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.

Copyright © 2014 by Claire McQuerry. “Stratigraphy” originally appeared in Steel Toe Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.