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