Shanidar, Now Iraq

By Sarah Lindsay Sarah Lindsay
When bones and flesh have finished their business together,
we lay them carefully, in positions they’re willing to keep,
and cover them over.
Their eyes and ours won’t meet anymore. We hope.

It’s one of the oldest rules we mostly follow.
In the deep Stone Age in Shanidar, now Iraq,
someone or all of them laid or threw on the grandfather’s chest
whatever was blooming—
St. Barnaby’s thistle, yarrow, hollyhock...
His was their only burial before the frost.

For millennia, then, the dead might go under with thistle,
quantities of red ocher, a chunk of meat.
Now we have everlasting bouquets of plastic;
now we have hundreds a day to bag and box and pickle
to re-cross the Atlantic.

Light a row of oil wells and kneel
on sand too much embroiled for tombs.
Regrettably, something of the smell
is of bodies suddenly buried in fallen stones.
But some is incense, pinches of pulverized Baghdad rising
in ceremonial smoke:
dust of combatants, onlookers, miscellaneous limbs,
contents of hovels, contents of museums,
ancient pollen of yarrow and hollyhock.

Source: Poetry (March 2011).


This poem originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2011

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