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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 1, March 2013

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Claire Everett
Northallerton, North Yorkshire, U.K.


From Circle to Tomb
Avebury & West Kennet, England

The mist clears, but I am still no more than a speck in the jackdaw's eye. He who watches from the topmost bough of the yellowing oak becomes two, then twelve, then twenty. They perch in pairs, chuntering like old married couples. No stone is older than their story.

On the road that cuts south to north through the Henge, a car backfires, and for a moment the air is all wings. But the Swindon stone stands firm, as it has for 4500 years, balanced on one corner, only shin-deep in the ground. A giantess, in the twilight and the half-light, arms akimbo, she can do nothing but wait.

her time-bearing hips
shape a skirt of weathered stone
my cheek cold as she
I listen for earth's blood,
moon's breath, the tick of stars

Her partner, a sarsen that dwarfed her, casts the long shadow of absence. Perhaps it is for him she searches when, at midnight, she crosses the road. On moonless nights she turns on her axis, like the spirits of the Windmill Hill dead in the weeds of their plundered graves.

on the Avenue
from Henge to Sanctuary
gooseflesh as we pass
brushing shoulders with the ones
who raised the stones

And the ones who razed them to the ground.

passing through
the barber-surgeon
places his hands, so—
an albino crow
spreads its wings

a leather purse
of 14th century coins,
scissors and a probe . . .
the one he would bury
becomes his headstone

But the worst was yet to come. All the while the sarsens kept mum, their dust bloodied the hands that dug the pit and toppled the stone, the hands that gathered straw and lit the fire until the beast smoked with the heat. Then came water and hissing steam, the crack that broke the stone boar's back, the blow of the sledgehammer that finished the deed. Under the foremanship of one they later dubbed Herostratus, a village took shape, along with a chapel.

But there were others—

antiquarians
sketching and dreaming
a serpentine plan . . .
the Marmalade Man
resurrecting the stones

I walk the outer circle, stepping slowly from light to shadow, shadow to light. I feel the cold shudder, here and there, of someone crossing my grave.

Holes in the face of a stone; evidence of long entanglement with ancient roots on the Marlborough Downs. Enough to stir the hand of idle curiosity, which takes up a walking cane and pokes the darkness, dislodging in the process, a gleaming ball of chalk. It was amidst a vast chalk-scape that this bauble last sparkled in the sun, moments before a Neolithic child discovered that it fit so snugly in her palm . . .

grey wethers
grazing the fields of time
hands of windblown dust
dug your ditch with antler-picks,
shepherded you to your fold

guardians of a people,
custodians of the land . . .
once strangers
like the Saracens
from whom you took your name

what if sandstone
could hack the ages from
its quartz-flecked craw?
a jackdaw settles
on the Devil's Chair

through hip-high grass
Meadow Brown butterflies
ghosts
of the procession
from Circle to Tomb

a chink of light
in the Long Barrow
of a dream
words brushed from the lintel
twirling through gold


Author's Notes: Sarsen is a Wiltshire dialect pronunciation of the word Saracen. From a distance, within the landscape, the stones resemble sheep, hence grey wethers, a popular name for them.

The 'antiquarians': John Aubrey (1626-1697) from whom Avebury takes its name; William Stukely (1687-1765) who believed the Henge and its avenues were a representation of a giant serpent; Alexander Keiller (1889-1955) who purchased the monument in the 1930s with money from the family's marmalade business and restored many of the buried stones to their rightful positions.

Herostratus: The ancient Greek who is said to have burnt down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Here, it refers to Tom Robinson, responsible for demolishing many of the stones in the 17th century, whom Stukely awarded the title, Herostratus of Avebury.

The Barber Stone: during his 1930s excavations, Keiller uncovered the skeleton of a man under one of the stones. A purse and its contents, buried with him, suggest he was an itinerant barber-surgeon.

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