Their stomachs a bestiary only of grain
during a time of feasting and boasting and meat,
bellies a mush with the barely digested
gruel of barley and rye and buttercup,
goosefoot and hawksbeard, linseed and clover
and knotweed, with spelt and yarrow all a last
gnarl or bit of weight above the waist,
a feeling of fullness near midwinter,
a last meal before being dragged away.
HARALDSKAER WOMAN (DENMARK, 450 BC)
My bones lasted down there, as did my skin
and my insides—but so did the stakes
that were hammered down to hold me in,
so did the weight of more branches belted
across my chest, and the same for a pile
of pointless clothes, since I was thrown in naked.
My hands were clean too, but my body pristine
and even plump from a healthy fifty years.
They didn’t dare to cut my hair
and I was thrown in alive under their envy
since the hunger I never had was due
to visit them with or without the gift
of my body to ward off their wasted limbs
thin from another emaciated winter,
another spring of unforgiving starvation.
TOLLUND MAN (DENMARK, 400 BC)
In the impossible photos it seems
you must really be cast in bronze
or carved with meticulously haunted care
by some Iron Age sculptor as expert
in the creases of your discovery sheet
as the vividness of your femur
beneath a two-thousand year-old cloak.
Naked except for this girdle and cap
—and the rope used to hang you, still around
your neck and still with its imprint there—
you died horribly but are beautiful,
sleeping face and pointed cap and perfect feet,
a peat cutter’s slash dug into your back
but preserved as none of your captors are, though
this is no easy trade for immortality.
KAYHAUSEN BOY (GERMANY, 350 BC)
I was already wicked in the legs,
that’s what they all said when they saw me walk,
and that was the gift they said of the apples
last given to me, sweet juice on my chin
before all the stabbing began. And why
bother I don’t know, but they bound my worthless
feet after I was already dead, and
they bound my hands behind my back to the
binding already around my neck, as if
the bog might restore all my sinful limbs
and in that case that I might come for them.
But my bog dreams amid all that dead matter
were to me a song I will never leave.
Drink me some bog water and suck the leaves
down in the damp, down here in the dark
amid the muffled measure of a thousand hearts.
DAMENDORF MAN (GERMANY, 300 BC)
Damendorf Man is a flattened stone
Damendorf Man is a sheet of unused iron
Damendorf Man is a mulch of wet leaves
Damendorf Man is a line of blown ash
scattered in the shape of a crushed body,
limbs and skin and bones deflated under peat
like whole endless centuries of exhale
finally consummated in some museum case.
GRAUBALLE MAN (DENMARK, 290 BC)
If I could I would have opened my eyes
that April spring day to see everyone
staring at my head no longer submerged;
it was very like the last crowd I did see
before they brought me naked here
and sliced me good from ear to ear.
You’ll wonder why and look at my clean hands
that never worked the ground I was given to;
or the pain in my back that made me deformed—
perhaps special, perhaps a source of shame,
perhaps feared and gifted in my defect.
Perhaps they gave me to the gods because
in their bitterness and envy they knew
I was closer than anyone to them.
And if I could only see my picture now
you know I’d say they were right—what a head
flatted by centuries beneath the peat,
what an ugly body deflated or bulging
and displayed all twisted just as you found me,
knotted and gnarled into anything but sleep.
But don’t you come to see me, all naked,
and haven’t I been so preserved that my
fingerprints are as vivid as any
of your criminals? Isn’t that reverence?
LINDOW MAN (ENGLAND, 58 BC)
The remains of my back are like laid tar
wrinkled and ribbed by my sudden spinal column.
My last meal was a loaf of bad barley
sprinkled with the hard magic of mistletoe.
Old at thirty my body ached enough,
and so why put me on my knees this way,
why strangle and kick me and slit my throat,
why crack the skull of one already in pain,
why the overkill, why three or four deaths
when one way already left me lifeless?
What was it you saw in me which required
an already limp body to be hanged,
what ghosts did already dead bones break
when I was tossed face-down in the moss?