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The business of unbirth

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Six Elegies For My Father

1. entrails

on the day my father died
the morning headline
blared a scandal:
medical students had abused
donated corpses, mother's voice
was stronger than it had been for years
I read nature was more
anarchic self-organisation
than central state and even men
who experienced the Great
Industrial War of wired trenches
did not become pacifists, helped
Helmut butcher the two sheep
I'd killed the week before
a brief gust of weak
nocturnal rain did nothing
but wash a little dust
off the iron that night
I dreamed I was
giving a man
instructions on how
to train his unruly dog

2. janus

descending down
into a cellar cool room
garage smells like the storeroom
at Coca Cola my father worked in
where I waited after school
for the long drive home
from Naremburn now
his body a marble sculpture
white blotched skin in white silk
soft cold hands crossed
to touch lightly as the bird
he nursed and released
from the opened window
when I was five the face
in deep sleep the mouth
opened on the chipped
false tooth the eagle nose
the strong skull
reasserting itself
through the temporary skin
a bad shave but beloved
eyebrow spikes to stroke
earlobe I once sucked
over fifty years ago
in a morning bed
familiar as father
from the left
from the right
a frozen sleeping

3. over, through and under

extended turbulence over India
jumbled voices in the head
snatches of old tunes
perforating the engine hum

waking over the Ukraine
where his childhood was
Vinnitsa, Zhitomir, Lvov
where horses still pulled

grandfather Arkady's artillery
through the thawing mud
on the screen a little plane
tracks its caterpillar pilgrimage

over another 1500 kilometres
of green and virtual land
towards a farewell
to my dead father

at the bottom of the plastic tray
under the Malaysian rice breakfast
a real palm leaf

4. liminal

not at the funeral parlour
(burst water pipe)
not at the garage cool room
(was no punk)
not at the chapel
(no coffins allowed)

rather: 17 kilometres
through the jungle
of autobahn clover leafs
and agribiz wastelands
to the invisible Father
Rhine, centre of the centre
Bingen, mystic Hildegard's
place between the grey concrete
apartment buildings a grime-red
Lutheran church 1904
eternalising the Swedish king
who in the 30 Years War
helped lay waste the land

this coffin is not my father

yesterday's embedded marble king
there/not there during it all
where liminal father liminal son
non-embedded still flying
not home here old friends
dead just cold air
in which candles
and Russian liturgical chant
on CD fight to warm
weave now a shroud
of memory music words solo
tears come and go

come and go

in the car going back
mother's voice:
'such is life's end
are we in Bingen?'

5. chrysalis

the ceremony closes
with a Russian Easter Song
the black urn he chose
against his wife's wishes
is embossed with
the icon of a vibrant

he dies in a German winter
that declines to be one:
prunus, forsythia
blossoms, a brown butterfly
pulsing softly, confused
on a wet black path

on the day I fly off
the headlines say
we have 13 years
left to save the world
and I almost tread
on a wasp

coming home
torrential rains have emerged
from the thousand year

6. what you need to unbirth

simple poplar coffin with rose carvings, six handles
cushion and blanket
male gown and stockings
dressing and bedding of the deceased

transport to cemetery
pursuing of administrative formalities
request for marriage certificate
forms for crematorium and urn air transport

transport of the deceased to crematorium
viewing of corpse with doctor of the deceased
forms for the doctor
small ceremony at the cemetery

written cancellation of pension, medical insurance, church taxes
urn in wine red/brown with embossed gold cross
six death certificates (three free, three payable)
two international death certificates

cremation approval by town administration
extract from marriage certificate
fee for viewing of corpse by administrative doctor
small coffin bouquet for funeral ceremony

candles and candle holders for funeral ceremony
hand bouquet for the deceased
coffin storage fee at cemetery cool room
technical cremation fee

total in dollars

Peter Lach-NewinskyPeter Lach-Newinsky is a German-Australian former teacher now involved in permaculture, managing a 20 acre property with his wife at Bundanoon in the NSW Southern Highlands.




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Existing comments

Thanks for the insights and the reflections. Congratulations on putting pen to paper; my father died last year aged 102. The echoes of two centuries past reverberate in my head.

Ray Lamerand | 13 February 2008  

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