Just as the evening’s about to move on, they appear, not as the apparitional deer—here, & gone in the next moment, without a sound—but one by one, bumbling through briar, chewing through poison ivy, sniffing at trees.A slow procession walking beneath elms & birches that hold up the last light. And you’re alone with the traces of things, the news in front of you:the crooked skeleton of Richard III was dug up from a parking lot, humpbacked, once buried in his boots & battlefield wounds. Nearby a lost riverhas been uncovered, & coughed up its mouthful of Roman skulls. No relic is safe, it seems, from an invisible tide that presses them upward.Sometimes it’s not the loss that hurts but the indignities of the discovery. And yet beside the diggers & builders of new things is this mangy congregation,pushing through the scrub without a trail or blueprint or direction. Their dirty white fur shines a little in this late, lost hour.They bleat as they shamble & piss on each other without warning, or maybe as a warning, or in greeting. They’ll eat anything—tin can,T-shirt, canvas sack, bones of animals & kings, & carry them awhile. And so do we: each night, across the country, people turn up at hospitalsunable to speak, for the needle or nail lodged in their throats. They’re unable to explain why, but we know—that desperate mix of need & panic that can drive us to keep something safe for good. These dearest items take your words & leave them luminous,radiolucent, shining on the X-ray, like this swallowed ring: a ghostly eclipse. Small comfort to share an appetite with these goats, this dishevelled lot.But a comfort, too, to know that some things will be saved from the soil, rescued from time’s indignities, if only for a little while, & by these scruffyreliquaries, on the other side of the valley now, flickering slightly as they near the vanishing point of the timberline. And we might callsuch salvage mercy. And it must be even for the undeserving, for those of us who didn’t live right, or live best. Whatever that means.Mercy will find us, even when we fail to recognize it, when we least expect it.