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~ Writing a Biography ~ STALKING THE ELEPHANTAbout Writing Biography and Imagining a Life

"THE BOTTLE DIGGERS," A POEM (NOT MINE) ABOUT LOOKING INTO LIVES

Dumpdiggers, by Rob Campbell
  Every so often something comes along to remind me that this blog is about more than just writing a biography. It's also about using what we know (not only from research but from life) to imagine other lives: lives that actually happened, lives that were part of history. To me, it's one of the most satisfying things about writing biography.

  The title poem of The Bottle Diggers, a new collection by the poet Andrea Fry, blew me away because it so perfectly evokes what trying to do that is like. Biographers, too, dig in libraries and archives to resurrect, if we can, the intimate quotidian details of our subjects' lives. Wondering what really happened, wondering what it all means, we turn the detritus they left behind over and over in our minds until finally we can't resist trying to capture the absent owners through the alchemy of language, memory, and our own experience.

The Bottle Diggers

We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers,
  ghosts, giants, old men, young men,
   wives, widows, brothers-in-law.
     But always meeting ourselves.

             —James Joyce

Away from the highway in the thick of leaves
we stumble on rubble, the foundation of a house.
We scan the field for its onetime dump,

for the subtle rise of hidden shapes, ground draped
like the top of a pie. We walk through ourselves,
search for bottles from another time, with boots and sticks

we loosen the dirt from glinting heels and collars
that stud the soil. Driven to find just one vessel intact,
we sink to our knees to free each glimmer.

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Earth rises around us as if we, too, were broken glass
or sullied china cups with yellow stems prancing around
the rim. One by one we free each remnant and hold it up

to catch the sun. We keep digging, but never find
a bottle whole. So we name this place heartbreak dump.
We name this place always meeting ourselves.

We find the blob-top, cold and fat with emerald lip.
A tapered gin that leans like an amber mummy.
The bromo with a syrupy essence, sealed with scab of cork.

The punt mark's seamless body, spilling down
to a jagged base, prized
For that fundamental scar.

© 2017 by Andrea Fry. Published by permission of the author.

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