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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Penny Harter


Archaeology

She is always unearthing something—
here, a rotting bone a dog buried,
there, a headless doll with
stuffing leaking from its chest.

She digs in this field each night,
sniffing the dirt, savoring the strata
as she claws her way down
through soil and clay.

Perhaps the grinning skulls
of her cursed father, mother,
will turn up, blind as bulbs
waiting to sprout into her palms.

She carries resurrection in her hands,
her fingers splayed to sift the earth,
searching for some fragment of a skull
that answers to her name.


Peat Bog Woman

1.

She had red hair.
She has red hair,
a wild bloom still sprouting
from her leather scalp.

She is stained brown,
her face a hard raisin,
her eyelids ridged closed.

I would touch her breasts—
one tilts up, the other down,
no longer twins
humming in harmony.

She died in her early thirties.
She sank on her back.
She was pressed by the bog
for two thousand years.

She died in her early thirties.
On the laboratory table
their gloves brush peat
from her face.

She sank on her back.
She has red hair.
Carefully, they wash it
strand by strand.

Scraps of faded linen
stick to her stomach
under clasped hands that curl
like claws and meet at her navel.

Her arms bridge her torso,
an arc from there to here,
her red hair—a forest of fire.

2.

If they scrape cells
from the inside of your cheek
and carry them away,
the cells will know
when you touch that place again,
will shiver if it hurts.

And if they probe the mouth
of Peat Bog Woman, find a tongue
and scrape from it her cells,
will her children millennia away
cry out in recognition?

At night in the museum
her body lies in a glass coffin,
preserved like the bones of a saint.

Dust settles on the things
we think we ought to keep.
She has red hair, a galaxy
streaming from the promise
of her head, the cradle
of her flesh. Red hair.


Frijoles Canyon, New Mexico

She climbs a wooden ladder
against the cliff face, crawls
into the shadows of a cave.

She curls against an inner wall
her belly dark with longing.
"Soon, little one, soon,"
the wind growls
as it licks the cave mouth.

The sky rumbles
as she scratches more clouds
into the soot-stained walls,
but the rain does not come.