Moya Cannon

Mal’ta Boy, 22,000 BC

The palaces of the tsars rise up again
newly gilded and painted, along the Neva.
Curled up in a dusty display case
in a corner of their great palace
is the rickle of a four-year-old child’s bones,
found under a stone slab
by a lake in eastern Siberia.
Half of his skull painted red,
he was buried with his necklet and bracelet,
his arrowheads and swan amulet.

Small nomad, buried as your people
moved on their circuits, tracking herds
of reindeer and mammoth,
flocks of waterbirds,

a slice of your arm bone is pored over
by tribes of scientists in laboratories.
On bright screens,
they unravel the hidden
code of your genes,
shoot images around the globe
to track skeins of our human journeys
eastwards and westwards,
across three continents –
footfalls on rock, on snow, on grass
in sandy river fords.

Fallen sparrow,
improbable little kinsman,
buried with a baby sibling,
what are the filaments
that join us?
Did you pull flowers
when the snows melted?
Did you run after flapping birds?
Did you die in affliction
or in your sleep?
What did you call your mother?
For how many moons
did she weep?

From Donegal Tarantella, Carcanet Press, 2019