. Elegy for an Unremarkable Man Poor Niel is dead. He’d been off sick since May. Cancer, they said, as if we couldn’t guess, And, since we didn’t know what words to say, We stayed away. If pressed, we might confess We’d turned our jellied backs to his distress, Acting from some vain, primitive belief It might ward off those dreams of sleeplessness When for ourselves we lie awake in grief. His death, when it arrived at last, was a relief. We’re left to wonder what it’s like to die; They say the drugs can wash away all pain, But still, it must be boring to just lie And wait, while doctors patiently explain That slow starvation isn’t inhumane And any further care would just postpone Your great demotion to that dark domain. How awful it must be to die alone; You’d hope the nurses let him hold on to his phone. He had no faith as far as we could tell Beyond those platitudes we all recite, And not a word he proffered could dispel The air of middle-class suburbanite: Well-educated, earnest and polite But something of an affable cliché And quite the opposite of recondite. Most liked him well enough but none could say His loss aroused strong feelings in us either way. And yet he sometimes smiled as if amused At something we’d not understood, and in The margins of the minutes, unperused, His scribbled sketches spoke to discipline And hinted at some hidden harlequin Crouching behind the bland exterior. Like us, he likely lived his best within From fear we’d mock his dreams as dreary, or Simply because he found this world inferior. So now lost friends and fellow workers file Into his final conference room, a space Where emptiness is sacralized in style Suited to governance more so than grace, As if banality might best efface The fear of all that black, and as we find Our seats, a sober smile or limp embrace For those we pass, we cannot leave behind The mundane world and its demands upon the mind. The celebrant is late, and so we wait On plastic chairs and stare at tiny screens. Then one observes this self-same real estate Was once a place which fixed old fax machines And such condolence wrought from pathos means Much more to us than grieving’s pantomime: A life reduced to trite, curated scenes; Perhaps a poem built from awkward rhyme; And, finally, some song he said he liked one time. Then, after sandwiches and one light beer It’s back to work as his remains are burned And all the silly things which he held dear, Those scraps of happiness his ennui earned As compensation for a life adjourned Are left beside the road. Then, once the home Where he had lived alone has been returned To ashes, on that land a honeycomb Of gleaming tenements will bubble up like foam. To stumble from the premises like this And leave the universe without a scar, To slip from coffee breaks to the abyss When you’ve lived half your life inside your car And never told another who you are, Seems an obscenity, a tasteless joke, Like a vacation to an abattoir, And any cheap excuses we invoke Will soon dissolve into the empty sky like smoke. Yet Adam was a gardener, so they say And, though that Paradise sounds rather nice, It still demanded work from day to day. And while our pride insists a higher price Be placed upon our selfish sacrifice, We’re gifted moments pregnant with surprise, When all around us seems to shine like ice; We look upon the world with ancient eyes As something small and sad inside us briefly dies And, as we step into that ground we share With all of Nature’s gaze, we might sense one Who waits behind us and become aware That we have walked, backs turned against the sun, Complaining to our shadows. Niel is done With all that now. May he be satisfied To leave behind those lives left unbegun And may the rest of us forget our pride, Knowing that better men than we have also died. . . Shaun C. Duncan is a picture framer and fine art printer who lives in Adelaide, South Australia.