Burnished Fossils

A flinty landscape for an austere man.
He scrapes away at the flinty earth,
And thinks scrape isn’t the right word.
It’s too rough for the work he does.

Nothing grows here except knowledge,
Drenched in sweat from heat, not hard labor.
The irony of brittle rock, hard but fragile,
Is not lost on the archaeologist, who is the same.

A blur of thoughts on this changing place,
This square foot of rock and fossil.
His rough tongue scares the volunteers,
Yet his burnished reputation keeps them coming.

He chalks it up to thirst for knowledge,
And the wonder of barnacles in the desert.
Geologic time, not human time, so limited
By our short lifespans and paltry imaginations.

Meaning in work, discovery, and quiet,
This season of digging, this cocoon
That will open back at the university,
Yet it’s here that he is the butterfly.

/ / /

This poem was written in response to Wordle 58 at The Sunday Whirl.

My work primarily ended for another school year on Friday, May 25, when I promoted another class of students to middle school. I have been so busy with grading, report cards, and various activities around the promotion ceremony itself, not to mention my son’s eighth birthday last weekend, that I haven’t written/posted a poem since the 16th, which seems to me a long dry spell after the busyplayfulness of April.

I have drafted a poem to last week’s wordle as well, which I plan on posting tomorrow. If you get a chance, please come back and read it.

Thank you to everyone who visits my blog. I do appreciate it.



42 thoughts on “Burnished Fossils

  1. Richard–first off–you have been missed! The poem is beautiful and hardened as the man you describe. I especially like the closing stanza:

    Meaning in work, discovery, and quiet,
    This season of digging, this cocoon
    That will open back at the university,
    Yet it’s here that he is the butterfly.


  2. What an accomplishment, to promote kids onto their next level of education. It must be truly hard work and I really admire teachers. Good to see your work here again 🙂
    Yes, man is so limited in what he (we) can achieve in our short life span when you consider the vast expanse of universal time. I wonder if we ever know all its secrets. Doubt it.
    Loved the look at archaeology in this.

  3. You have really created a rich picture of this man, Richard. An archaeologist who may not have the easiest personality, but one who keeps people coming back because of his extensive knowledge. I love thinking of him as the butterfly, as it is there with his digs that he is in his element.

    Happy Summer vacation! Oh how I remember the feeling of having that whole (blissful!) summer ahead of me, in the days when I was teaching!

    • Mary, thank you. Glad you liked the portrait of the archaeologist.

      The beginning of summer is like the beginning of a new school year – full of potential. Thanks.


  4. You brought a person to life in this piece. I can picture him, and appreciate the insight into that perspective. The last line is perfect, it felt good to read it.

    • Brenda, thank you. It did need that ending, and it only came with revision. Thanks again for all you do with The Sunday Whirl. I appreciate the inspiration.


  5. I do like this whole poem. I was lucky enough to be on a small local dig in our area. Usually the area digs, especially in the city are reserved for students. So much of our area has changed in the last 20 years. I’m going to have a teaching summer of sorts… lots of watching our almost two year old grandson. Birthdays are milestones. I remember when I was younger marking the half years – though nothing special happened on those days. I shall try an make it back to last weeks wordle as I missed about half of the good-writes.
    Thanks for your visit to my wordle.

    • Jules, thank you. Glad you liked it. Have fun with your grandson; he’s lucky. It’s good to be writing again, and I plan on lots this summer – but reading poems too makes me happy.


      • While I used to only write I have been quite honored to be accepted into a wonderful community of writers and read their contributions. May we continue to be inspired by each other.

  6. Love the image you have created of the archeologist, but wonder if you see, as I do, a similarity to the teacher that you are. The careful digging into the flinty ground of minds buried in the plethora of everyday existence. The sensitive and careful scraping and dusting away of what often blinds that same mind to truth and knowledge, awareness. The teacher is also the butterfly propogating further growth, then moving on to the next group of flinty minds. Especially like that last stanza. Would that we could all see that we are butterflies.


  7. Glad to see you back Richard – as others have said, you were missed; I love this; have been on the periphery on an archaeological dig in southern Italy last summer and again this summer and you have captured well the pain-staking way things are excavated on a dig and the love of knowledge that drives these particular people – I find it absolutely fascinating … a whisk and a miniature scraper that looks like a pie server to uncover – so far – four layers of different civilizations and indicators that go back as far as the Bronze age … sorry, I get carried away whenever I talk about this project

    I do love your poem and especially how well you illuminate the thirst for knowledge for both teacher/professor and archaeologist … I think that’s reflected in your career as a teacher, a much underpaid and under-appreciated profession in North America – I’m so glad when I hear someone like you talk about doing this valuable work still …


    • Oh, don’t apologize; it sounds like a fascinating dig. Glad you liked the poem and the teaching connection. I appreciate that – and your kind words on the teaching profession.


  8. wow, is what i have to say to this piece. those last two lines in the first stanza really resonate with me. congratulations on finishing another school year, always an accomplishment. having taught students for the first time this past year, i’ve discovered it certainly is worth celebrating. x

    • Dana, thank you. Glad you liked those two lines; I’m partial to them myself. it is worth celebrating. And thanks for visiting my blog and leaving me a comment.


  9. So very unique where you’ve taken us, Richard!! So cool the directions possible with the very same set of words.

    This I really like especially the season of digging part:

    “Meaning in work, discovery, and quiet,
    This season of digging, this cocoon
    That will open back at the university,
    Yet it’s here that he is the butterfly.”

    Excellent, truly!!

  10. Ahhh…as so many have already highlighted, I love the contrast between the flinty, austere man…and the butterfly. I wrote a while back about the process of change a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly…to become what it was meant to be.

    It makes me smile, that the man has found is place in life–where he can truly be what he was meant to be.

  11. Richard, the cocoon who becomes a butterfly – that’s not often said of men, and it’s all the more poignant for that reason. Comparing himself to “brittle rock, hard but fragile,” another solid stanza. Man, you’re back and on fire, so keep ’em coming!

    I often post poems from prompts long after the prompt “time” is over, but it doesn’t matter to me! As long as folks dig it, they will always come back. Welcome home, sojourner, and thank you for being a teacher. Peace, Amy

    • Amy, thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words. There aren’t many men doing the wordles, so I appreciate your comments.

      I, too, often post late, but that just means I have more poems to read. It’s all good.


  12. Richard, your character has a clear personality, not always easy to accomplish in a poem [bar long monologues]. As I reread, the poem reads more and more like a portrait, and a wonderful one, as well as conveying the importance of dreams and hopes.
    In some ways this reads as a metaphor for what we, as teachers do. I thought, at first, that this was an extended metaphor.
    Congratulations on reaching summer. Revel, my friend.


    • Margo, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. This poem began (in my mind) as a portrait, but my subconscious began to turn it into a self-portrait of sorts, with a nod to teaching, which is part of my self.


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