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Environmental Health Officer by Rae Davey

for RM

She is always humming the same four notes
this solid woman with the tired eyes:
hm hmm hm hmmm.

In the houses of the unclaimed dead
she works alone, methodically searching
mildewed papers for the name of someone

who might care. The neatly tied bags of shit
she regards with wry compassion,
humming against the stench: hm hmm hm hmmm.

Usually, she says, no one comes.
She pieces together derelict lives,
crafts eulogies from clues she’s found:

a CD in a broken machine, a plane ticket
from 1983, the clumped remains
of rotted paperbacks.

He listened to Holst and collected books
she says to the empty crematorium
he’d been all the way to Australia.

She doesn’t say he lay in his room until
the rats grew fat. She doesn’t say
he kept his piss in plastic bottles.

She brings dahlia and cosmos
from her own abundant garden,
lays them on the plywood box.

Only when the coffin
slips behind the curtain
does it start again: hm hmm hm hmmm.