Poem – Anne French

At Coldrum Long Barrow

A slope below a wooded hill on the North Downs
with a bitter wind rising out of the east. It is so

small a mound, after all. The standing stones
have mostly fallen or been taken, but the stone

doorway is still as it was built. Beneath us,
under the hill, their bones lie: “strongly made,

with long heads, showing a family resemblance,
perhaps a noble family”. (Class evident even here.)

The bodies of the dead were first placed on a shelf,
then carefully cleaned and gathered into an ossuary.

More than three thousand years ago
they were laid here, the ancient ones.

So little remains of everything they knew.
I greet them in a foreign tongue, invoking

no gods but those of the mountain above us
and the river below. “Ki nga tipuna, ki nga mate,

haere ki tena tua o te arai.” And then we whakanoa
ourselves with a little water, to leave things as they belong.

 

Anne French

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