Friday, November 7, 2014

Max Richards

   1. Sky Burial

High in the Himalayas
denied wood for a pyre

or place for a grave,
sky burial is practiced.

Say farewell to father,
this life being over,

excarnation achieved;
recite the prayers

at a discreet distance;
leave flesh to the vultures -

they deserve to eat well.
Bones harbour no disease.

Father's soul is somewhere
altogether elsewhere.


    2. After Cremation

Your ashes, if they're to be
scattered at sea,

should first be mixed 
with rose petals generously.

These will prolong the ceremony
and increase its beauty.

But the marine service
that will do this for a fee

warns that - were you once
a dolphin-watcher on the bay,

should conditions on the day
suit, and the spot be likely -

your friends and family
may be surprised by

the sudden upsurge
of one of those dolphins

mouth open wide
as if curiously

alive to the possibility
of salt-water ash and rose-petal tea.


3.  Service for One Who Sang

When the singer-songwriter died young,
many beside family and friends
attended his funeral.

The old church on Agitation Hill,
Castlemaine, was packed,
mourners stood in the doorway.

The organ did not play that day -
a women's choir, the Chat Warblers, sang 
their open-air spirituality.

The voice of Michael Kennedy
himself sounded through the p.a. -
personal, truthful - consolingly.

His widow had rare strength to speak
while her toddler clung to Grandad,
and we recalled the modesty

of her lost one's many talents,
which even included pottery
and instrument-making.

His illnesses were not dwelled on,
but were part of his chronology
in the memorial booklet.

A double lung transplant!
for a man who sang! and 
sang to the end so touchingly.

Michael row the boat ashore,
he had sung and we now sang:
River Jordan is chilly and cold,

Chills the body but not the soul.
River Jordan is deep and is wide,
I've got a home on the other side.

[Christ Church, Castlemaine Vic., 26 August 2013]


4. Springvale: a Visit

You drive an age
beyond all landmarks
then start to feel
you're almost there.

Sure enough, discreet signs
point you off the highway
into what no longer calls itself
The Necropolis.

'Botanical Cemetery',
please, as if plants
are buried here.
No, countless roses bloom 

everywhere this week,
and signs encourage us
towards magnolia gardens,
fuchsia - on and on.

We know which chapel, glimpse
the family whose mourning
we're here to join,
all except their old man.

His framed portrait
fronts us in our pews.
Mild, upright citizen
capable of sternness.

The widow, married sixty 
good years, now frail,
leaning on frame and
daughters, stoical.

The son's eulogy mixes 
the earnest and the humorous.
A long, active life 
of service and family,

work, sport, travel,
home. Blessed, mostly.
The deaconess tells of the best
of parishioners and councillors.

The Lord is our Shepherd.
Prayer. Amen. She has to reach up 
to scatter on the high coffin
symbolic Ashes to Ashes.

The family leads us out.
Pallbearers not required. 
A whirring under the coffin  
signals it's sinking.

Nothing to be done
but walk to the tearoom
past blossoms, flowering
shrubs and trees, water.

The old man's portrait
has come too, benign
as we take refreshment
and ask after each other.

Another time, look for
'The Garden of No Distant Place'.
The first exit gate is locked.
The second obliges.

The drive home seems quicker
than the previous one 
from the familiar
to the distantly remote.


5. For Whom the Bellbirds Toll

Buy me a plot, last-home-buyer, book a late
berth in the burial ground by Arthurs Creek*
under the gums where wattle-birds cooee.

Yonder glooms the watershed dividing range:
Mt Disappointment nods to Mt Despair,
and beyond is the back of beyond.

A better place than most to be seen dead in,
it will take no getting used to.
Bid me an imperturbable bye-bye:

tears need not be spilled. Dearest,
I must go without thee. Non-being
needn't be unbecoming - mine nor anyone else's.

Friends, gather this once on the cemetery 
slope, near the grave-digger's galvo shed.
I will have absented myself from this send-off.

Bundle the burdensome remainder
in a deep-dug undisturbable bed; see to
a slab of blue-stone, please, so bones stay put.

If the day is warm, bellbirds may be
about their repetitious business,
tolling as if for me…and thee; for all.

© Max Richards


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