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Field Notebook
Places

March 28, 2018
Dig at Homolovi

East of Winslow, a tarp tied at six points pumps like an enormous drum

Wind does not stop, not even to breathe,

Hot Arizona dust-blower from the north, the land of the dead.

A crew fifteen feet down in the pit removes

Dry ochre soil an eighth of an inch at a time.

Below the tarp, masonry walls and ancient floors

Are beaten with bare feet long gone,

Strands of dark hair worked into hardpack around

Broken jars, kernels of charcoal, flakes and stone points,

And firepits lensed like dark eyes in the strata.

Room on room, people built atop each other over centuries

Where buckets of matrix are now hauled up for screening on a desert hilltop.

Katsina thunderheads rocket over the San Francisco peaks

One horizon away.

 

At lunch against a shield of greasewood a story is told,

Digging a New Mexico kiva, a ceremonial chamber, they found

Charred remains of many people

Arms pitched up at the elbows, skulls blackened into their sockets.

 

Data is what they seek.

But we all know what this place was about.

Whatever happened here,

Unspeakable.

 

As the story went, it was a calm summer day,

Like a bell yet to be rung, not a whiff of breeze

When a dust devil roared in from nowhere.

Everything went up, clip boards and work gloves.

The tarp over the kiva ripped from its grommets straight into the air

To come down in the desert like a crashed plane

Followed by stunned silence where scientists all at once

Knew exactly what this was about.

A story told at lunch at a dig

About the unthinkable that keeps happening.

 

At Homolovi, the wind wont stop.

The tarp prevents the dig from filling with blowsand.

Trowels and brushes reach the lowest layer, a flagstone floor fit together

Smooth as a jigsaw puzzle. Ceremonial chamber, we call it.

On the floor, the last thing to happen here, are the disarticulated bones of a dead person,

A story that ended, not yet over.

 

Which would mean a call to a tribal council, paperwork, controversy.

Respect to the next of kin, a thousand years away.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act:

No longer can archaeology freely wield the bones of the dead.

Instead of digging up the person,

Tomorrow the pit will be backfilled, closed off,

Leaving the Dead One in place, in situ, a gift of silence

Where I keep whispering, shhh, we were never here...

Tools navigate around bones, careful not to touch,

Seeing what artifacts might be found before backfilling.

These are not grave offerings but trash, midden, backfill from 800 years ago.

 

Fifteen painstaking feet down,

The woman digging beside me is pissed after all this work.

Shes from Mexico, an archaeologist used to temples and backhoes.

She says Mexico has different laws about the dead.

Tribes are archaeology, ancestry made for storage.

Whenever she starts to expose another bone, she says, God damn you!

Waking the skeleton

While threads of hourglass sand pour in from the edges of the tarp,

Fine-grained mounds building around us, the wind

Putting this dig slowly back to sleep.

 

 

Painting: Vincent van Gogh, Oil on Canvas, Paris: Winter, 1887 - 88
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe



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