On the day David Bowie died, I was in Oxford,
taking the last breaths of my English holiday,
which seemed right. Even though Bowie’s last breaths
had been in New York, the English papers
clutched him to their English breasts. His values,
they said, were English, though I’m not sure about that,
I think it was just that he was unflinchingly polite,
and private. It was cold in Oxford, and the day before
I’d bought an overcoat to hide in from the English winds.
I’d turned the collar up, like Bowie on the cover of Low,
which is and has always been in my top ten loves.
When it was released, in a zephyr of expectation,
most of us didn’t know how to hear the scraps of song
on its first side, and the second with its arty instrumentals.
Those fucken instrumentals, my friend Cameron Allan
(who’d produced some Australian bands) had said,
they’re so fucken pretentious, but the little bits
of tune on side one are clean and catchy, the way
music should be. I think we need both, I’d told him,
the fact and the dream, but he was somewhere else.
On my return to sunny Australia, I’d intended to buy
Blackstar, Bowie’s newly birthed (last) album,
but my wife, Jane, who was attending a conference
about mystical theology, said I think you should get it today.
They were playing some early Bowie in the music shop:
‘His name was always Buddy, and he’d shrug and ask
to stay ...’, and there were still a few copies of Blackstar
on the shelves. Yes, I know this is really predictable
I said with a sigh when I took it to the counter,
but the assistant just asked Do you want a bag with that?
It was starting to rain on the scholarly streets of Oxford,
and I said yes, though the CD was sealed in slim plastic.
We only have paper bags, he said, so I slipped it
into my satchel without the bag, fragile and unprotected.
Outside, the cold has settled in, it was as bitter as death,
the breath of the tourists and the students congealing
in the squalls. The clouds were that leaden blue
you think of as English. At our hotel, we packed
in such a rush (we were late for our train to Heathrow),
while the TV in our room whined about this tragic loss,
and shards of his life were scattered across the screen,
as if there’d been an explosion. On our way to the station,
a busker with a guitar plucked away at China Girl,
caressing its lean melody, coaxing the notes
from the prison of strings. A note, then silence,
then another note, blown about in the blustering wind,
falling on the ground around us like flakes of the finest snow.