Andrew Payton is a Maryland native and graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University. His poetry has been published in Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, Louisville Review, and elsewhere, and won the 2013 James Hearst Poetry Prize at North American Review. He is currently teaching in Svidník, Slovakia on a Fulbright fellowship. Find him at andrewdpayton.wordpress.com.
On Cerro Ballena in coastal Chile,
workers widening a highway uncover remains
of thirty baleen whales, stranded belly-up
nine million years prior. A marine biologist
calls it an awesome snapshot of deep time. Reading
the article in bed, I stop at those words: deep
time. In Kentucky, in our town above caves,
she and I took headlamps and old sneakers
below the surface. Past beer cans and lawn
chairs in the first hundred feet, we followed
the water’s direction, farther from our life
in the light. At the rapids we turned back,
knowing of curious ones snatched by water,
buried. Dozens of them: pre-Colombian,
early American, a few teenagers last spring
entombed, preserved but unreachable.
In tunnels below York Minster,
I touched the cold stone of Roman streets,
reached into Viking tombs, remembered
things I had never done: begging scraps
in town squares, hunting mammoth, bison.
I once believed in access to reservoirs
of universal memory. In half-dream states
I saw myself as a young shepherd in my hills
watching an army carry flames into my village.
I called to my husband in the guillotine.
I am older now and hurtful things are masked
in sediment of the everyday: the body we shared,
her and I, has laid to die. Our choicest flesh
scattered, scavenged, remains wind-hidden
in films of grit. Last week on the phone,
having very little to say, she asked if still
I ached for her. Calcified is the word I used.