Undertakers at Lightning Ridge
In a town with an opal mine,
but without a funeral home,
amateur Australian morticians
don’t know how to embalm,
but some study how to beautify,
most recently the corpse
of Valerie Van Emmerick ,
a thrice-married, rabbit-hunting
miners’ cook who had knocked
down a man in a fistfight.
The opal miner who took
the beautician’s course arranges
her hair in curls and applies
make-up after he and his mate
lift her hefty body into the white,
satin-padded coffin, presumably
washing their large hands first
and taking off their muddy boots.
After a brief memorial service
in the bowling club, a retired minister
asks if any mourners want to speak.
One tells how Valerie had taken
a miner out at a miner’s meeting,
obviously a pub-favorite story.
Because of the heavy seasonal rains,
the grave the miners dig for Valerie
is flooded, so they take the coffin
to the new mortuary that once was
a Lion’s Club. Until the rains let up
and the grave dries out, her body
remains in the refrigerator
that stored beer.
266 of Jan Ball’s poems appear in journals such as: ABZ, Atlanta Review,
Calyx, Connecticut Review, Main Street Rag, Nimrod, and Verse Wisconsin, in
Great Britain, Canada, India, Ireland and the U.S. Jan’s two chapbooks:
accompanying spouse (2011) and Chapter of Faults (2014) were published with
Finishing Line Press. Jan’s first full-length poetry book, I Wanted to
Dance with My Father, was published by Finishing Line Press in September,