Poem: “Graveyard Haibun”

(Previously published in Voiceworks #92 ‘THING’)

On Thursday morning I meet Death. We inherit Sydney’s red-dust storm, and our backyard is thick with it. The white cat with the poodle-cut is now auburn. She cleans herself uselessly, tongue moistening dust into clay.

Six am sun casts every gravestone reflective. I never get up this early. I settle on the hot, steady concrete of a grave, and try to learn silence.

Scarlet beetles skitter through dry leaves. Cicadas hum in hollows. Our raised necropolis is more awake than anywhere in this lidded city.

cemetery
spring’s new crows
let sleeping dead lie

I breathe and watch. For a rare moment, my mind too is warm, dark stone.

I go out to feed my flatmate’s old rat and find that his lungs are full of the desert. I sit on the kitchen floor with him in my lap. He is thin-blooded – an aspirin-thief in his youth. Now, his nose has stopped bleeding for the first time in months. Droplets congeal in the dust on his snout. I feel his body cease.

on the floor
we share rigor mortis

The cats sniff around us. They do not interfere.

I return alone, and enter the wilderness without pith helmet or field knife. Birds own the graveyard, swooping for me to turn back; the dead and I are just guests.

If I am very still, I fade into this place. My shadow thickens into my own ghost, leads me down paths that are only pretending. I wouldn’t mind being lost here. (I am already lost.)

hoop pines rise
from the jaws of skeletons
a final word

Dolly, Mr Boots, and Other Good Things

Mr BootsI am listening to Lion Island. They are the perfect soundtrack to a lazy Sunday on which I’ve got nothing much done, but feel quite, quite content. They launched their debut EP at Ric’s bar on Friday night, and it’s a cracker. They’ve come so far so quickly, and they deserve it. I’m biased, I know — my sisterthing plays trumpet (“and when she’s not playing the trumpet,” says one reviewer, “she’s playing the smile”), but they’re really, really worth a listen. And when you’ve finished listening, you can pop along to the uncharTED website (they’ve been short-listed for an amazing award), and vote them all the way to the Big Day Out.

There’s been lots going on in the world of Zen. I moved out of home just over a month ago, and my new place is a haven on the hill, overlooking Brisbane. It fits me perfectly, and my housemates — both fuzzy and unfuzzy — are quite lovely. The humans in the house bake a lot, so it always smells good, and the cats in the house are eccentric and aristocratic.

I went on tour a few weeks ago, courtesy of Arts Queensland, the Qld Writers Centre and the Qld Poetry Festival. It was wild. Adventure stories to come. In a minute. Promise.

My new place is a short walk from Toowong Cemetery, and I’ve become a bit obsessed with it and its 127 000 quiet inhabitDollyants. I’ve started planning out a rather large project: a book of poems in which history and whimsy overlap, and we meet the cemetery’s earliest dead. There are so many gravestones there that can only barely be read, now, and I want to write their stories before they disappear. In the 1970s, the council removed about a thousand old memorials – I fear this might happen again, to make way for the newly deceased. Thus, my quest begins! I am on the hunt for stories about Brisbanites buried between 1971 and 1950, in particular.

The hill — all 250 acres of land there — was first used as a graveyard, the history books say, in 1871 (Colonel Samuel Blackall in January, baby Ann Hill in November, and then another four), and wasn’t officially opened until 1876, and yet I’ve found graves dating back to 1863 (Malynn tomb, pictured) in some of the most overgrown parts of the cemetery. If anyone has any clues as to why this might be, please let me know. (This site says the cemetery was established, as Brisbane General Cemetery, in 1866, but that’s still three years after my earliest grave-find.)

Malynn GraveI anticipate I’ll be spending a lot of time at the John Oxley and State libraries in coming months, and I’ll definitely be getting hold of ‘Friends of Toowong Cemetery’, who apparently conduct free tours. I go gravewalking a couple of times a week; anyone who’d like to come along on adventures is welcome. It’s easy to walk for two or three hours in there and never pass the same gravestone twice. It’s a veritable museum.

Hoop pines rise
from the jaws of skeletons:
a final word.