esther murer

Frost finds a fossil

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
causes the drystones to unbalance, loosens
the will to chaos, the ferment of unrest
that hides in winter’s torpor. Then there’s nothing
for it but to (once again) repair

it, stone by stone. Once, replacing a pair
of rounded cobbles fallen off the wall,
I found a most extraordinary thing.
I brushed away some moss, and under it
there glinted like an opal in the sun
or iridescence of a pigeon breast,

(my heart went flamadiddle in my breast)
a calcite cast, shaped very like a pear:
a blastoid head. It hadn’t seen the sun
except from under tons of saline wall
several hundred million years ago. It
lay before me, winking from its sheathing,

a sea lily with glassy pinheads wreathing
the core to set the arms off from the rest.
Millennia-compacted silt protected it
against whatever forces would impair
its fivefold symmetry. I fixed the wall
with other stones, then took this cross-section

and turned it every which way in the sun
to highlight every detail of its smithing.
Whatever it is that doesn’t love a wall
loved me that day. And now each time I breast
the task of mending, how I long to pare
off each remaining stone, examine it

for signs of ancient life, in hopes that it
may yield a trilobite or other denizen
of Ordovician seas. I can’t compare
a fossil find with any other sleuthing
for the sheer thrill it raises in my breast.
But I must leave those treasures in the wall,

bequeathing them to my son, perhaps. Meanwhile
I travel down the wall with sharpened interest
and a new incentive to keep it in repair.

Esther Greenleaf Murer has been writing poetry all her life, and got serious about learning the craft when she turned 70. Links to many of her online publications may be found on her blog. She published her first collection, Unglobed Fruit, in 2011. She lives in Philadelphia.

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