The drop

Top of a hill, sun-dry
December day. Funeral director
shows us how to wind the straps
around our hands with just enough give,

coffin wanting to dead drop fast,
heeled-boots palm-damp arm-strain
a little this way, a little that (don’t let go!)
we lay my uncle’s body into place.

Not far from here is the Birrarung
site of ritual and nourishment for Wurundjeri People
eels and fish, meeting and sharing,
eon years deeper than the time-worn watch

on my sweaty wrist, straining
with the weight of the dead,
can show.  ‘Where’s your Dad buried?’
Cousin Alan asks. He played the organ,

all ten of us permitted in the church
murmur-sang hymns
about sin and God’s glory
spittling into our masks.

1850s last colonial-recorded
gathering of Wurundjeri People
after which traditional ways
were banned. 1850s this cemetery

dug into the hill,
European settlers tired of heaving
bodies into Melbourne, the back and
forth traipse of death.

‘Somewhere near here’,
check with my mother
who says ‘Yes, he’s right there.’
We’ve been walking on you,

your plaque covered
while we lower your brother
into the hole next door. It is windy,
sand blowing back in our faces

but the roses drop well enough.
All the old relatives
clutch each other’s hands,
driveway next to the plot is steep.

1850s wave of German immigrants
Lutheran refugees
fleeing persecution
found fortune in this soil,

land that was never for sale,
pacts and trades never signed
It is twenty years since we stood,
watching your box go down,

what was in you muted,
an inner sadness too vast to name.
All that is buried here,
steeped in blood and silence.

The drop
opens a hole in our chests,
there is no climbing out,
instead I climb in.

Edge down the side, burrow through,
lift the lid, metal clasps clink,
rattle of teeth and bones.
I sink my hands into the clay,

how would I remake you?
All that we took, what we were given.
My fingers are feeble,
they cannot form a shape.

Emilie Collyer lives on unceded Wurundjeri Country where she writes poetry, plays and prose. Her poetry collection Do you have anything less domestic? (Vagabond Press 2022) won the inaugural Five Islands Press Prize.