Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics…They are, I believe, the voice of the people." –Jack Santino

Albion Street – A poem and a place of death

“On 2nd February 2009 at 11pm, 16 year old Andrew Bornen was handcuffed by police and left lying face down on Albion St, Brassall. He was subsequently hit by a car driven by a young woman who failed to see the police try to flag her down. He later died of head injuries in the Ipswich Hospital.”

This is the postscript to Brett Dionysis’ poem, “Albion Street,” which is dedicated to Bornen.  Dionysis, a grammar school teacher from Ipswich, UK, won several awards in the 2011 Ipswich Poetry Feast, including first prize for “Albion Street.”  He writes about tragedy and loss in his English hometown, visiting makeshift memorials around the community as inspiration for his poems.  I wanted to share this quote from the article, “How tragedy inspired poetry,” followed by the poem itself.  In a way, Dionysis’ poems stand as extensions of the shrines–they carry the memory of the dead beyond the death itself.  They catch our attention and force us momentarily to consider an individual life and the implications of a tragic death.

“I believe that writers should explore their sense of place, and a part of that is the tragic sense of place, which is sometimes not covered.”

Mr Dionysius said his latest poems tried to “make sense of the insensible; of senseless acts that occur in utterly tragic circumstances”.

“It’s not that Ipswich has a tragic history, it’s just that I’m drawn to trying to make sense of parts of life,” he said.

Mr Dionysius said he was personally affected by the death of Mr Bornen on Albion St, as he lived near the scene in a “tight-knit community”.

“I remember the night that it happened, we heard the sirens pass our house,” Mr Dionysius said.

“It affected a lot of people, and the effect rippled out into the Ipswich community.”

Mr Dionysius said his Albion Street poem explored the event from the perspective of the natural environment and place, with monuments and statues being a major theme.

“In some cultures, battle and loss sites become sacred, and we’ve become obsessed with monuments ourselves,” he said.

Brett Dionysis at the makeshift memorial for Andrew Bornen. Photo by Claudia Baxter.

Albion Street 

by Brett Dionysius
Woodend, Qld

For Andrew Bornen

(i)
The bitumen was a blue scab short-healed & sticky
Where its edges had been picked at by cars & trucks
That gained bodily pleasure from teasing out its pain.
Its crusted lip was infected & boiled, as the Ipswich
Heat sank its knee into the road’s soft, navy groin.
A bridge pulled like a stitch across the Bremer’s tan
Cut, traffic laced over it & tied off the river’s deep
Wound. A monument bled brass words on the wet
Crossings’ historical news; a white pyramid, it stood
As memory’s speed hump, something to slow down.
Light fled the scene without telling anyone as night
Injected itself into the squabble; a scheduled painkiller
That cooled the hot sweat & turned the road to bruise.
Rainbow lorikeets spewed out the animals’ white noise.

(ii)
The bitumen gave a bit as he stepped onto it; like boys
Poking their fingers into a mother’s set jelly & bending
Matter. The road had sunk into an abyss of cobalt &
Wobbled under his bare feet as he took centre stage.
A breeze enveloped him in its fluid net & he looked
Towards the river, tracing the road’s curvature until
He spotted, just after the bridge, a giant’s white tooth
Cemented into the ground. The Bremer, a soggy mouth
Sucked in all sound, so he didn’t hear the night’s repeat
Command; to lie down in its arms. Fruit bats formed
A furry vortex as homogenous dusk moved in & draped
Its black wing over him. They picked him up clearly, as
Their radar signals bounced harmlessly from his head.
Headlights spotted him & they gave him up for dead.

(ii)
With the switch of a torch they transformed him into lead.
He spotlight froze in the backyard at night, where possums
Sucked him in with the pitch-black bathplugs of their eyes.
These men were trees to him. Pouches full of institution.
He fell into the sapphire road’s slick embrace as his body
Ripped its park brake & he jack knifed to a stop. His lips
Smeared some rouge on the bitumen’s blue shirt, he swore
They had filled his lungs with concrete, all he could get was
A squelchy breath. His muscles ran their instant marathon.
They tagged him with steel bracelets, & supported a cause
No one else could appreciate, charity having fled back into
Pandora’s Box to tape her sore wrists up. Time out of joint.
Like water-birds blind at night, they trailed a broken wing
To distract the hunter, who suddenly burst in on the thing.

(iv)
Nothing is as frightening as the telephone’s midnight ring.
Sound will take you, if you stop & listen to it. Voices rise
& fall like a sleeper’s automatic chest or a kestrel’s clawed
Collapse, when breath-quiet, a mouse never hears its death.
The azure bitumen was oddly comfortable, like in the school
Playground when, big lunch perched, he would eat as if there
Were no tomorrow. It could be warm as any beach, or stretch
Like old chewing gum, but here, right now it only cradled him
A father’s pumped arms, a mother’s pliant breast, it stood in for
The care of atoms & earthly stuff. He was touched at the last.
He was a fallen statue carved from sixteen years of love, that
One small blemish kept from calling a masterpiece. He knew
That a giant’s tooth could chip, as the road’s indigo cloak
Engulfed him. He never listened to the chisel’s final stroke.

On 2nd February 2009 at 11pm, 16 year old Andrew Bornen was handcuffed by police and left lying face down on Albion St, Brassall. He was subsequently hit by a car driven by a young woman who failed to see the police try to flag her down. He later died of head injuries in the Ipswich Hospital.

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