Domestic Archaeology


Wide, garish roses promised nothing,
but where they peeled, revealing
classical blue ruins underneath,
I made a start, stripping out urns
and pilasters, shadowy temples highlighted in white.

Here and there I'd scraped through
to another level, a less
sophisticated culture — glimmers of bronze
dulled now to indifferent brown
but still suggestive — and so continued

until I'd laid all bare,
a dry antique skin somebody once loved
and somebody else buried. Oh, I confess,
I lifted that layer carefully, imagining
a young couple in their new house

making a start, beginning a civilization
with nothing to build on or scrape off,
nothing but lathed ribbing and horsehair,
the clean, dusty plaster of these walls
and a tin bucket of home-made paste.