Wednesday, December 20, 2006

the work of reassembly

The man rakes through knapped flakes
of flint, like leaves or blades, slices
of a body. He pictures unknown molluscs boring
into chalk, breaking down, leaving holes
that fill slowly with black, going bad, going hard;
thinks of an edge slitting hide, a heart flapping

in its own cavity. He finds the next piece,
sticks it carefully to the last, Superglue and blood
on his fingers. He's surrounded here by flint,
a thousand facets, more, spread out in shiny slices,
eyes staring up, frozen, each preserving an image
of a man swinging a stone blade, working flint,
moments captured in an immutable emulsion
of geology, fixed in leaching calcites and metamorphic
pressure - a record of clicking, grunting, industry

of rainfall or sunlight, smells of roasting
flesh, fur, cracking of fat and bone -
but he knows that these eyes look out only
from the impossible. These are not the flint roads
to a land of the dead, we shall not reach out
quivering hands to our mitochondria through this
avalanche of fossil. There are no sparks left
here, these fragments are cold as fish scales
to his fingers, this pool blind to both oceans

and the man refitting the scales, jigsawing through
codas of the Permian and Palaeolithic. He is precise,
determined; he assembles, he attempts, he rejects,
searches. He finds, growing in his hands, a nodule,
a flint - three dimensions, four, others perhaps
inert, coiled in a hole in the core in the shape
of an axe head. This is what he finds here

- holes - here in his hands, holes like words
transmitted from the Stone Age in its cataract
of sediment. He senses violence gestated, birthed
in these sockets, and his fingers sting
with the sensing. He knows the excitement,
the slight tremor as his fingers reach back,
adding more fragments, more of the hole, ignoring
the dreams that crowd upon him. He feels the void,

the discovery, absence, the discovery of absence.
The finding of holes. The shape of the absent -
he traces its periphery, its rim, feels the shape
of what has been taken. This is the beginning
of the work of reassembly: the finding of holes.
Later will come measuring and recording, cataloguing,
later still the taking of casts. Much later,
the tentative matching of specimens. For now,
he feels them in his hands, flints with no hearts,
light as pumice, warm as fists, dark as deep history.