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HEADSTONES AND CHATTELS

HEADSTONES AND CHATTELS 

‘Twas pure chance that I discovered
Just the other day,
A place passed 
Countless times,
Never had the thought of calling in,
Inner thoughts and misplaced fears
Oh there must have been countless other reasons
For one to just go there inside,
But however on this particular day,
I stopped,
I looked,
Then summoned up some kind of an internal fortitude
And through a pair of rusty creaking gates
I entered and embraced 
Another forgotten time,
Inside the local cemetery
In a forgotten part of town
Where on first appearances 
Overgrown,
Untidy,
Forgotten,
Ignored,
By many who live in luxury?
In this pioneer town
Where homes of bricks and mortar 
Have become the order of the day.

This township 
When first settled,
After pushing the aboriginals out,
By European immigrants
Who fled the persecution?
And slaughter 
Of their ancient homelands,
Being wrapped 
And raped in revolution,
And then there was no other choice,
Escape by rolling wooden ships
Canvas sails in providential winds 
Then landing in,
An unknown foreign land 
On high tide in Hobson’s bay
A new home land called Australia
Way back in eighteen fifty four.

Through overgrown unmowed grass 
That crinkled neath my feet,
My aimless wanderings took me past
The history of my district,
With headstones marking
Anointed spots in the ground
The words of each 
Meant much more
Telling tales from the past
Of persons now lying
In final resting places below,
An immigrant,
A seeker escaping personal grief,
A mother,
A father,
A child born out of wedlock,
Now in here a pioneer true blue.

Reading inscriptions imprinted
Sometimes, 
Not quite having an understanding,
But for sure,
One thing more than anything else
Telling briefly of tales that said
Of what life was all about?
In bygone days
Where women were seemingly treated
Harshly,
Like slaves, 
For dominant overbearing masters,
Second class citizens,
Chattels to be owned and conquered
Who sole purpose in life? 
For me it seemed, 
They to be the bearer,
Of many children
And then some more,
Then packed it in 
To die at an early age.

Then without a sound I stopped, 
Pausing 
Before a dirt burial ground mound,
An ancient looking headstone marking
The recipient of being mouldy grey,
For at an awkward angle  
It leant backwards, 
For it was up close
I realized that I needed to be 
To read,
To take in the inscription chiseled there,
“Our dearly departed Mother
Theresa Henrietta Alice 
Who died when bearing another?
Already a mother of fifteen kids
This beloved chattel 
Of husband Alfred George
Now gone home to glory
Into the arms of an Almighty God.”

So thus I say to you
It wasn’t that long ago
When a woman had kids
She had one on her apron strings,
A second with a snotty nose on her hip
Another with dirty diapers 
Another child protruding from an ever growing stomach,
This body of hers taken for granted 
To be a chattel
Often not of her choosing,
Abused and taken for pleasure
By he who goes by the title
“Her Old man or the master of the house.”

Then quite often,
At a relatively young age
When sometimes tears were shed,
For this woman buried there
Frequently for this child of God
RELIEF!
From the pain of childbirth,
That only a woman,
A wife,
A mother,
An indentured servant girl,
A chattel,
Could ever experience
A joy of motherhood.

In this afternoon embrace,
As time slowly passed
Reading inscriptions there
For me it seemed to be
That one after another,
From decade to decade, 
These stone memorials
Were the remembrance
Of a forgotten what went before,
That recorded 
Our sometimes chequered history,
For indeed there were the Chattels
The brides to be 
Of prominent pioneer males
Who suffered indeed of pain?
Mostly now for these pioneering mums
Where is her headstone 
Proclaiming her to be a Chattel?
Probably housed in forgotten patch
Known locally as the Cemetery
Where you enter through creaky gates.


Francis Cooper – Mac





Copyright © Francis Cooper-McKenzie

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