Descriptions of a Ritual
Freeling Cemetery, SA – i.m. Valda Ince, 1935–2008
Life a mere flash, or flesh –
coins-as-headlights winking in the daylight,
and we are all in Charon’s dinghy.
Our creeping vehicles fog up
with family gossip: then our car-sized groups
dissolve into a clan, semi-strangers with like faces,
attending the secular comforts of religion.
Nobody is damned or redeemed.
We're flowers that open and shut, we endure
shiftily in memory. And the dead
have afterlife in local habitation and a name.
This place she chose for herself, the burial
modelled on her friend’s, last Winter – the cemetery
fringed with cypresses and a caravan park,
its modest frontier of headstones
facing out miles of unborn suburbs.
Her graveside is formal as a picnic, a row of chairs
along the edge for those who will most
weep, her grandmother-daughters,
seeding her down with tears
a water-holding grave can hold. They are bowed
by afterlove that the dead, leaving the world’s cold,
drape around the living like a coat,
but the sons and grandsons, flanked behind them,
bearded and pony-tailed,
are inscrutable as the Pictish ancestors
we may or may not share. Green slithering hoists
unravelling to its fathom, its this-far-no-further,
the coffin goes one finite down,
and a pungent, non-descript hell
remains above, digesting love-never-enough,
embryo losses hatching in the open air.
Adopted to child a marriage, she
knitted herself into new blood,
then seven came by birth.
She was their principal Sister from the elsewhere
of First, keeper of all goodness and terror.
Her toddler brothers shadowed her to school,
she smuggled them in and fed them
what she knew of the world.
And in death she is adopted again, the first
(as an adult) to die. Her ageing brothers and sisters
carry and bury her, their own in words of stone,
and scattered in anecdotes.
How glad she would be to zip away,
gripping the wheel with hungry speed
as my father does, for once at peace with GPS,
the slightly-rights and worldly lefts.
© Petra White