If I could draw, this is what my version of Leonardo da Vinci’s man in a circle would look like: a pigeon, outstretched on the pavement, a fatal demonstration of perfect symmetry. Head tucked down into its neck, wings (I almost want to say arms) reaching out and then down, tail feathers crossed towards each other. Dead, the slate grey bird is accorded a beauty, a sense of worth, even, that we would not have recognised in it alive. The corpse puzzles in its lack of suggested violence: no broken bones bent of joint, no parasites come to feast (as far as I can tell), no crimson stains or trails of down – murder clues. Instead, it is a perfect encapsulation of the Gaelic poet Sorley Maclean’s admission – heart-wrenching, reluctant, disbelieving – that
the world is still beautiful
though you are not in it
and for the moment, for me, the entanglement of those two facts – the beauty and the utter, irrevocable loss – is its own consolation.
The next day the pigeon is gone. In these streets of tinted glass, tucked between a hotel for the well-dressed and a café charmed by its own sophistication, this should come as no surprise. And yet I am disappointed, perhaps because the disappearance, the lack, the gap of that beautifully and brutally perfect death recalls the rhythm of a whole litany of names, a rhythm I had wanted broken.
After the first few days of grief, when gravity doubles its force and creases write themselves into my waiting skin which is already as bruised as fragile fruit, the main effect of death has always been a growing number of incomprehensible gaps. The friend I no longer visit on my trips back home. The laughter I continue to listen for in vain at a work barbecue. The favoured café I choose to avoid because it reminds me of you. And worst of all, the memories that fade or grow blurred without you to help me embroider them anew.
Then there is the disbelief: the certainty that I will meet you coming around a corner one of these days. You will be in a hurry because you have to buy a birthday present for someone, and we will exchange words and laugh, and you will say that I have grown. I haven’t grown in years. And perhaps, if we make good on our promise to meet up properly one of these days, sometime when I’m back for a longer visit, we will sit in the window of a café and look out at the pigeons, and I will tell you about the dead pigeon I saw once on a cobbled street and how unbelievably perfect it was, the undamaged symmetry of the creature. And you will lean back in your chair, picturing it for a moment, and say yes, that sounds beautiful. It does. It really does.
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