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Archaeologists commit such dusty loves for science,
Rooting in highway fill,
Sifting excavation with the mind's fine screen
As though knowing
The death of basketmakers, the sun's children, hunters,
Denied our faithless egotism.

So imperceptibly we evolve into counters of skulls,
No more . . . much less
Delineate ourselves into numbers left, these
Announcements of disappearance,
Enumerating without purpose -- necromantic lovers
Of those gone, those going.

There must exist a hollowness to bone defying
Resolution: teeth so lightly
Socketed in heavy jaw, shadows of eyes, splinters
Where nostrils wore away
In melting springs -- features not shaped by appearance
But absence. Even so

I feel stricken with a mania for skull, becoming
A collector of extinction,
Shards of life, defining this stitched intricacy,
Of badger cranial crack,
This brachycephalic Mongoloid, a bison overlooked
By bone-pickers:

There are skulls, and this the thighbone
Of a cyanided coyote,
The great bear's hide, knuckle of winter-killed elk,
A Crow burial site broken . . .
This piece of eagle wing once made a whistle
Fluting for a holy man.

Copyright 1976 by Robert A. Roripaugh