Eighteenth Century Remains
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?"
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.
Used by permission.
From The Forage House (Red Hen Press, 2013)
Tess Taylor's chapbook, The Misremembered World, was selected by Eavan Boland for the Poetry Society of America's inaugural chapbook fellowship, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Boston Review, Harvard Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and other places. She reviews poetry for NPR's All Things Considered. In The Forage House, her first full length book, she examines sometimes painful family and national histories -- looking at what such stories contain, and what they leave out. The San Francisco Chronicle called The Forage House "stunning." The Oxford American says, "On their own, the poems are visceral, densely detailed, and frequently playful... Read together, in order, the details are illuminated by context and gain historical sweep." Taylor has received awards and fellowships from MacDowell, Headlands Center for the Arts, and The International Center for Jefferson Studies. She now lives in El Cerrito, California.
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