laura mullen

 

THE EXCAVATION

 

I don’t even want to speak of her, anymore: I don’t even want to admit she existed, once. If I’d had my way we’d have buried her deep in that gash our researches left in the garden: put her down when we brought what became, with additions, the effigy up. An apology, a substitute, a synonym, a correspondence. Say There’s no such thing and close the book; tap a muddy shovel on the cover: “the Devonian’s long gone now, mate.” The actual excavators–as we like to say in the lab–are practically dinosaurs themselves: later it will all be done with light. She liked to watch the way their shovels, shifting periods, shifted the sun-burned flesh of their muscled backs. She laughed something down at them from the edge of the dig I didn’t catch. Was it only last summer? I’m writing this in my field notebook, lunching amid the parts I can’t make fit. Dust in the sandwich. I’d have liked to know where she was at every second, to have made an educated guess; the switch would’ve been a relief, to be honest (to contain the claimed effect), instead we closed the hole on an emptiness that can’t help haunting, or I, to be honest again (against the hard-packed), am inhabited by the thought. What we might have done and didn’t. Like the print of itself in fled motion a long-dead thing left: “Despite their name, ‘Sea Lilies’ are not a plant . . . .” Near the actual stuff it’s all experts, I tried to explain, proceeding slowly through increasingly finer recognitions with the tools of an artist or a dentist. From faith to hope to charity, as we joke. Using the calcified, stiff, fragile bones we wrest free of the stone they’ve become we cast what can pass for a complete structure, imagining as well as we can what didn’t last. I can explain it all right. Sketched in its “natural habitat” handicapped height on the information plaque, not looking at us: involved completely in the past. Monstrous. From the hole I hear them laughing back. And I talk and I talk and I talk.