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December 01st 2009 print

Jamie Grant

Requiem for Alexander Buzo

 The row of camphor laurels by

the post office has been cut down. Now vacant sky

is leaning over the windowless rear wall

of the supermarket opposite; the street

is suffused with a sweet

medicinal aroma that recalls

in all of these sunlight-mottled details

—the drawn curtains, the rumpled bedclothes, a pillow

awkwardly slanted below

the painted bedboard—a long-lost childhood sickroom.

Yet do not try to compare

that room to a head without hair.

 I am forced to consider the end

of a most particular friend.

 The smell of camphor filling the air like a steam

infusion; camphor and jasmine mingled into steam

which hovers over roof-tiles angled off from the sun;

moss on the tiles, and fungus on tree-bark which could seem

like an accident victim’s neck-brace; vines tangled

over branches the way intravenous

tubes are entwined with a patient’s limbs;

algae on lawns which appear gangrenous—

 everywhere there are things

in the process of being devoured by other

living things, and the presence of this seam

of particulars prompts, or brings

to the surface of my mind, that which would smother

the vital essence of one human life.

A medicinal scent in the still morning air, chainsaws

and lawnmowers at work while somebody’s wife

pegs a newly-washed bedsheet

to a line—yet today my sole obsession,

like the thoughts inflicted on one with depression,

is for a figure I never again can meet.

 Now I must consider the end

of a most particular friend.

 A clear unemphatic voice

phoning at an inconvenient time,

as would always seem the case in his prime,

expecting the listener to climb

out of bed or down from a ladder to hold

the earpiece impatiently while being told

about some digression, had unexpectedly called

to issue an invitation. Dripping and cold

at the time,

having stepped from the shower,

it seemed I had no choice

but to submit to a hearing which lasted an hour.

 It began with an invitation to a game,

this friendship which was destined to endure

for two decades and more. Under a pure

blue sky a group of figures all in the same

white garments would walk onto a green field.

 What was to be revealed?

 It could have been any other game

except for the surroundings which comprised

steeple-high poplars and the sandstone college

of a university of doubtful fame;

it was like a village

green, with boundary flags and an oversized

 afternoon tea concealed

 in a hamper; and he was the one who came

running in to bowl with springy high steps

like a trotting pony or else perhaps

like a gymnast about

to be turned inside out

over a vaulting horse. Everyone knew his name

 around that crowded field

 which was like a village.

.     .     .

 And there would be many more days almost the same

as that one, on grounds in distant suburbs

or on those nearby fields which he had privately

 renamed—Obelisk, or Port-of-Spain; days

in the sun which never seemed to end.

.     .     .

 Days under the sun which ended in defeat, or sometimes

in a victory

surprising as a good story;

afternoons random as the tune of wind-chimes.

His was a life which revolved around play,

both on sunlit green ovals—as on that first day—

and on the stage, where words he had set down

on paper were given breath by actors obedient to every

direction from the wings. Dictionary

perfect, his grasp of words and of the sinews

of syntax equalled his hunger for sport; he was never to lose

either. Going into town

 to attend his play about a one-time

colonial governor, which was staged

in the very building haunted by his subject, walls aged

and stained though built to last,

I watched a river of flying fox flow past.

His humour perplexed academics, yet would chime

with every audience who paid full attention

to the words. Language, and its precise meaning,

was the still centre of all he wrote, in rhyme

or prose alike. In a darkened space, leaning

 against a hand-carved sandstone wall, that time,

 I was aware of time.

 And it should have been, after all, his time

when in his maturity

he proved versatile in every field, from film

and fiction to travel and motoring advice. After the novels, after the cigarettes at the

                                                                                                                      stage door,

there should have been something more,

but there was not. Fashion turned against him, although

he had never wanted to be fashionable; he should, even so,

in his full maturity

have been able to enjoy the ripening prime

permitted to others, less worthy, whose day

 arrived at the same time.

 That was when it should also have been his time.

.     .     .

 Vindication lay in the future for him, he always

was sure, but then the future was devoured

by an unseen antagonist, empowered

through cell-division within the living tissue

of his frame, unseen but known as “Mister C.”;

silently that enemy spread itself

as lichen smothers treetrunks, or algae

darkens a pool, until his state of health

was the only issue.

 He was unable to grow old.

Instead, his ageing was compressed, as if scrolled

 at speed down a laptop’s flat plastic screen.

Each moment in his life became a scene

played over a backdrop of sunlit green.

At the end he was asking after me.

Each time I emerge, now, from the post office

into the air I sense the empty space

once shaded by laurels. It is the same place

and yet it is not the same. The absence,

never to return, of a friend, can give

the same sensation to those who still must live.