Claire Hermann: Property Record

Four pink flags on four steel stakes
Mark the corners of these two acres,
The borders of what belongs to us.
A clearing, a ravine, a wet-weather spring.
In the grass, we find a broken teacup,
A doll with one arm, a single shoe.

A woman at the end of the street
Was born on this ground.
She waves from her porch as we drive home.
The man across the road played
In these woods as a boy, running from his yard
To the rotting slave cabins behind the ridge.

When the backhoe we hired cuts into the hillside,
The clay peals back in ancient layers,
Red and orange and black,
Threaded with quartz and amethyst,
Our arrival marked by a gash
Through the work of millennia.

At first, things came and went slowly here.
The deep dark of the ocean,
Its curled shells and crawling creatures,
The slow plodding steps of the dinosaurs,
The wooly mammoth, ferns as tall as houses,
The sharp feet of elk and buffalo, the dark pelts of panthers.

These last centuries, things disappeared with dizzying speed.
The bright wings of parakeets lifting into the sky,
The elks’ bellow, wolves’ howl,
Bark houses, entire languages,
Saxapahaw and Eno and Cherokee,
Nodding flowers of columbine and blue star.

And then faster, replaced and replaced again,
Leather-soled boots and West African curses,
Log houses, hand-dug wells, stone walls,
Barbed wire, clotheslines, asbestos, Nehi bottles.
The hills are layers of rotted bones.

In the last decade, the foreign feet
Of stiltgrass and silverbell crawl, strange, across the soil.
Coyote and truck. Concrete and bulldozer.
Four-wheelers, honeysuckle, ivy, beer cans.
Now, this road, this house.
Us.

 

Originally published in Earthspeak, 2010