Elegy to R.J.J.
A picture of your last ship hangs on my study wall;
the one I inherited from our parents, who have both gone
now too. And that ship sails eternally in sepia-toned
black and white, unable to break free from its frame.
And I struggle to remember you, because I was too young
to recall: your voice, and what you had to say, and how you
might have looked out for me, as older brothers do. But
I do remember your photo, you dressed in your navy uniform;
and Dad, as he told his story of you out hunting, being chased
by a wild pig up a tree; the fur hat that you made from possums
caught in gin traps, that you skinned and tanned; and the smell
of your sweat, stuck in a shirt left tucked in the back of a wardrobe.
You were on shore leave, in some foreign city, perhaps
Portsmouth or Plymouth, or some other naval town,
and alcohol was flowing freely; was it beer? Or maybe
something stronger? And when it came time, perhaps
following the last round, to return to your ship, they say
that you staggered and slipped, and fell from the gangway;
and as you fell, your head cracked against the grey hull,
and I can only imagine the dull sound that might have made
and I wonder, did that sound echo? Like the reverberations
from a thrown stone that makes ripples in a pond; a wave
of sound felt more than heard: an echo trapped, never fading.
And I was told that you were dead before you even entered the sea,
which is where you were buried soon after. And much later,
your ship’s trunk: your last possessions, arrived by sea;
and that trunk always looked like a casket, complete with shiny
brass corners, and your initials imprinted in large black script: R.J.J.
And I don’t remember your funeral, but I often wonder what
you would be doing today, and how many kids you might have,
and your wife’s name, and I don’t even know if you had a girlfriend,
because when you were gone, no one talked about you much,
except sometimes, when a certain song played on the radio,
and our mother would suddenly seem so far away, and if I asked
her what was wrong, she would say, it was a song that you liked
to listen to, just before she got up and changed the station.
I feel this poem in my gut. I think it’s the way the poem moves through time and memory. It bounces and builds to something like the ‘echo trapped, never fading,’ a wave of sound about the loss of possibility for both the speaker and his brother. I think it’s exceptional.
Andrew Jardine is completing a Graduate Diploma in Arts. He moved from New Zealand to Los Angeles in 2004, where he and Jenny now live in the small town of Claremont. He is the father of two wonderful young men, one of whom recently moved back to New Zealand. Andrew would like to dedicate this poem to his brother Robert.
Read ‘Nora’s Funeral’ by Susan Hansen, which I posted last week and is also an elegy written for the Massey 139.229 creative writing paper.