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.

All the Beautiful Dead

A poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Physick’ (2016)

 

Down dark corridors

the beautiful dead

step from their rooms.

 

They watch me pass.

They would have me stay,

hear their imperative word.

 

Where there are tails,

tails bob like nodding-grass –

I do not know what they mean.

 

Those who stand erect plead

with eyes of portent,

of expectation.

 

Some venture a smile,

their smiles slight

and uncertain.

 

I do not know what it is they want.

I pass on by

and know this as failure.

 

Their eyes brush my back

with gentle, knowing

reproach.