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Essay on Absence – Journal (with Judy Garland)

for Joanne Currie

I haven’t really seen it, Caravaggio’s
Death of…but the saint holds his neck
with his right hand, his forehead
with the left
and it really is the dumbfoundedness of mourning.

(He shows the Virgin dead.
‘Bonne Nuit, Judy Garland’
the papers in Montreal read.)

They feel flogged by it,
their grief, and I suppose it’s true
no-one cares about propriety, anymore.

(It’s already heretical that she has died,
and no-one cares about her body, bloated
and dishevelled.) It is her lack
hung on a wall,

but all I saw was coloured light.


Gunmetal and lonesome blue. These words
to describe the sky, July. I would have just said

leaden – my mother
through a telephone. Darkening I said,
and it was there, too, a complicity

in the sun’s stiff resolve to fall on its own sword
before rising again. (The New, new Garland,
the papers once heralded her.) Then it broke.

You wished you were elsewhere (in the country
you said) where the sky wasn’t stained.

(You wanted to see the stars.)


I always thought there was something sad
in Judy’s smile and her diminished body,
breasts bound
playing little Dorothy. She arrived

with her dad and the first neon sign in Lancaster,
California, at the age of two

and later sang Zing! went the strings of my heart
to him through the radio

a dutiful choked up electrified songbird

as he died – spinal meningitis, diagnosed
a few hours before the end.


Before there were baths
there were not baths. I was scalded by dirt
and could string it out for days.

Cleanliness came later, and unfledged anger, too.
The dirt is something forgotten.

Her #1 fan failed to record it
in his shrine to her. It only records
the hours that shine, he said.

The dirt leaves a scar like your voice:
do you have get here what are you so stop


There should be something voluptuous,
rubato and full-bodied. Something
time could betray in a hiccup. Something

with the froth of manicures and minor catastrophes.

There should be more parts
satin and purple. Lana’s nice, Judy said

but talking to her is like talking
to a beautiful vase. There should be a boozy clarinet.


She only managed 68 pages of her life
before she realised she’d rather die
than set it all out. You once said

the visible and the invisible imply each other.

I’ve written lists, inventories, explanations,
here they are.
Twenty-three lines blank.


I have a friend who plays flute
as if it were a prelude to judgement.

When she sees something beautiful
she jumps and screams 
it’s so damn beautiful

as though she’s going to cry because she can’t
take it in, the blade of it. Judy’s scrapbook

records the story of a girl
bitten to death by black widow spiders
nesting in her beehive hairdo,

When the notes sound there is the scent
of 3 a.m. hanging at their centre. When
she cries she refers to the time

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