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The Pebble Culture, by James Ragan

April 19, 1998

When in Greenland the ice had slid

its one broad shelf across the plains,

pushing past the rise of stone and lava,

and arctic ferns had split their roots

between the tarn and tundra

not knowing which, the thorn or reedbuck,

they had fed or fathered, one stone struck

steep against the other, chips flaking

off the white spurs of fire,

and a girl in her Choukoutien cave

of burnt bones and antlers, carved

her bowl into a hollow, the rough shape

incised into the curvature of a breast,

now mothering, now flowered, and the boy,

who saved the razor edge of the glacier flake

for his own picking, grazed the Abbevillian ax

against the wall, a shower of pebbles

forming in their meteoric light

frenzied points of departure, spoons into knives,

flint into spears, violence into culture.

From "Lusions" by James Ragan (Grove: 86 pp., $20). Ragan will read his poems at the Festival of Books, Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

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