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The Dead Sea scrolls were mostly saved

by bribes and threats; unmindful finders

re-interred the rest in hopes of

gain. It vanished or decayed.

A trooper in the Greek campaign

blown by a Wehrmacht mortar down

a limestone chute, glimpsed there a lettered

chest -- lost masterworks? new plays

by Sophocles, perhaps. Never

reclaimed: the next round covered it

up again. Fountains of blazing

loam, then forced retreat -- the blasted

ground left no remains of site-map

to be guessed. Great Aztec wheels;

Lascaux’ red bulls; dried funeral garlands

of Neanderthals – all brought to

light by restless chance: a dropped hoe

or a wandering goat. Vast evidence

unknown, we stand on ranks

of shoulders buried deep in earth

a fragmentary tune, made by the

breeze against a bone protruding

from a crumbled canyon wall.

Version first published in Scientific American (Oct. 2021)

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