Magnified and Sanctified

It’s been ten years, Den, and only now do I feel I can say goodbye to you.

You were sixty three, I was sixty one. You died on Friday night. Your son brought the news to us at our shabbat table.

We buried you on the Sunday. We laid you to rest at an odd corner of the Jewish burial ground, beneath a young gum tree. I looked at the tree at that time and I remembered Dad’s fear of falling gums. I thought, here you are again, going against Dad’s prudent judgement. And I smiled.

You lie now, beyond the judgement of humans. Many were the people who judged you, fewer were those who tried to walk a mile in your shoes. They were big shoes.  Like everything about you, very big. Magnified, sanctified… People who did understand loved you extravagantly, in proportion to your extravagant life.

And now I can let you go. From the time of our final conversation I dreamed of you. The dreams were dreams of helplessness. You could not help yourself, I needed to help, I tried to help, but in those dreams, I could not. You called me that last time. The phone woke me from a dreamless sleep. Your speech rustled and crackled, the sweetness of your voice ruined by seven days with the breathing tube. You had rallied, they’d removed the tube; now, with your breathing failing, they needed to replace it. Your voice crackled: ‘Doff, they want to put the tube back. What should I say?’

I heard your breathing, a rasping, gasping sound. ‘Do as they say Den.’

‘Is it my best chance?’

‘Den, it’s your only chance.’

They returned you to your coma and they replaced the tube. Three days later you breathed your last.

At the cemetery we said, magnified and sanctified be the holy name.

One evening during the week of shiva my son led the prayers in honour of his uncle. He loved you Den. We loved you.

For ten years I dreamed of you, restless dreams, frantic. I was unable to help. Then I started writing about you and the dreams stopped. Now I sleep without the dreams. Sleep in peace beneath your gum tree, Den.

Wilson’s Promontory

Wilson’s Promontory – where the Australian mainland gropes south towards Tasmania and the Pole.
Wilson’s Promontory – in whitefella parlance, “The Prom”; to blackfellas, “Wamoom” – a place too special to live in, reserved for ceremony.
The Prom – a place sacred to whitefellas who do not reside there, vacation nomads.
Wilson’s Prom – where generations come and keep coming, where they need ballots to winnow the applicants; we who apply – we are the grass.
Wilson’s Prom – where four generations of my family have wintered and summered, most of them beyond remembering.

Some of my family spent this (prolonged) weekend at the Prom, both saplings and old growths, across the generations and down: two grandparents, their niece from Boston, her two children, the three children of our firstborn – all of us in that heightened state of aesthetic rapture as rugged mountains meet a moody sea.

We hiked and climbed great rocks, we jumped from them onto sand that squeaked, fell from them and upon them. We collected water from a mountain spring, we crossed small rivers and we peed into them, we ate and we ate, we read stories from the Jungle Book, we played chess and Scrabble and board games.
Screens were eclipsed.

Five young children from two different continents, different lives, met and blent, and were Australian in the special way that occurs ‘in country.’

Ten years ago, I wrote a poem here, memorialising a whale and my father, then one year gone.

WHALE MOURNING AT WAMOOM.

My father walked these hills and steeps;
Woke early ever, walked rugged rock-strewn track
To the lookout and back. Now he sleeps
Forever; and I rise with the sun
On this second day of this last new moon
Of the dying year,
And sound the shofar, the ram’s horn warning,
Then go for a run on a crystal morning.

My father walked till his dying year; I follow his track
Across the bridge,
Then up the hill and over a ridge –
Then back; pausing to view a sapphire sea.

High here, on air, at Wamoom, this southern
End of a continent,
Comes remembrance, a fifth element.
Midst earth and water I stand, content,
Basking in the gentle fire of an early sun,
Then turn
To start the slog and gasp and sweat – up hills
And tracks on the ridge of the returning run.

‘Stop!’ – cries the voice of my companion –
‘And turn!
And look out to sea, and see – there’s a whale!’
I stop and turn and look – and sight the sail-
Shaped fin, the hump of back, the mammalian
Brown-black, a bruise
On the blue face of the sea. Now it sinks again
And as I smile, give thanks and muse
It surfaces and plays, and sprays its spume
At the end of the dying year.

Another whale was here, beached, dead; while with my father
A decade ago, I saw it. We paid homage at its sandy tomb.

(from ‘My Father’s Compass’, Howard Goldenberg, Hybrid, 2007.)

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