focus on rehearsed distances

to playground reports from neat, deserted towns.

 

Perhaps it’s in this colour, this warmest of colours,

that we appear to them: as if, in leaving,

they had jettisoned all other hues

but this one, almost too intense to be seen,

as they look out and forwards at us from albums

in frame after frame, asking:

who have you made joyous for your standing on this earth?

 

I allowed myself to answer that there was a choice

between one kindness and another

or one heartache and another.

I allowed myself to ask: what does it matter?

 

But if it doesn’t matter, who are we

that this descant of the spectrum

should so dispel our capabilities?

 

It should be possible to prise open the covers of his life

look in the index under ‘r’ for red

see grapes he crushed every year,

the stained press, barrels and demijohns

the car he drove for 600 kilometres without refueling, just to see if he could

the piano accordion with red panels he’d take out when he was happy

bits of tunes he played, really, for himself.

In the distance he has already travelled

— face less clear, voice less heard, hands less held —

it’s still just possible to make out that gesture

in each case the same slight duck of the head:

listening for fermentation, a fan belt, a chord

and his nod of approval.

 

And should that colour fill our eyes —

a car that, for a moment, seems about to turn into the driveway,

a dusty bottle half-buried under the house —

as that colour fills our eyes

we know we are remembered.

Quadrant, September 2019