In Search of History

We go in search of history and find
a guillotine at a garage sale where the lady
of the house in curlers and stretch pants
sits in a lawn chair knitting, knitting.

The guillotine is ugly but has historic
value, we say, and take it home
to replace the wagon wheel in the yard,
but we can’t get the damned thing to work.

Nobody told us the lubricant of history
is blood. We thought it was money.
Is Grandma’s pickle crock historical?
How much is it worth? Could we convert

the rusted old tricycle into a fountain?
But history sings like a chain saw
in the woods, a freight train
in the night. History is the grizzled

Viet Nam veteran with his dog and sign,
begging at the intersection. History
is the yellow detritus of used condoms
at the edge of Lovers’ Lane.

History is a lottery ticket, a truck full
of cocaine approaching the border crossing,
a drunk on the wrong side of the highway.
History is hallucination, fantasy, a mirage

in the desert, as blind as justice.
Historians suffer from the fever of time
but never know what time it is.
They are mad poets making up stories.

The history of war passes a hat and we
put our children in it. Then somebody
gives us stars to put in our windows,
one star for each child.

On the streets of history there are more
guns than lovers, but who could stay

indoors on such a day when the chestnuts
have leafed out at last and lilacs
fill the air with the heartbreak of history.

“In Search of History” from The Last Person to Hear Your Voice by Richard Shelton, © 2007. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.