Monday, August 4, 2008

Good Companions: Two Poems About Rocks

I gave my love a rock, and she gave me ashes. It was enough to turn me off of rocks for a while, but I’ve always had a soft spot for them, and this weekend at Whitefish Point I fell in love with them again. What appeared to be a sand beach gave way to rocks at the edge of the water. I was simply keeping an eye on the boys while enjoying the water horizon and mild temperature when the rocks started to call to me. Initially it was just a single rock that stuck out from the others, all the more brilliant for being wet. While holding and admiring it, others appeared to me, equally beautiful and distinct. Before long I found myself filling my pockets, then I had to run to the car to get a larger container. After a bit, the boys started heading for the car, but I could barely pull myself away. There kept being one more rock that wanted my attention. I wanted to scoop up pounds of them to go through later, and discard the ones I didn’t love, but that goes against my initial rule of rock collecting, that it is a selective process, that I take only those that really speak to me.

In honor of this weekend, and my return to rocks, or their return to me (whichever is more accurate), I would like to call attention to my two favorite poems about rocks, two works that seem to capture the essence of stone: “Rock Said” by Jeanne Marie Beaumont, from her book Curious Conduct (BOA) and “The Encyclopedia of Stones: A Pastoral” by James Richardson, from Interglacial: New and Selected Poems & Aphorisms (Ausable). Beaumont’s poem is a right-justified monologue in the voice of a rock, or perhaps more accurately, it is a series of one-line monologues, each a single sentence. The right justification creates a sense of stillness that seems absolutely perfect for a rock’s voice, a rock that is not only perceptive, but often quite funny. Richardson’s poem is lengthy, 63 separate sections, each a small meditation or pensee. They are written in the third-person plural, but they seem kin to Beaumont’s first-person speaker. In both cases, the poets have created a stillness, a sense of calm. These rocks are, perhaps above all else, observers. They have a far different perspective on time than humans do, and they use that to gently point out our foibles. The rocks in both poems are humble and funny, good companions.

Though I am not nuts about either of these books in their entirety, each of them includes pleasures beyond the rock poems as well. Curious Conduct has a list poem composed entirely of questions called “Afraid So” that is worth rereading, and Interglacial contains 16 ½ pages of aphorisms that are a delight.

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