To Mahler

Was it your fear of death
or your long familiarity with that dark visitor
that pours your music into my bones?
Though your melodies are not always totenlieder
(so many lost infants, silenced tongues)
they are entwined with that seductive spectre,
your indolently threatening delicious adagietto
forever twinned with desire and demise on the Lido
your alter-ego pursuing beauty to the end.


There are times, Gustav, when your Trauermarsch
drags me by the collar and flings me in the tumbril
nightmare dreamt by Berlioz’ poor poet.
All that’s lacking is the crude obviousness:
his sliced head falling lolling in the dust.
You have more sensitivity; death
creeps on us in the swirling of a foul wind,
or taps us on the shoulder inviting us to dance.
Even the children are stolen in quiet fevers.


Dark is life, dark is death the earth laments,
none can escape the knowledge
that death is the endpoint of life, our symphony’s finale,
the baton’s final downstroke.
So, tell me, Gustav,
now that you share an intimacy with your stalker,
did you find what you were seeking and feared to find?
Is there life beyond the last bar
and do the children sing joyful songs?

This poem with its companion, Nijinski, was awarded 2nd place in the 2014 FAW National Literary Awards John Shaw Neilson Poetry Award.