horsehead nebula : nasa
w e, t h e d e b r i
s o f c r e a t i o n
d a r r a n a n d e r s o n
These are his hands that skimmed rounded stones across the bay bouncing
at high speed to knock indolent seagulls off their stoops.
These are his hands that scooped the pot with nothing more than a pair
of one-eyed jacks fearless in a Mexican standoff of nerves before the
sun scattered the nocturnal canal boat poker session to the four winds.
These are his hands that rubbed together waiting for the bus on wintry
mornings because he could never get the hang of roundabouts and three-point-turns.
These are his hands that once were tiny and clutched, with absolute trust,
onto his mother’s finger.
These are his fingers that plucked out Hallelujah, Our Anniversary, Jane
Says on a ridiculously small Spanish guitar and played Martha on what
keys were left on the beat out piano we found discarded in the loft.
This is his nose that pricked up at the smell of fresh blueberry muffins
in the morning,
his stubble that would reappear to his frustration almost instantly after
his feet that planted many a point, so high in the air that it threatened
to go into orbit only to plunge down over the bar like pieces of the
Challenger, in ill-tempered townland Gaelic matches, that trekked moors
and mountain passes and booted down the door of our flat after we bumbled
home through the tide-tossed streets filled with bourbon and laughter,
his lips that fumbled with Spanish verbs and blew onto mugs of hot chocolate
and spread into a smile every single time we met.
These are his lips that parted for me.
These are his ears that listened to John Coltrane and Beck and Astral
This is the tattoo on his chest
meaning ablaze, igniting, in a state of glowing excitement, ardent desire,
The tattoo on his right arm
The tattoo on his right arm
meaning one who drinks.
This is his smooth still-muscular back, which arched when he poured himself
inside of me and curled up alongside me in sleep like cats on a windowsill.
This is his skin that was no stranger to torrential rain and aureate
sun, with small scars from a childhood appendix removal and from repeated
falls out of the canopies of chestnut trees.
These are the eyes that lay in the shade on lazy sunny afternoons and
read Miroslav Holub and Midnight’s Children and strained to decipher
Shakespeare’s tragedies by candlelight,
that watched Night of the Hunter projected up onto the facade of the
block of flats one Indian summer night,
that gazed with sparkling eyes at fireworks, meteor showers and burning
Now the soul is gone and they stare through space without the faintest
flicker of recognition. Black pennies. The lightless eyes of some undiscovered
creature scuttling along the ocean floor.
But once, you should have seen them, they were wild, riotous eyes never
jaded or dimmed but all the more brightened by the hopelessness of things,
the terrible temporariness of everything that makes life so tragic and
urgent and sacred.
Neither the world nor I shall ever hear his voice again.
He was diagnosed in ’94 the week Pulp headlined Glastonbury. I
went for my results three times locked in the tiny shuddering train toilet
before, humming Common People to myself, psyching myself up enough to
go into the clinic.
It was a rain drenched Tuesday.
Down through the thousands of days the tiresome regime of pills, like
handfuls of prayers morning, noon and night, with ridiculous names dreamt
up by sci-fi geeks Protease Inhibitors and Nucleoside Analogues refused
to let us forget. But we allowed the illusion of permanence to creep
in as everyone does. Somebody said once, I can’t remember who,
that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely an incoming train.
One morning he would not get up and I thought he was joking and shaking
him called him a lazy shite but he could not get up.
Pneumonia finished him amongst fresh linen, bowls of grapes from well-wishers
and the smell of TCP. I watched him drown in an air conditioned room.
He spoke still, "Let no one pity me, they have no right to feel
sorry. I am a man and I shall face this." His skin translucent…like
a jellyfish in a rock pool, his bruises multihued like oil on wet tarmac,
his words black and whispering barely inflated by his rattling lungs.
His family did not come.
For ten days he held on bedridden, all drips and sores and catheters
and endless dark hours of nightsweats and insomnia. He was emaciated,
unrecognizable but for his tattoos, his skin stretched like silk across
his bones. I applied lotion to the joints that were protruding through
the flesh and placed glasses of milk to his lips. He was hollowed out
by those cells that somehow had found their way from chimpanzee hunters
in the rainforests of the Congo across rivers and mountains to his room
and multiplied within him.
When he clawed for every breath I held him in my arms as Mary held Jesus
in those marble basilica statues and I could think of no words, no invented
sound that would suffice other than, "Let go, it’s alright,
And a thought came into my head perhaps love is merely grief that death
has not yet caught up with.
I could stay awake no longer and fell asleep sitting upright and I had
the strangest dream that he was laughing and filled with light and shadowless
he embraced me. And when I awoke he was gone. His imprint was still in
the sheets, the drip emptied onto the floor. I screamed for the nurses
without a thought.
They found him three days later, three days I don’t remember like
a black hole in my memory. The will it must have taken not to die there,
to summon the last reserves of energy to rise and walk almost a mile
to the river and wrestle the cold and wade in.
They identified him by his tattoos. Told me on the telephone. At the
hospital one of them patted me on the back, he wore thick white gloves.
I thought of him lying on the porcelain slab the dye in the formaldehyde,
guided through his arteries and veins replacing his blood, making his
body glow, in imitation of life. They sent him to the funeral home. I
brought his suit but they did not use it.
He had worn it the night we had met, out on the balcony and we’d
left the burlesque party and drove up to the mountain lake and we spent
the night under a sky that fell into infinity, deep and fathomless and
he talked madness that we were all the celestial debris of the Big Bang,
the spinning detritus of exploded stars and that some of those stars
above us were already dead that we were seeing what they looked like
before Jesus or the Roman Empire or the Odyssey or the Golden Horde,
the light so far away it travels through space for thousands of years
to reach our eyes. They are gone, obliterated but their demise, dilating
into red giants, erupting in supernovas or collapsing into neutron stars
and white dwarves, has yet to reach us.
We stared into the universe together, stared back in time and we shared
that first glimpse of how heartbreakingly beautiful this fragile life
He will go into the earth now, his atoms will shake him off, shake off
the burden of being, go off to other places and things, be absorbed into
other debris of creation, not knowing they were once part of a remarkable
gentleman, conquistador in a slacker generation, a compassionate libertine.
Some will look at the obituary and see a name, a photograph of some dead
queer laid low for his sins. I look upon that name and my soul weeps
for this universe has been robbed of an entire world. They say existence
is a tiny sliver of light between two eternities of darkness. That’s
But lord what a fantastic light it is.
© copyright 2004