Stratigraphy

Take what’s unearthed—copper, bone
needle, silver coins—as evidence of continuous
human presence. Such puzzling
detritus and handiwork: this bronze 
ear pick etched with fine cross-hatch or that 
female figurine of painted clay, “meaning 
unknown,” striped and small enough 
a child’s hand could enclose it. They look as if
laid aside yesterday, tokens of commerce
or devotion. Bronze stem of a mirror, 
pottery shards which conceal a partial 
story: the hands of Paris presenting the apple 
to Aphrodite. Another unknown woman 
flanks the goddess, but only her feet 
and robes remain. How much is unrecoverable,
how much surmised. Dig until you find 
a comb, further down an amphora’s handle, 
a seal. Here’s sign of fire, here 
erosion, here time
piling its jewels and ash, spreading
its quilts over the dead.
 

More by Claire McQuerry

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Meadow with Hoarfrost

Now the wire is bare; now it's sheathed 
in blackbirds, a magic that undoes me 
every time: how they alight or rise 
like iron filings drawn by a magnet. 
What purpose to this synchronous eruption
 
but beauty? And yet, beneath such wonder,
what horrors bulge up out of the given. Take
that afternoon when, still shaken from it all
I cooked a funeral meal. Blind bars of sun
laced the counter, the cold, ground meat 
 
I rubbed with herbs and salt. I knew my friend 
wouldn’t taste, if he even ate, but the task 
gave me reason not to be still with the recent 
spectacle: the casket, his son’s body dressed 
as if for a school dance, the wrecked wrists
 
hidden beneath sleeves. If I’d let it, the specters
would split and split, like nesting dolls. Behind 
that impression, another—the ashes of a friend 
who’d hanged himself the month before. How, 
when cast, some of those ashes returned 
 
and clung to my sweater. The washed-up bones 
of the schizophrenic girl who’d walked into the river 
that summer. This was reality: the raw meat, 
my hands the same dull red, the drought scorching 
the heartland’s cornfields to straw, everything wasted. 
 
And yet, seasons flicker past like slides, a long
line of traffic, going whether I watch or not, so look: 
here I am, driving fast down a white highway. 
The fields shine in their netting of frost, and every 
last filament on every tree lining the road is plated 
 
meticulous silver—not a branch untouched—
and these witless blackbirds rise, making 
a sailing vessel of wings: you were wrong, says 
the ship that’s not a ship, that disappears 
into fog, wrong about everything.
 

Related Poems

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning