Albemarle County

The ridge a half mile down from Monticello.
A pit cut deeper than the plow line.
Archaeologists plot the dig by scanning

plantation land mapped field
for carbon, ash, traces of human dwelling.
We stand amid blown cypresses.

Inheritors of absences, we peer
into the five-by-five foot ledge.
Unearthed painstakingly, these shards:

two pipe stems, seeds, three greening buttons.
Centuries-old hearthstones are still charred,
as if the fire is only lately gone.

"Did they collect these buttons to adorn?" But no one knows.
"Did they trade, use them for barter?"
Silence again.

Light, each delicate pipe stem,
something someone smoked at last
against a sill-log wall that passed as home,

a place where someone else collected
wedges of cast-off British willowware.
Between vines, a tenuous cocoon.

A grassy berm that was a road.
A swaying clue
faint as relief at finding something left

of lives held here that now vanish off
like blue smoke plumes I suddenly imagine—
which are not, will not, cannot be enough.

Copyright © 2013 by Tess Taylor. From The Forage House (Red Hen Press, 2013). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.