“Fugue” by David Cavanagh

David Cavanagh

          for Ken

Death whips with perfect indifference, flays
feeling to the bone. My brother’s gone. Day

barrels implacably on, just like Auden said
of Brueghel’s painting: nobody twigged,

not even on the passing ship, as Icarus
screamed out of the sky into a silent sea.

Now taxis keep pulling into traffic. An email
from the boss still sets execs in motion.

A homeless woman slumped like a played-out
oracle by the pharmacy wall still holds up

her sign: “Anything will help.” I doubt it.
A fabric has been torn. His last full weekend,

we gathered round his bed. Chat zigged
to the notion of a fugue state. Someone said

what’s a fugue? He listened to us fumble for a while,
then broke in, breath sawing, said how layer

builds on contrapuntal layer, returns at last to theme.
With rasping lung, finger tracing time in air,

he dum-da-dummed ascending tiers of Beethoven,
stopped and breathed, “That’s it.”

* * *

To hell with art. To hell with Breughel, Auden,
this crap, too. But he would not say so. He loved

the sublime—the Sistine splendours, basilica’d
expanse of the Piazza San Marco, Austen’s subtleties,

the gardens of de Lotbinière, a fine Bordeaux.
Nurtured dream the way achievers must.

A masted yacht just off the coast still takes
no notice. Billowed sails, an unfamiliar flag,

the captain’s wheel glinting like a sundial, the bow
slicing the blue-green shimmer underneath it all.

My brother stands alone by the gleaming rail.
A flash of white through air to sea. A gasp

as he points. Was that a boy? He strains for
the merest splash. Waves fall back into their theme.

Kind eyes bright, he leans into his astonishment.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011
Tribute to Canadian Poets

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