Friday, November 18, 2011

This charming archaeologist with her spade…


And still they come, yes, dressed
in hard hats these days. Sporting
an iPad rather than a clipboard.

Eager for the site, both tramp
the ravines, check and cross-check
the coordinates, plotting aright.

You know, he says, the story
behind the fall of the king?
He began to unpack the tools.

She shook her head although
she had read the annals well.
There was work now to be done.

We’ll open the first trench here,
he said, forefinger marking
a firm trace across a mound

of grass. The usual grid? she asked,
preparing flagging tape while
he laid out their trenching tools.

What hope, he murmured, do you
think we have to chance upon
some fragments of bucchero here?

Hmm, she said tartly feeling
he teased her like a girl and
noting for the first time thinning

of the cranial hair as he knelt
as his task. That and a lot
more, I hope. But really thought

he must be getting past it, tapping
on her iPad’s keyboard, Dig One,
October 16, trial trench A.

She settled it between her knees
as he took up his spade. Years
past as a keen young ‘post doc’

her heart had raced to attend
his class, to be the one chosen
by him to explore the next site

and kneel beside him to take
the treasures out. Back then
the brush of a sleeve, the touch

of a steadying hand was cherished
and happily recalled alone
in expedition tent at night.

But it seemed that was all. And her
name always second to his
on their papers the Society

brought out. Her mind now came back
to the present dig. Time to
photograph with the turf laid back.

She pinned down the grid of tapes
to make the quads and placed flat
the chequered photographic scale.

While she snapped away, he leaned
on his spade and watched her work.
She felt his eye assess each move

and yet, rest upon forearm,
or flank or the fall of her hair.
She’d seen him with other girls,

noticed his little ways when
they strove to please him,
even those who lacked the skills.

Some of them found favour with
him in other ways, away on
digs for months. She ground her teeth.

Now that the years had taken
the venusty of her youth
and he showed no sign that he

might offer her the ultimate
in colleagual rights, she put
such thoughts firmly from her mind.

He had a wife, homely no doubt,
though down the years she had hoped
that the great love she could offer

would compensate for comfort,
cultivation of habit
and the cold Sunday lunch. No,

she had erred and wasted those
years she could have found someone,
a soul mate, partner in research.

The scrape of his trowel disturbed
her thoughts. Look at this, he cried
as he levered at a stone.

Two stones in fact, too heavy
for hands or small tools. She craned
to see. Get me the crowbar,

he called and peered through a crack
between the slabs as he stooped
on all fours. She brought it quickly

and stood astride the twitching,
now prostrate form, with his arm
forced down into the dark depths.

Here! Here! He called. Lever those
two slabs apart. I think it’s
a burial chamber. Can see

shards, sarcophagus maybe.
His brusque tone rasped on her heart
but she reached forward the steel

just as he had commanded.
More, more! he grunted, thrusting
his arm deeper yet. She swung

the lever to one side with
all her strength and put an arm
to steady herself in the small

of his back. But he was not
there! In an explosion of dust
and rush of stones disappeared.

The crowbar jangled away
on broken rocks to one side
and she was gripped in guilt.

Had she pushed him? There was no
cry from her leader, just thud
of a body deep in darkness.

She waited and listened quiet
for some further sound, movement
from that second grave. Called out

but no answer. They had no torch
to use that day. Satellite
phone the only way to get aid.

But she sat down on a stone,
perhaps in shock, perhaps
contemplating life’s new turn.

Was this release? Or was it
Fate’s compliant master stroke?
Or was she digging blind?

Glen Phillips
© November, 2011.


Prof. Glen Phillips is a retired life-long teacher - from country school to university Professor. He has been a considerable force, both administratively and creatively, in the literary scene of Western Australia. With decades of research and local reading and writing under his belt, he has become a frequent lecturer in China where he shares his love and knowledge of Australian history and literature as, Honorary Visiting Professor at the Univesrity of Shanghai from 2004 to 2010. From the first turn of the shod to his his retirement in recent years, Glen Phillips began and ran the Creative Writing stream at the Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley, Western Australia.

Glen Phillips has published ten collections of poetry, among many other books he has contributed to and edited. He is represented in over 20 Australian and international poetry anthologies. Since his so-called retirement, he has written a number of short stories in tandem with poems, based mainly on the Australian and Chinese landscapes. He continues his acadmic contribution as Director of The International Centre for Landscape and Lanuguage at Edith Cowan University where he has also set up a small publishing arm.

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