The Deadhouse

Winner of the Satura Prize, 2013.

Published in Infinite Dirt, FSP, 2013

Sometimes at the year end when air gets heavy with light,

you’ll find us here where it’s cooler, darker, despite

the inescapable dead weight of sun that drops

from roof window onto mortuary slab.

 

Ivy prises daylight from shutter slats.

Earth-clung tools are slung in corners:

spades, rakes, pruning shears,

the slotted vertebrae of terracotta pots.

 

We hunch over the slab, heads bent

above slender boxes of earth, gathering

the packaged ghosts of old plants, pushing

down with our thumbs, returning them to the dark.

 

This is how we make things over,

this quiet burial, this ancient ritual.

We plant the seeds.  We leave

our thumbprint kisses in the infinite dirt.

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Adelaide Asylum Morgue

The dead house, where bodies from the Adelaide Asylum were prepared for their coffins, still stands in the grounds of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.  It was built in the 1880s from stone that was quarried by the inmates of Yatala prison. The building is very basic with timber beams and a galvanised iron roof. The stone mortuary slab, used for autopsies, has a trough to allow blood to drain from corpses. The trough leads to a drain in the centre of the stone floor. The morgue is now a store for garden tools.  The old mortuary slab was allegedly once used as a potting bench.