Brian Turner

Gilgamesh, In Fossil Relief

for Sin-lege-unninni

It is the month of Ab, late summer
of the seventh century B.C.E., and a poet
chisels text into stone tablets, etching
3,000 lines and brushing them by hand, the dust
blown off with a whispered breath.
He is translating the old Sumerian epic,
reinventing the city of Uruk, the Wild Man
and the woman sent out to seduce him.
It is an old story now. It was an old story then,
full of gods and beasts and the inevitable
points of no return each age must learn.
In the mid-August heat of the year 2004,
an archaeologist pauses over an outline
of bone, one body’s signature in the earth,
which he reads carefully with a camelhair brush
and patience, each hairline fracture revealing.
History is a cloudy mirror made of dirt
and bone and ruin. And love? Loss? Immortality?
These are the questions we must answer again
by war and famine and pestilence, and again
by touch and kiss, for each age must learn
This is the path of the sun’s journey by night.



“Gilgamesh, In Fossil Relief” first appeared in The Georgia Review, Fall 2004.