(after visiting The World of Stonehenge at the British Museum)
For Ange Mlinko
When did museums devolve to the didactic
Spelling out our wonder? Not enough
To show us something wonderful – the tactic
Is multimedia to smooth the rough
Edges of the imagination – ‘thwacks’
Piped in to whet the silence of an axe,
Or see: those skeletons of ponderous oxen
Sacrificed still harnessed to their wagon,
An animating beam of light now locks on
Their bones and lifts them to their feet to drag on
Into this techno-afterlife, and hectors
Their osteal gravity to astral spectres.
What’s left for brains to do? We read the labels –
(Why aren’t they better-written?!) – wouldn’t a brisk
Enumeration of the facts, dry tables,
Leave more room for stunned thought – just take this disc –
Oldest material heavenly map – the swoon
Of Pleiades beside the crescent moon
Inlaid in gold on bronze. The verdigris
And shine are like the night sky’s gloom and glisten.
The vertigo of time, the third degrees
Mute objects sometimes give us when we listen,
Briefly emerge, and overwhelm my whines
At this exhibit’s palpable designs.
OK, yes, the enhanced experience
Sometimes pays dividends – the hologram
Of Seahenge’s upside-down oak that sends
Its roots above into the air! I am
Upended with uncanniness – the room
Turned topsy-turvy, underground, a tomb.
This was the past, before your mother’s death,
The funeral of Russian chant and candles.
But in this past, we laugh and catch our breath
Admiring the gold horse-headed handles
Of cups to drink an ancient bowl of punch.
At sea in the sublime, we ponder lunch.
But let’s stop here at this stiff golden cape
Embossed with intricacy – with what posture
The wearer had to stand to let it drape
Over her upper torso – what it cost her,
And yet what pay-off in jaw-dropping glamour
(Drop-dead gorgeous through the ages, damn her.)
‘This unique covering for the upper body
Was buried with a woman’ – helpful text
‘It marked her as extraordinary’ lah-di-
Da queen or priestess. We stand vaguely vexed
By bald banalities that pull the rug
From under majesty. ‘A golden shrug’,
You term it – yes, I see it! – it’s inspired –
A golden shrug – you smile and lift your shoulders –
A flapper might be suitably attired
In such jazzy resplendence to enfold hers.
Your mother wit that catches me unwary –
Pure gold. It marks you as extraordinary.
We’ve had our dose of wonder, that endorphin:
Gold hats, the grooved ware of an ancient potter.
Days later you will tell me you’re an orphan.
Mothers are difficult, yet to un-daughter
Impossible. What can I send? No hug
Will hold your shoulders like grief’s golden shrug.
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