from IN MEMORY OF DAVID ARCHER: I (by George Barker)

To lift a hand
to those who have gone before us
those friends and
oddfellows to whom
only death can restore us
(I have heard
as in day dreams
them calling sometimes for us
out of a silence that seems
like a dead chorus)
to lift a hand in farewell
for them at the black bell
neither you David nor I
found this a hard thing to do –
for they, most of them, died
in a sort of twisted pride
or as they lifted up
the whiskey in the cup
or turning a handsome head
in honour among the dead
so that, with the wave
of a hand toward the grave
you and I, as they went
down out of the present,
could seem to call:
‘Stand up and speak well
in the empty hall
of heaven or empty hell
for us all’.

But, David, I am at
such a loss, such a loss
that I cannot, I can not
lift a hand or a word
as you descend
the under ground
and one way stair
to that dead end
where
the friend is found.
Are you there
now? Dear friend
it does not matter where
you are for better or
worse where you are
there can be there
no more of the withering
belief (O withering arm
and withering leaf!)
or the withering Upas tree
of life,
no more ever again
of that pain.

The decent dirt
David unlike the lovers
will not desert you nor
the grave stone hurt
you but with love convert
you into stone, into
the dust and earth
of which both life and death
know the worth.
The dark streets at night
echoing our tread
seem for a moment bright
with what we said
and what we might
even have done, but the light
or dream of those times
is gone
and it was not done.

The familiar vision faded
and is forgotten in
our failure, so degraded
that ideal by
our delusion, so humiliated
we by what we knew
was both foregone and fated,
that in the end
what you saw, my friend,
was that life itself
was the vision
that you hated.

All the gifts of red
roses and blank
cheques and bed
fellows grew rank
and went bad
and you and they
sank down in the grey
ends of a day
that stank as it died
in the guttering
palace. I think
that all you leave
behind you in the evening
is a darkened room
empty save for old
newspapers and cigarette ends
and in the gloom
the enormous gold
urn of your heart
in which lie the ashes of your friends.

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