York in Poetry: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Posted on 24 November 2012 | Poem

Needing foundations for our new kitchen, we excavate.
Tiles, pottery, small bones – chicken probably -
but not till we dig a metre or so do they appear, like sticks,
and then that strange twist, ulna and radius;
and wary scraping reveals a ball and socket.
Panicked, we call in archaeologists.

The past, it seems, underpins us.
Once a courtyard where they threw scraps,
and swept out the breakage;
and before that, for centuries, a cemetery
stacked deep and close as though our kitchen
was an altar, some holy shrine to
gods of home and hearth.

Who they were we shan’t know,
although we depend upon them,
as I depend upon my father, whom I never knew,
unearthed in a single photograph.
Not much foundation really for a family,
his very existence
a skeleton cupboarded so long;
but now no longer out of sight,
nor out of mind; roots, bones.

- John Gilham