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Beginnings

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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

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

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Beginnings

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