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Published: Wed Jul 1 2009
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
18th Century Remains

Albemarle County

The wooded ridge a mile from Monticello.
A pit cut deeper than the plough-line.
Archaeologists unearthed this site by scanning

plantation land mapped field
for roughage, ash, traces of human dwelling.
We stand amid blown cypresses.

Inheritors of absences, we peer
into a 10 by 12 foot ledge.
Unearthed painstakingly, these shards:

Two pipe stems, seeds, three greening buttons.
The 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,
the 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.

Wind bends 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.

Tess Taylor has received writing fellowships from Amherst College, the American Antiquarian Society, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. Her chapbook, The Misremembered World, was published by the Poetry Society of America. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Boston Review, Harvard Review, AGNI Online, Literary Imagination, The Times Literary Supplement, Memorious, and The New Yorker. (updated 6/2009)

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