The Ministry of Sorrow

Build it of stone, of brick, of twisted
metal. Build it of shattering masonry.
Build it of glass. Build it of cards
of condolence. Build it of tears. Build it
of lives, of lies, of lying alone
with the stone of absence filling your belly.

Build it of stars. Build it of asphalt. Build it of shoes
by the bed. Build it of wounds. Build it
of sutures. Build it of sirens and smoke alarms,
build it of false alarms, build it of falling
and bruising and broken bones.
Build it of unanswered telephone calls
at four a.m., and the hours torn open till dawn.

Build it of sleeplessness. Build it of anxiousness.
Build it of thankfulness. Build it of guilt,
gild the lobby and marble stares. Build it
of doctors and firemen and mothers and teachers
and shopkeepers, build it of strangers,
some of them family. Build it of sky
in unfamiliar places.

Build it of faces, clouded
and fading from photos, from memory’s
unbolted store-room. Build it
of all the words left too late to be spoken,
lodged like thorns in your throat.
Build it of quietness, chinks of it spreading
like light from the edge of a shuttered window.
Build it of knowing that those days
are over. Build it of those days. Build it of these.
Build it of soldiers and shipping containers
and hard hats and high-vis vests.
Build it of trying to buy
the other kind of black dress.

Build it of trees, build it of weeds.
Build it of flowers sprouting from traffic cones.
Build it of voices embalmed on an answer-phone,
thinking you hear their laugh
when you’re on your own, missing
the punch line, skipping the deadline,
guarding the red-line, under the bread line.
Build it of madness and raving
and hurling your howl to the wind.

Build it of books with inscriptions that catch you off-guard
one night, late, browsing the shelves.
Build it of paper. Build it of paperwork. Build it of forms.
Build it of notices. Build it of random
diversions, phrases from surveys and polls
with boxes to tick, sometimes or yes.

Build it of failing hearts, build it of false starts,
build it of age and the dying of light.
Build it of rattling bars, build it of clubs, pubs heaving,
spilling their fear out onto the footpath,
build it of last drinks, build it of last toasts and last posts
and last rites, build it of last words, build it of lasting,
build it of finally sleeping the night.

Build it of gestures, futile and otherwise.
Build it of faces in rear-view mirrors,
build it of hands outstretched in the darkness, hands
falling to fists, gripping the phone, the frame of a door.
Build it of words, filling with smoke and concrete dust.
Build it of all the things still to be done.

Build it for all we have lost,
for all our losses to come.

first published in
Leaving the Red Zone – poems from the Canterbury Earthquakes
(Clerestory Press, 2016)

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