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Eighteenth Century Remains

By Tess Taylor

   Albemarle County

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?"
Silence again.

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.

Added: Monday, July 14, 2014  /  From "The Forage House" (Red Hen Press, 2013). Used with permission.
Tess Taylor

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, serves on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, and is a professor of English and creative writing at Whittier College. 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 Americansays, "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 lives in El Cerrito, California.

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