Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Braided Stream

It’s easy to forget, when the news shows two smiling children,
that you’re looking at the dead. An actress is found buried

in the backyard of her London home, her sons
in shallow graves beside her. They spent three weeks
in the earth before forensics came in and raised them up again.

A continent away, their killer drinks beer in the sun.
On that same continent, cradle of humanity, a cave
deep in the earth is found filled with skeletons, proof
our ancestors learned to bury their dead. They had no words,

no way of saying mother, lover, son, but they carried
their loved bodies through a dark lit by torches. They knew
the living and the dead could not stay long together.
They knew they could not leave their dead

beneath the open sky. The bodies
found deep inside the earth aren’t human, not yet.
They have shoulders and hands built for climbing,
lower limbs for walking. They touch the earth

and it transforms them. And here, inside the earth:
mandible, ribs, bones of inner ear, the vertebrae
of infants thin as thimbles.

And here the fossil record falls apart. In London
tiny bodies turn to earth. In tabloids they wear jackets,
the fleece hoods framing smiling faces. Their mother

had left television to become a teacher. She couldn’t
keep her children safe. The coroner says he broke their necks. And then
he buried them. For tenderness, to give their bodies
a safe and quiet home? Or just

to smooth his flight? When he’s found hiding
he tries to ward off capture with a knife and spoon. He won’t smile
for the cameras but he won’t say he’s sorry either. Before we were human

we knew to carry the dead away from the living
and place their bodies deep inside a cave named for stars.