Beginnings

By Jeffrey Greene Jeffrey Greene

National Museum of Scotland

On the ground floor called "Beginnings,"
a fertility stone is displayed   
in the diamond-hard blue halogen,   
a line etching of an erection   
with two equal circles, as one sees   
in graffitti in the Underground.   
The stone is attributed to the Picts,   
of whom history says little,   
besides the Latin picti,   
painted people, tattooed.   
When set side by side   
with Latin engravings   
and Roman military hardware,   
the artifact makes them   
seem pitiful. In the museum   
you rise through time,   
the text written in first   
person plural as if all   
who enter are complicitous   
with the articles of defiance,   
Robert the Bruce, the long   
unveering heredity of defeat,   
the room of thumbscrews   
and "The Maiden" for severing   
heretical heads of witches,   
upward to the Reformation,   
then the rout of the Highlanders   
and the exile of the Bonnie Prince,   
until the museum seems   
like a deep well where   
the fertility stone   
of the painted people   
rests at its bottom,   
universal hieroglyph   
on which someone made a wish.

Source: Poetry (January 2001).

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This poem originally appeared in the January 2001 issue of Poetry magazine

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January 2001
 Jeffrey  Greene

Biography

Jeffrey Greene is on the faculty of the Goddard College M.F.A. program. His work has appeared widely in such magazines as The New Yorker, The Nation, and Ploughshares. Winner of the Samuel French Morse Prize, an NEA fellowship, and the Randall Jarrell Prize, he has a new book upcoming from HarperCollins called Provincial of an Earthly Order.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Painting & Sculpture, Arts & Sciences, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

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