by Katha Pollitt

Page 4

I'm going to read a couple of poems from my first book; my only book, actually. And then I'll read some new poems. The first poem I'll read is called "Archeology," and it has an epigraph from my friend Jonathan Galassi with whom I had had a conversation about to what extent is poetry or one's subject and the way you write determined by your character, and to what extent is it the mysterious workings of the imagination. He held out for the former, I for the latter, and I've since decided he was probably right. It's called "Archeology."

"Our real poems are already in us, and all we can do is dig."
-Jonathan Galassi

You knew the odds on failure from the start
that morning you first saw or thought you saw,
beneath the heatstruck plains of a second-rate country
the outline of buried cities. A thousand to one
you'd turn up nothing more than the rubbish heap
of a poor Near Eastern backwater:
a few chipped beads,
splinters of glass and pottery, broken tablets
whose secret lore, laboriously deciphered,
would prove to be only a collection of ancient grocery lists.
Still, the train moved away from the station without you.

How many lives ago
was that? How many choices?
Now that you've got your bushelful of shards
do you say, give me back my years
or wrap yourself in the distant
glitter of desert stars,
telling yourself it was foolish after all
to have dreamed of uncovering
some fluent vessel, the bronze head of a god?
Pack up your fragments. Let the simoom
flatten the digging site. Now come
the passionate midnights in the museum basement
when out of that random rubble you'll invent
the dusty market smelling of sheep and spices,
streets, palmy gardens, courtyards set with wells
to which, in the blue of evening, one by one
come strong veiled women, bearing their perfect jars.

  previous page
next page
table of contents
search the archives

  Titanic Operas Main Page
Copyright 1999 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
Maintained by Rebecca Mooney  <rnmooney@umd.edu>
Last updated on March 10, 2008
Dickinson Electronic Archives