Young, but not too young to know the names of the dead,
the student of history attempts to reconstruct
a dead flower, petal by withered petal. It’s not the same
as the once-living specimen, of course: the colors are dull,
the body disjointed in the places where stem meets leaf, bits of glue
here and there. A puppet that smells of nothing, not even of death.
It wouldn’t fool the most bumbling of bees.
But blame that on Time, the great thief. Blame not
the poor student, pale and hard-shouldered and perpetually
haunted. Look in the mirror: you will see your own youth
crumbling away, until the dust that was once your face litters the floor.
A mouse peeks out from the cave of your eye socket. Footsteps
echo, vibrating as if forged in the great cathedrals of the High Medieval.
Multifoliate light, still bright after nine centuries, conquers
the room and the mirror. The student has come, dustpan in hand.
History always involves speculation, interpretation, and creativity, so I see it as an art form as well as a social science. Our efforts to bring history to life may be imperfect, but I think the desire to reconstruct the past as accurately and respectfully as possible is an honorable one. A sculpture can be beautiful and true to life even if the sculptor’s fingerprints are visible on the clay.
L. L. Friedman once went on a blind date with a marble statue in Vienna. They live in New England.