Dead Nails

Recently, archaeologists excavated an unusual set of talismanic nails from a mountaintop
necropolis on the outskirts of Sagalassos in southwestern Turkey
.” –The New York Times

They burn, then brick him in the pit,
tiles blackened by still-livid coals,
too powerful to risk escape.
Slake lime and slather crevices
against his posthumous return.
From other tombs pry iron nails
and twist, behead, disfigure, strew
them twice to bind perimeter,
enclosing it with fearful charm.
Before the final stone is set
upon his fractured skull they place
within the gaping mandible
one silver coin, their emperor
embossed in silhouette, as fare
required to cross the river gorge
between their world and darker realm.
When arid centuries of sand
are plundered for display, this grave
withholds its mystery: Whose soul
was sealed away with woe and fire?
Rubbed bright, Lysimachus revealed,
stern profile claiming endless reign,
the obol glitters under glass.





George Witte’s new collection is An Abundance of Caution (Unbound Edition Press, 2023); previous books are Does She Have a Name?, Deniability, and The Apparitioners. Recent poems have been published or are forthcoming in various journals, including Consequence, Five Points, Pangyrus, and This Broken Shore. He lives with his family in Ridgewood, New Jersey. For more information, visit: