burnished bodies preserved in peat—
these earthly objects do not undo us,
disturbing though they may be.
But the ghosts of Pompeii,
those plaster casts of stranded souls,
we are not equipped for visions like that.
The man who thought to fill those voids
had no idea what he might bring forth.
He must fallen to his knees
when he saw the first one,
prized from its grave in the ash.
Hollowed eyes and gaping mouth,
out-stretched arms and locked calf muscles.
Cadaveric spasm, they call it,
the body rigid in an instant,
claimed by searing heat.
Over a hundred were pulled out,
men, women and children,
a twisted dog on a chain,
all caught between this life and the next
in a gap too quick to measure.
That is why we are hushed
at the sight of them,
as if we are seeing
something we shouldn’t:
people whose lives were ended
before they had time to die.