Friday, April 27, 2007

To All Archivists and Executors

By Harriet Ann Stovall Kelley (1933- )

The maple-sugar mustiness of old papers
clings with a strange, dark sweetness to our hands,
and photos, faded sepia, arouse
a memory of twilights told in tans--
of eras lived in the long, slant-light of autumn,
deep shade beneath each tree and under eyes
caught staring,
archetypes dim, disturbingly detected
beyond the arch of treelimbs, gables, arms
strong ancestral brows arched in surprise,
Here is the delving-dust, the ochre tracks
of ancient pens defy deciphering.
Here someone's soul is bared, but Time--
discreet informer - looks the other way,
deceives us now.
This fragile book's rose-petal leaves dissolve
with handling, though our touch be delicate
and caring as a surgeon's, or a lover's.

What shall we let live, what sacrifice?
What make history of, or what consign
to neverborn oblivion?
We're gods. We cannot infiltrate the future
with all our memorabilia, all our dreams.
The burden of our work weighs heavily:
we decide what sees the light of day,
what is destroyed;
which heirlooms last to coming generations
or which, undocumented, are denied.

Did what we now reject exist at all,
for our rejection?

Heavy on our hands we bear the stain,
as Shakespeare's Lady did,
And all we touch hereafter shares the taint
of glory, or regret.
So, whom do gods propitiate for error?

The odor lingers languid on the air
with motes that mock our motion in this shaft
of evening gold that compensates our task,
if not our hearts.

In 1978, this poem won The Conrad Aiken Prize, awarded by the Poetry Society of Georgia, Savannah.

This poem is found in a handcrafted book, Look Back, Beholden: Poems of Heritance by Harriet Stovall Kelley (my first cousin) in 1998.

What a treasure! What a labor of love!

No comments:

Post a Comment