Her mother’s weighty Ladies Handbook of Home Treatment
always opened at the same page; a female, pregnant
and nude showing layer upon layer of internal organs fitting
neatly behind the ribcage. The flaps were lifted and refolded
countless times. She devised a devious method of climbing
cushions and books in the dark to remove and replace
the volume because her childhood pilgrimage required torchlight
and absolute privacy; a bated breath, singular encounter
mysterious and thrilling, connected with later struggles
at daybreak, attacking an arduous track to stand in long grass
and leaf litter, fathoming relationships on headstones, the brief
time-gap of burials, and reasons for placement on the western side
of the hillcrest, as if the interred could appreciate panoramic views
at sunset. Why were the graves untouched by the earthquake
yet ravaged by aftershocks? Reports claimed tinkles followed
an almighty boom as graves, no longer intact, tumbled down
the hillside. With the natural order upset there were traces of subsoil
topsoil, humus, bedrock and weathered fragments. Some locals
believed trees at the base of the hill possessed satanic power
drawing remains of corpses and coffins down through rabbit burrows
sewer pipes, aquifers and conglomerate into the root systems
of mighty Moreton Bay Figs. Whatever space a tree’s canopy covers
a similar amount or greater, is taken by the roots. Ancient trees
have anchors, twisted and interlocked as arthritic fingers in prayer.
Just as brain neurones zip and cavort, a party occurs at the base of trees.
Imagine the zesty frivolity underground as millions of microbes
jest and gossip to connect with mates, faraway in the forest.
Jan Dean, a former visual arts teacher, lives in a suburb of Lake Macquarie. In 2018 she was awarded life membership of Poetry at the Pub, Newcastle. She has a distinguished service award from the Fellowship of Australian Writers, NSW.