Natural History

by Antonia Clark
The Waters
Third Place, April 2019
Judged by Melissa Studdard


        On a line by Zeina Hashem Beck*

In the museum of memory,
the missing accumulate
dust at first, then disappear,
taking their voices, even
their names with them.
Empty pedestals, empty frames
at every turn. You trace
the letters inscribed
on polished brass nameplates,
their meaning no more
clear than primitive markings
of an ancient tribe.
Moving from room to room
you search for recognition,
the sudden recollection
of a beloved face—
the aunt whose kindness
you promised never
to forget, the sister
who died young, the man
you once believed
would stay with you forever.

_____________________________________________
*Zeina Hashem Beck, “In the museum of memory, the missing
accumulate.” From “Ghazal: With Prayer” (Poetry, March 2019)


Not only has this poet smartly chosen a wonderful first line to build from; the extended metaphor is well-sustained through the entirety of “Natural History.” We move room to room, item to item, line to line gladly with the poet as we are shown an array of vivid images and emotions. There’s a sadness in all this loss, but through the poet, the sadness takes on a lustrous beauty. --Melissa Studdard

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