I AM THE ONLY GHOST

 

... we passed streams of Native women, their belongings on their heads, leaving the mining village. They were servants of evacuees who could no longer employ them.

                                                Sunday Times, 8 August 1964.

 

This is my funeral service. We have no ceremonies, only private dirges and no conclusions, only violent sensations, each separate. Nothing that has been said meets our case.                                                                                                                                                                                         Virginia Woolf, The Waves

 

 

The caption to the newspaper's

Obligatory family portrait

(Rather dated: one

Baby only in the frame; first or

Last? Hettie so young and pretty -

But then she was twenty one with her first,

Only twenty eight with her now six-year old last -

And Johannes, so tie and hanky,

Short back and sides

Proud) read:

 

Hier is die vader en moeder, Johannes en Hester Oosthuizen,

Here is the father and mother,Johannes and Hester Oosthuizen,

Met een van hul drie kinders,

With one of their three children

Wat Sondagnag almal in hierdie gat in Caltonville verdwyn  het,

Who on Sunday night all disappeared into this hole

Saam met hul bediende en vier huise

Along with their servant and four houses.

 

I am the only ghost

At this funeral of five;

Out of frame,

Out of mind,

I am the mist at the margins

Of the soft-edged family portrait.

Well, was I one of the ones

(One two three five -

 

 

                        Six)

Who, as only the report above would have it,

`Disappeared into the hole'?

None of the others even mention this possibility

Let alone question it.

Although every neat

Red-brick, tin-roofed, green-doored and framed

House (with which I was counted,

When I counted at all)

Had neat outbuildings,

A garage and

Servant's quarters,

We have only heard the burial of Anglias bewailed -

Oh, yes, and that `the S.P.C.A. is arranging to remove and

Look after all the animals left

Behind by the evacuees';

The servants of evacuees

Must look after themselves

Now they have no-one to look after.

 

So I am the only ghost at this funeral

Coming in early on Monday morning,

But not early enough -

At six o'clock nearly four hours too late -

To serve or save;

Coming back from leave,

A month who here knows where,

To find my living buried,

My single (Christian) name unspoken

And no other names or places or people available when

After some time

It came to be spoken

As, half-heartedly, some thought to give me a shape, a place, a

Meaning in all of this; a meaning

Restricted to relief

At the strong probability

Of my absence

Those crucial four or so

Hours earlier -

A relief that makes my present absence

A little less embarrassing.

 

 

So I - the only ghost at this funeral - remain,

As I join the stream of real refugees

(Too scared to claim an identity:

Whose fault is all of this, after all?)

Far less substantial on this solid earth

Than those five (count them) firm bodies

Definitely somewhere,

Even if this is

Precisely eighty feet

Underground.

 

 

……………………………………

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