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Covering and Uncovering


This poem draws on the feelings of simultaneous loss and discovery that hovers over every archaeology dig. "Covering / Uncovering" was written during the discovery of an Indian burial on the site of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. The burial had to be quickly preserved to make way for the arriving technology on a site that had been a Native American habitat for thousands of years before.


By J. Dennis Robinson

I. Covering

Abnaki mother cries -
her child has died
in birth.
Her Abnaki warrior
breaks the Earth.
The child is wrapped in skins.
Small arrows are placed in
the soil beside him
for protection on his journey.
Red ochre marks
this sad tiny section
of the coastline.

The father with no children
sees the tide is high
and takes his bride
from the grave to shelter.
She is weak from giving birth
and will not live the winter.
He carries his nets
to the sea.
The little one
is safe beneath,
he says,
and sings a burial song
while setting the nets.

A thousand years pass.

The nets are cast the same.
The coast appears unchanged,
although the shore has
crept up closer to the grave
where the Abnaki child lay.

In Egypt, a world away,
the first pyramids
are being raised.

II. Uncovering

One digger shouts.
From all about the pitted field
a dozen others
gather around one hole,
perfectly square,
each layer of sediment denoting time.
Within the flecks of iron ore,
red ochre,
Earth's blood,
the digger has found
two tiny arrowheads.
No one will find human bone
or reed baskets;
no cornhusk doll
or leather casket could survive
five thousand winters.
Only two projectile points
embedded in sand.

Since the land has dropped
further toward the sea,
the workers scurry suddenly
and build a dam
to keep rising water
from the digging site.

That same day by the baby's grave,
the sun now low and the tide withdrawn,
a digger comes upon
new specks of prehistoric life.
With a tiny knife,
and then a soft bristle brush,
he sculpts the earth from
around a line of carved shells -
Venus clams,
alternating violet and white,
once strung on bark twine,
once hung upon an Indian woman.
Just a crude stone pestle is found
before the diggers pack tools and
abandon the site.

Abnaki warrior,
with no child or bride,
has pulled his nets from the sea
and gone.

Copyright (c) J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved. This poems first appeared in the New Hampshire Times in 1975 and online in 1997. The author is the editor of Photo shows diggers in South Berwick, Maine at the Chadbourne site, courtesy Wendy Pirsit, Old Berwick Historical.

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