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