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Afternoon In The Gallery

Tricia Bertram 1 Attachment


They were wandering through the various rooms of the National Gallery of Victoria, trying to fill another sad Sunday afternoon. As they entered the final room she froze then sank slowly to her knees. ‘Oh God, it’s happening again’ she thought. It was just like the night in the car park when the policeman had said ‘I’m sorry to tell you there is the body of a young man in the flat’. Her energy, her life force, was leaving her body through the soles of her feet, and her breath was slowing as if it would stop forever.

‘What’s wrong?’ Asked her husband as he grabbed her, trying to keep her upright. ‘Can’t you see it?’ she whispered as tears began to course silently down her face. ‘See what?’ he asked, half supporting, half dragging her to one of the padded black benches that were placed randomly throughout the gallery, unaware he was sitting her directly in front of the painting that was now the epicentre of her world. It loomed huge and dark, threatening to engulf her. ‘The mother and her poor dead lamb’ she whispered, her hands making fluttering motions towards the large painting directly in front of them. The painting, titled Anguish, was painted by, August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck, in 1878.

Her husband looked at the painting for the first time then wrapped her in his arms, gently rocking her, murmuring ‘Shush, shush’ into her hair as she folded into him. As he held her he looked again at the large painting. It was a dark, dank wintry study of a ewe standing on snow covered ground, her left foreleg straddled protectively over the body of her dead lamb. They were surrounded by a hoard of large black menacing ravens. The painting seemed to become larger the longer he looked at it and he had to keep blinking to reassure himself the ravens were not slowly moving closer to the ewe and her lamb. He lifted the hand that had been rolling up and down his wife’s back and wiped the tears that were distorting his vision.

She turned slowly in the curve of his arm so she could again look at the painting that was causing everything inside her to twist and ache. She felt her long gone womb constantly contracting as if labour was drawing to the crescendo of birth. And just as there was no stopping the labour process once it had begun, she knew this wrenching, timeless moment was part of the inevitability of her grief. As she looked into the heart of the painting she noticed the puff of breath escaping from the mouth of the ewe and she could hear the mother bleating her terror and loss into the hovering sky. And there in the snow, where it had seeped from the mouth of the lamb, was the blood tinged mucous she call the death fluid, the fluid she had removed lovingly and reverently from the pale grey carpet on the floor of her son’s flat.

She longed for her son’s ephemeral presence standing beside her, wanting him to help her survive the visceral wrench no mother should know. She first experienced this longing on the day of his funeral, wanting him to walk beside her as she followed his coffin out of the funeral parlour to the hearse parked in the portico. Wanted him to sing with her, When Day Is Done, the Peter, Paul and Mary song she had chosen for their final walk together. ‘If you take my hand my son all will be well when day is done’ the words now a comforting mantra that linked them in some indefinable way.

‘You and your tree hugging hippy music’ he used to say, with the devilish grin that made his eyes sparkle, whenever she had the music blasting around the house while she cleaned or cooked. Back when a ringing phone was just a ringing phone, not something that filled her with fear and ignited her overwhelming sense of impending catastrophe. After his death she’d thought ‘At least there is now an end to the fear’ but grief had a way of rearing up and replaying her worst fears. Fears made flesh by his death, a death she had spent ten tangled, exhausting years trying to prevent. Loving, crying, keening, at times blaming both herself and her son, even making banal bargains with the Catholic God of her childhood.

In the end he made the decision himself and ended a life that had become intolerable for him. Just two weeks before his death they had spoken about his now constant depression and his battle to overcome his addiction to heroin. He had said with gut wrenching hopelessness ‘Mum I can’t live with it and it appears I can’t live without it.’ She had clutched him to her as they sat on the soft pink couch warmed by the winter son streaming into the family room, then pushed back to hold his face in her hands, looking into his eyes as the words spilt out of her ‘Don’t you ever think you would be doing your father and I a favour by taking your life’. ‘Hold me Ma’ said this 26 year old man with soft golden hair and eyes that no longer sparkled. Her son who she had loved and conversed with from the moment she knew of his existence, growing slowly inside the protective folds of her body.

