According to Larkin, of course, what will survive of us is love. At Wiltshire Museum, where I ran a workshop yesterday, the artefacts seemed to suggest something different; what will survive of us are our pots and pans, our buttons, the objects which may or may not have meaning in our daily lives. But as we talked, we reminded ourselves that the instincts which survive are indeed the same. To gather around a hearth and talk; to share beauty and craftsmanship; to show off our wealth; and yes, to love.
What will survive of us, in fact, is this:
a bird-bone pipe stem dropped like fag ends in a gutter,
rusted hobnails clumping into reddened truffles,
sherds of cookware like a broken Easter egg,
a soil-wet tile with footprints from a Roman dog.
Time, the old erratic editor, removes all abstracts
but excises verbs as well; occasionally leaves a name
but mostly just the ands and thes, so what remains
is coded mud. The rule for codebreakers is patience;
record what you can see, and not what you expect.
The digging woman scrapes, deciphers, cleans;
pulls back a flat blade over charcoal and says home;
chips at a frozen flow of slag, pronounces work;
planes off dark silt and says disease, desertion;
meets tile-sparked soot and says fire, panic, rape.
Easy to return the verb, complete the phrase
and so curate a gallery of empty frames.
Only absent are the subjects who you want to speak to:
not expecting that they’d tell you great historic truths
but just because you want to hear their voices.