Clayton Eshleman’s British Museum Notebook

Sometime last week I forwarded a review of a current British Museum exhibition on prehistoric art to Clayton Eshleman. He responded two days ago, saying: “I remembered my little moleskin notebook I had with me in London 2007 when at that Museum. I decided to copy out my notes on the ancient pieces I scribbed standing before their windows one morning…” And with his permission, here they are, for me clearly more than fragmentary notes, poems in fact:



     Mammoth Spear Thrower, Montastruc (Pyrenees)

Small enough grasped in hand
reindeer antler is mammoth
tiny in hand to hold it
spear aligned     throw     how
many times before it broke
useless magical tool
all that mammoth antler

eye holes filled with ochre
a dream of concentrated blood


     Perforated Baton, La Madeleine, 13,000 B.C..

Hole in reindeer antler
What is a hole? The soul’s
early escape          put your finger

As if this finger could wear the animal

How do we know this antler is alive?

Because a horse is emerging from it,
horse half-buried in antler
horse sleeping in bone
horse and hole
horse  is  hole?  The soul’s
   early return
heading toward western shibboleth


     “The oldest known art of Wales, 13,000 B.C. Kenanch’s Cave, Llandudno”                                                    

Dylan Thomas jawbone
   incised with zags
zigs      lightning birdelopes
energy mastered
                shovel incisors
this scoop
             what’s left of the skull
words of a virgin spring
the spear driven into the heartsick mareloam

Thomas on the eternal rampart
            blizzard bereft


     Disc, 13,000 B.C. Montastruc (Pyrenees)

Cut from an animal blade
in soft museum light
ornament        urn bitten
        notched &
       tundra scene

leaf  thin thing escape
      to wear it      in my throat


     Wolverine pendant, 13,000 B.C. Les Eyzies

Pendant or piece or
lightning remains,   sift
      of a world
      orb open to
speared shoulder lifted paw
        mote laughing an all
        a not      shimmering

   faith in the sun lathe
   about which a severed throat is turning

clenched & dappled


     “Oldest known work of art from England, 13,000 B.C.

                Robin Hood Cave, Creswell Crags, Derbyshire

That anything old
attests to erasure’s
demonic counterpoint.
Like this engraved crossed-out horse head
frailer than its anti-strokes
ah frail head      no more than a chip
    in the furnace of an owl
glinting keen
    in life’s indeterminate cannibalizing maw


for Pierre Joris and Nicole Peyrafitte

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