Cremation, Bali


(With the whoop of the mourners on the field,
under the marquee and the shaded dais,
the deceased man’s daughter, grief-seized, collapsed,
weeping, is in the arms of a quick man,
removed lest the father’s spirit remain here
wondering about her. The catafalque of wood and golden silk
collapsed in the long, tearing flames;
the white bull sarcophagus and bundled corpse fallen
into a timber mess so the cremators had to step forward,
practical as sailors, technicians of an ecstasy, with their long-tubed
blowtorches working at how matter resists combustion,
at how abandonment must be forced. In that fire I see the corpse
of my father, and of those ‘comrades’ bound in tyres and torched,
hated, during our wartime. Around me the villagers dressed in white,
no longer joking or greeting as they had in the temple,
watch on. Some eat fruit, drink bottled water,
or are making small offerings. Others, watching and quiet,
attend to their memories, outside of what grief
can grasp or sight hold as a glimpse.
Until the blackened, blowtorched parcel, shrunken, crumbles.
Even the skull, a smear of ashes
and flakes on the lightly damaged ground
over which individual hands will point out
what the large bamboo tweezers should find: grey shards
to be left, out-of-doors overnight, unattended,
for tomorrow’s ceremony and their deliverance
in the nearby sea.)




John Mateer

Author: John Mateer

John Mateer has published books of poems in Australia, Portugal, Austria and the UK, as well as booklets that have appeared in Johannesburg, Kyoto, Macau and elsewhere. The latest of his books are Emptiness: Asian Poems 1998-2012 and Unbelievers, or 'The Moor'. Over the course of two decades he has read his work in many countries. Forthcoming is a German translation of his book The West: Australian Poems 1989-2009 and a Portuguese translation of Unbelievers, or 'The Moor'. Early in 2015 The Quiet Slave: an History in Eight Episodes, his year-long collaboration with the Malay communities of the Cocos-Keeling islands and the town of Katanning, will be exhibited as part of SPACED2: Future Recall.