Thursday, May 2, 2013

Magic Thursday - the allure of the graveyard.

New Norcia Cemetery

I’m currently on a writer’s retreat with a bunch of friends. We’re staying in a rambling old house in a small town called Rye Park in country New South Wales.

The house is right next door to the Uniting Church and at the back of the church is one of the two cemetaries in the town.

Cemetaries are amazing places. They offer such an insight into the lives of the people inhabiting the place.

This cemetary, for example, is dotted with grave after grave marked to ‘child of..’ Interestingly, they nearly all are the child of the fater, not the mother.

One such grave is right next to the marker of a woman with the same surname. A mother and child that died in childbirth, you have to think.

Interestingly, most of the women in this cemetary died at an early age – in their twenties or thirties. Most of the men were at least fifty. The rigours of childbirth at the end of the nineteenth century, perhaps?

Then there’s other stories you find. One gravestone of a Scottish immigrant is marked ‘grand nephew of BURNS (poet)’ – must be referring to Robbie Burns, don’t you think?

On another, husband and wife are both mentioned (husband well outliving wife, as in most cases). However, unlike any of the other gravestones mentioning husband and wife, this wife didn’t die in Rye Park and that has me wondering. Were they on their way to Rye Park and so he just parcelled her body up, brought it the rest of the way and buried her, occupying the same plot at a later date? Perhaps he actually had her body burnt and it was the ashes that were buried – very out of the norm for that time period but possible. Perhaps her body isn’t there at all, but when he was dying he made sure that the stonemason of the Rye Park cemetary put a mention there of the wife he never met.

My personal favourite potential story – that it was actually some time before the husband settled in Rye Park and he carried his beloved wife’s body around with him all that time…

Those of us who dabble in the dark side can find our stories in places others wouldn’t even think of looking. Which is why we can create the unique, intriguing works that we do.

Queanbeyan Cemetery
For example – I live in the town of Queanbeyan. There’s a story that in the mid 70s, a flood washed through town. It was so powerful it took out the side of the hill the cemetary is on, eventually releasing a large number of corpses. They floated down the river, into Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, before they were retrieved. The bodies couldn’t be readily identified again, so many of them were buried in a communal grave with a memorial erected in their memory.

I turned that into a love story – a poem. Here ‘tis (with apologies – I’m not much of a poet).

Even when dead, the heart yearns


The ghost of James Mason sat on his grave,
A miserable shade of a boy.
He watched phantoms promenade through the rain,
And could not connect with their joy.

Day after day, from moon rise to moon set,
He sat on that stone and he sighed.
If asked, he’d talk about pretty Miss Alice,
his angel, the love of his life.

James had been just nineteen when he’d died,
his old nag hadn’t clear that last fence.
He’d only just pledged to Alice McGowan
And he’d missed her every day since.

He never stopped loving, never stopped wanting,
He kept himself pure and alone,
Living in hope one day his Alice would lie here
And in the graveyard, they’d make a sweet home.

In seventy-four the rains came,
The river rose, the danger grew.
It tore at the hill of the graveyard,
Through dirt and wood it chewed.

Gravestones and coffins and bodies
were washed into the churning wake.
James sat on his coffin, buffeted, wild,
And rode the river down to the lake.

Shadowed trees held tight to the shoreline,
Scared that they too would be taken.
It seemed to him the whole world had been
Picked up and tossed round and shaken.

James perched on his box and wondered
When he’d return to the calm of his grave,
Then he saw a slim, girlish figure
Walk towards him over the waves.

The tilt of her head was familiar,
A gesture of her hand made him calm.
Then her smile, her curls, her crystal blue eyes,
And James felt no more alarm.

“Are you hurt?” called his Alice as she neared him
“Are you worried? Please, do not fear.
I will not hurt you, just want you to know
That there is somebody near.”

James smiled and said “Alice” and eyes widened
As shock moved across her sweet face.
Then she gasped and she cried out “My James, my love”
And she threw herself into his embrace.

Safe in his arms, Alice told him
Of lost love that she could not endure.
Straight after his sad little funeral,
She’d come to the lake and enacted the cure.

“It didn’t work,” Alice sobbed, “didn’t help,
I was dead but my love wouldn’t die.
And I couldn’t leave to be with you
But was trapped where my bones did lie.”

James kissed her and calmed her and soothed her
And promised never again would they part.
With the help of her watery-friends and neighbours,
Soon their bones lay close in the dark.

When later the divers found them,
And collected the bodies - his and hers -
They took all the bones to the grave yard
And made sure every one was interred.

If anyone noticed the newest arrival,
Not a word of it was said,
And late one night by a glistening moon
ghostly James and Alice were wed.

Now James smiles and nods and is happy
As he watches the others go about.
He sits on his stone and hold Alice’s hand
the sweet reward of the devout.

Even when dead, the heart yearns,
A grave yard cannot separate friends.
Even entombed, the passion still burns,
It never ends, never ends, never ends.





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