Mound Digger

This mound of dirt and the summer are heirs to transfer
from what lies before and what lies behind,
pinch by pinch. Of the mound, she keeps a record.
The point, the students have been assured,
is not to find objects. Their object is 
to understand the ground.
What water did with it, when.
how often earthworms combed and cast it.
Whether it was tilled or thrust aside,
which seeds lay in it, which pollens settled.

When it's too dark to dig, she makes a tent
of reading assignments. A chapter on similarities
between spear points unearthed in Virginia 
and Soultrean points in Spain,
both kinds wrought as though for beauty 
and cached in heaps of red ocher. Another book
invites her to peer at the keyhole shape of a bone
the size of her index finger, engraved 
these ten thousand years with forty strokes--
fourteen, eight, eleven, then seven--and polished.

A tally, a game, the score?
We'll never know. And here's a review
of arguments about a broken rock
that might have been bashed into useful shape
deliberately, with another rock,
by some original axe-making biped,
or might be a geofact, a tease,
a found axe--or no tool at all.
She douses the light
and all the words disappear.

Morning, back to the mound. It's two mounds now;
she knows it halfway through, its wayward layers,
silky and barren or matted with nutrients,
heavy clay, a thousand shades of brown.
She sees it with her eyes shut, with her palms,
sometimes tastes it. Leaves the flints and bones
to thrill-seekers and visionaries.
Dirt answers her questions. She has dug past
any props or plots or characters
to the stuff all stories walk on

From Mount Clutter by Sarah Lindsay, published by Grove/Atlantic. Copyright © 2003 by Sarah Lindsay. Reprinted by permission of Grove/Atlantic. All rights reserved.