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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, September 13, 2016.
About this Poem 

“‘The First Layer of City’ steps out of time into current time, an elegy of sorts for the beginning of human culture and dream, and thankful, in particular, to those who work to unearth and honor the past, assuming a future. The fact that great fires in ancient temples turned clay tablets to stone is a hopeful, ironic gift in the face of destruction.”
—Marianne Boruch

The First Layer of City

Concerning the lost and so
much of it, the Professor of Antiquities
is on TV again—

Think about that.

I love the word oxymoron like I love the word
hope loving him back such a long way.

The ancients then, via digital pulse. But never
to know except with shovel, brush,
magnifying glass. He dreams out the rest.

The rest is resting in dust. The rest too will

come out of deep down
petrified wood or gold or bronze
fierce, the spear end of it.

Not far, so many winged creatures
sculpted out of flight to peer from a ledge,
their grim human heads turned sideways, desert
a distance, a horizon. Column after column
holding up ago

what made it cool in there, made us all
the first days of the world: lie down,
close your eyes a moment,
listen to the fountain.

The Professor of Antiquities
looks into the camera as into what the Oracle saw
and says you don’t destroy,
you restore.
  All this time to recover
words for beer, for how-much-you-owe-me, for gods
and king, the body living or in death, what to do,
what’s elegy and next
marked on clay tablets with a stick.

First lost layer of city. Shock-seizure
of flames larger than night
after night some year B.C. burning back
temple or palace until

safe all words, safe,
slow-fired to stone in the lower chamber
when everything, everything else—

Copyright © 2016 by Marianne Boruch. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Marianne Boruch. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 13, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Marianne Boruch

Marianne Boruch

Born on June 19, 1950, in Chicago, Marianne Boruch earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and her MFA from the University of Massachusetts, where she studied with James Tate.

by this poet

poem
when he knew nothing.  A leaf
looks like this, doesn’t it? No one
to ask. So came the invention
of the question too, the way all 
at heart are rhetorical, each leaf
suddenly wedded to its shade. When God 

knew nothing, it was better, wasn't it? 
Not the color blue yet, its deep 
unto black.  No color at
poem
Everyone should have a little fugue, she says,
the young conductor 
taking her younger charges through
the saddest of pieces, almost a dirge
written for unholy times, and no, 
not for money.
                Ready? she tells them, measuring out 
each line for cello, viola, violin.
It will sound to you
not quite
poem
Because the body really 
is Mars, is Earth or Venus or the saddest downsized
Pluto, can be booked, bound, mapped then.
Or rendered like something off the bone, fat just under 
the animal skin, to lard, 
cheaper, quicker than butter, like stillness
belies restlessness, like every yes
was or will be not,