Augustus Young       light verse, poetry and prose
a webzine of new and unpublished work

Welsh, My Tsun-ami

(from FRA:The Forked River Anthology)
Poet Emily Dickinson said that she was ‘troubled by people who talk of Hallowed  Things aloud and embarrass my dog’. Welsh’s dog is perfectly at home with his conversation. Perhaps because he invariably brings Higher Things down to the only human. ‘Nobody is perfect, and I’m nobody’. But also because Leah is deaf   
Alas, a lifetime of rollups reduced Welsh’s lungs to punctured bagpipes. His last  pibroch was played on an oxygen cylinder. A wheeze that didn’t make it. All his life thin as a seahorse, in the final years steroids pumped him up. The last time I saw him he had breasts like a woman, and the crumbly, gray ponytail had been unplatted. ‘I look like my mother’. She died when he was six. ‘I’m learning to love myself’. I was embarrassed as Emily’s dog by his seriousness.
‘But everybody loves you, Yann’.
‘That is not the same thing’. 
Welsh had talked for years about his ‘woman in the mountains’, and since no one ever saw her, it was assumed she was a fig-leaf of his imagination. But Tamara turns up for his cremation, a homely French woman, who remarks, ‘Ah oui, j’ai souffrert Yann pour trente ans’. We are the only people there except les silhouettes noir, the little men in dark suits. She had phoned me that morning. I thought it was Welsh pretending to be Norman Bates’s mother. Now Tamara and myself embrace like old friends. I gather she hated Yann’s painting and loved his dogs.
          All deaths are sudden. But they come a long way. Welsh’s started one year short of  seventy years. Like mine, his birth was Caesarean, but his Gallic Wars were more a joust than a battle royal. My London friend, Joab Comfort, liked to quote Pascal ‘The last act is always bloody, no matter how light the comedy was before.’  Welsh was more sanguine. ‘It will make a nice wee change.’ His last words to me were, ‘You always said ‘’To change a bad state to an uncertain one has merit. It gives you something to look forward to’’ (It was not me, but Montaigne also said that ‘if you die in a good humour all is forgiven’). As he goes up in flames and the hatch comes down, I think, his seismic levity has at last got to the bottom of its sincerity, and in a cheapo coffin. ‘No point in burning money,’ he told Tamara.
                        Life is loose change. Death is the hole in the pocket. If the hole is due to wear and tear, I argue with myself, then it’s only natural. There’s no need to regret it. Particularly if you’ve run out of money, and  drank the last bottle in your wine cellar. Tamara says that only for the house and the paintings Yann left nothing. ‘Does that mean you are left with debts’, I ask. ‘No’, she smiles. ‘They died with him. That’s why he never married me. The bailiffs were superceded by the leg law in the end’. I didn’t get it. Still I didn’t mention the secret bank account in Scotland, as I assumed Welsh had transferred it to her.
                                                                                           Nabokov says ‘it may be wonderful to mix with the landscape, but it’s the end of the tender ego’. Welsh’s ego was well-cooked, and I will miss the crispy wit and seasoned cadging. Moreover, friends of my age dying means I’m eyeball to eyeball with the surest of the Greater Ineffables, and there’s no ‘next’.
‘You’re mourning me by mourning yourself,’ I can hear Welsh say.
I find consolation in Allez-Bernard, who is squatting by the bins as usual. He gives me a cheerful ‘Ca va (How’s you)?’  Even though he must have heard of Welsh’s death, Bernard says nothing, and greets me, as of old, with the palm out. Bernard pockets my twenty centimes. And disappears behind the bins. I can see him crouching over something. He beckons me and I follow him. An  old dog is spread out on a carpet. The hairs of its maggoty coat are standing on end (the Maison’s ventilator is leaking). There is a bowl of water within reach. Bernard whispers. ‘It’s my toutou’, he whispers. ‘But I’m not allowed to keep her’.
        The sheepdog dodders to its feet, barks, paws the ground, almost a curtsy. This is followed by a sharp epigrammatic yap. Of recognition. Welsh’s Leah,’ death on the doorstep’, alias Alea Jacta Est (The Die is Cast), is still alive. She sinks back into her heap of contentment.
Night is coming on and the vigilantes of La Maison de Maréchal are on the prowl. So I slip off to write a poem: 
and nothingness,
and Bernard,
standing still.
A study
in grey,
save a red skullcap
that will outlive him.  
sits snoozing
by the dustbins,
his hand out.
There are coins
in the palm.
has been locked out.
It’s night and he is looking up
His halo, the moon,
isolated in a ring of cloud,
shines through,
a dumb blonde.
The gate creaks and he’s taken in.
His last look at the sky
is one of longing
for what he once remembered.
The sky pays no attention.
But he knows something.
Under the bins there’s a dog
waiting for him.
Bernard, I decide, is Welsh’s representative on earth.