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To celebrate our 75th birthday, we’re presenting exceptional works from Meanjin’s past that have defined and challenged Australian literary culture.  >

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Questions for the Dead

Ross Donlon

Poetry by Ross Donlon


for Margaret Phelps


By night, your Necropolis could be a city skyline—
neighbours on rooftops with TV antennas.

By day, crucifixes chess piece their way
through a thousand flocks of angels

perched on marble or outside mausoleums
waiting the world to end or one to wake.

There’s disorientation being a lone searcher
in a city of dead and gridlocked streets.

Inside the shrubs and patchwork plan
a million souls lie ready and waiting,

like vehicles left in a stadium car park,
motors running until maps arrive.

Religions intertwine like overlapping galaxies,
signs point uncertainly to chapels and shrines

so it’s understandable that finding you
and Kathleen, your stillborn grandchild,

would be difficult, the helpful numbers
well hidden behind trees and uncut grass.

Our time provides no grave goods
to comfort either side of eternity,

no clues as to who you were, a life
with bookends but few books—

a deathbed drenched by the Change
is the only story that made it here.

Words wear fast even with a headstone’s gravity.
Your site turns out wordless, looking straight up

into the questions each day has to offer
and at night the cartography of stars.



©Ross Donlon

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