I enter the Museum of London expecting the usual mummies

So the prompt for Open Link night over at dVerse suggests city poems, the unexpected.http://dversepoets.com/2012/08/14/openlinknight-week-57/

And I am thinking about my visit to London. I’d travelled a lot by then, seen a lot of cities,

British Museum

British Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but this was the one where my father was a child, where his ancestors had settled upon emigrating from Belgium (and before that the Netherlands). I had visited the British

Museum, overwhelmed by the antiquities stacked up like so many boxes of inventoried goods. I’d never even heard of the Museum of London. But as soon as I entered, something was different. Well, here’s the poem, written years and years later, and the memories of that visit still so vivid.

Roman mosaic found in London, Museum of London

Roman mosaic found in London, Museum of London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s how strongly I was struck by this place.

I enter the Museum of London
expecting the usual mummies

Greek gods cast in marble,
friezes that capture a moment
centuries ago. But here is a
clear glass pillar, its core is
geology’s construct revealing
layer on layer; sediment
marks eras, detritus trapped
in soil, grave markers for past
lives of the city.

Chill bathes my arms in wonder
so strong I catch my breath.
Here are roots of family and
history: this place, this city where
ancestors walked. Connection.
My shoulders soften into the
sense of yes, of coming home.

Twenty-five years have passed
yet I still see the diorama
of a Roman villa, plates on table,
banners of kings and princes,
red glow, crackle of the Great
Fire of 1666, the frightening
sound of air-raid sirens:
World War II in a bunker
under the streets.

This is not a place of dusty
bones and broken bits of
bygone days. Here the old
city lives within new, here

above the graves of ancients
are papers scripted in flowing
hand, great-great grandfather
David’s petition of naturalisation
to George Grey, baronet
whose family name graces
packages of tea.

David died here:
I hear his voice,
I can almost touch his face.

Carol A. Stephen

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10 thoughts on “I enter the Museum of London expecting the usual mummies

  1. Thank you, Brian. Yes, I never had that response to a museum before. Yet I roamed to Royal Ontario Museum many many times as a child. I loved the Egyptian exhibits, and the geological specimens, and at one time or another wanted to be an archaeologist or a geologist. But the emotional response this time was so powerful. C

  2. I’d say you are not aspiring poet — I’d say you are totally THERE!!

    LOVED this. and now so want to go to that museum too and be swept back in time, even with old bones and such — bring it on!

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