She turned to her husband, hand shaking she wiped a stray tear from his chin. He took her hand and folded it over his arm as they sat quietly together continuing to absorb the impact of the painting. One of the gallery guards walked over and stood quietly beside them. After looking for a time at the painting the guard said ‘It takes some people this way, not many just a few’ then walked to the other end of the room. They sat for a little longer then dragged themselves off the bench and walked slowly towards the door where the guard was standing. ‘Take care now’ he said, as they made their way out of the gallery.


Link to Painting

My Son

My Son
As the anniversary of your death approaches
I’m longing for your dad
It’s not that I don’t long for you
Your absence
Is an ache beyond words
It’s living your absence alone
That peels the bark
From the tree of my life

Every anniversary
Dad and I would journey to
Squeaky Beach
During our years in Brisbane
We’d fly home in time for our
Pilgrimage to The Prom

I’m angry with my limitations
This failing body that refuses to obey
I want to lie prostrate
On the squeaky sand
Keen to the ocean
Be helped up and held
By the only person
Who truly understood

To share the stories
No one else knows
Drink your favourite French champagne
From tacky plastic flutes
Watch dad climb the rock
He’d stood on
As he waited for ebb tide
To scatter your ashes
Hold him when he returns
From his personal grief ritual

Darling boy I accept your right
To choose death
I ache for the suffering
That brought you to that choice
And I miss you
Oh how I miss you

Sometimes it’s hard
Being the last tree standing
As the gale force winds of life blow
I bend and sway
But for whatever reason
I don’t break
Surrounded by people
Who love and nurture me
Yet alone in my longing

You used to laugh and call me
A tree hugging hippy
I’m now a gnarled old gum
Longing to be hugged
By my boy and his dad

Tricia 8/2013

Son and Sky

Son and Sky
Laughter back in her life
Interesting projects
Meaning and purpose abound
And yet
Three sleepless nights this week
It would appear her body
Is aware
The black stallion of Mother’s Day
Is galloping toward her 
Hooves pounding the tempo
Requiem for a Dead Child
Fourteen years since
Her so sad son
Laid down the intolerable burden
His life had become
Her childless mother lesions
With familial longing
As she sits in the dark
Waiting for dawn
Slowly it comes
Swathes of colour
Join together
‘Till the sky is a breathtaking blaze
Her atheistic heart
Longs for a moment
To see her artist son’s hand
Painting this gift of morning skies
But what was
Can never be again
The yin of grief settles
Beside the yang of love
It is enough for today
Tricia 5/2013


Suicide and Euthanasia

Suicide sits on my shoulder
His voice grows louder and more insistent
Yet it is soft and seductive
Come to me
I will bring you the peace you crave
You can rest in my arms
Surrender to the sleep of sunset
Sink below the horizon
Where the waves will wash away your pain
Your tired broken body will be supported
In the oceans womb
As you float to the land beyond knowing.
Tricia 02/2010
Suicide no longer sits on my shoulder
He lives in a small shed
At the bottom of my garden
I seldom see him
Yet knowing he is there
Brings strength and peace
I no longer call him suicide 
These days I refer to him as
Plan B
He is acquaintance not friend
The intimacy has gone
From our relationship
He is now a tenant
On my property
The peppercorn rent
His silence
I may never again
Invite him into my home
But If I do it will be
The right choice for me
Tricia 01/2012

A Terrible Truth

Yesterday the editor of a newspaper blog refused to publish my comments on abuse. At the end of the day my poem Silent Scream was published. It was a beginning, but I still feel an overwhelming need to speak on behalf of the 35 young men who died tragically. 
The following poem is not yet complete, but on this issue I experience a sense of urgency. A Terrible Truth will continue with time and contemplation.
A Terrible Truth
Thirty five young men ended their lives
Victims of abuse
Hierarchy buried its head in the sand
Haughtily obtuse
Living in a democracy
Unable to voice my condemnation
Media moderators of free speech
Quote ‘fear of defamation’
Tricia 15/12/11