Pioneer Cemetery, Zeehan

A poem by Pete Hay

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Posterity, in this town, was of no account.
You’d not have thought to die here –
the idea was to salt it away and leave,
to be remembered, in God’s good time,
elsewhere.

The publicans had other ideas.
The sag-timbered mines had other ideas.
So we are here, we who drowned, we who drank,
we here by default, having died in the mud of the Somme.

The living were generous and they mourned well.
We had memory at our heads, nicely scrolled in stone,
nicely etched in good Huon pine.

But the living left,
for this was a town for vagabonds.
They left, and their leaving was the beginning
of the forgetting.
Fire came next, for this is fire country.
Gorse came, and thicket scrub.
And there was the end of the forgetting.

You are here, say, to find the grave of James O’Grady,
your great-great-grandmother’s brother-in-law.
Miner, good union man,
had a funeral that the AMA stumped,
and a stone.
Yes, he’s here, old rough and surly Jim.
He’s here somewhere.
Good luck finding him.
If he’s over there you’ll need to get through the swamp,
and watch out for old Joey Blake – that’s his domain.
So good luck with that.
If he’s this side the swamp likely the gorse holds him.
Or, more probably still, the fierce lick of summer fire
doused all that signals a life on this earth,
just as, no doubt,
in another place it took his soul.

If you’re so set on saluting James O’Grady,
James O’Grady who you never knew,
do it here, then, by the road.
Rather mourn for us all in a smeared out, unfulfilling way,
we who had not meant to be here,
and leave James O’Grady safe with us
and our unremembrance.

Caucasian Haiku

A poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Silently on the Tide’ (2005)

In any village
Massacres in muddy fields.
Sorrow-ridden lands.

Tanks roll here, roll there.
Geopolitical tides.
Gentleness of boys.

Always ragged breath.
Always a footprint in moss.
Always a fraught song.

“Give me the music
Of the lost folk of Europe.”
Score the wind, wailing.

The sere autumn grass.
Secrets in walls, in steeped stone.
Mute and crawling light.

We are forgetting.
Sunken holes in the forest.
All that grows in blood.

Grievances tended.
Turnips in kitchen gardens.
Streets of boiled sausage.

Wolves, or rumours of.
You die young, or you should have.
The old fled children.

 


I had a small but not unimportant role in Richard Flanagan’s movie, ‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’. I loved Cezary Skubiswewski’s proud and passionate soundtrack. I once asked Richard what instruction he gave composers who tendered for the movie’s score. His answer was ‘give me the music of the lost folk of Europe’. That striking remark inspired this haiku string.