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ESSAY ON STONE, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: April abomination, that's what I call
Subject(s): April; North Sea

April abomination, that's what I call
this wet snow sneaking down day after day,
down the edges of air, when we
were primed for spring.

The flowers of May will come next week -- in theory.
And I suppose that witty sentimentalist,
Heine, saw this same snow falling
in the North Sea

as into the Abyss. I look out now across
this pasture, the mud and the matted grass,
the waving billows of it, where
the snow is falling

as into our own abyss. I stand on Marshall's
great rock, to which I have returned, fascinated,
a thousand times. I stand as if
on a headland

or on an islet in the midst of waves,
and what is this fascination, this cold desire?
Once I wrote a poem about
making love to stone

and a whole book in which the protagonist,
who was myself, carried a stone with him
everywhere he went. I still like
that poem and that book,

and yet for all my years of stone-loving
I've learned not much about stone. Oh, I
can tell slate from quartz from sandstone --
-- who couldn't? -- and here

in this district we even have an exotic
stone, the talc, that feels warm and bloody
in one's hand, but basically I am
ignorant. Let

the geologists keep their igneous pyrites
to themselves. I don't even know if
this great rock, projecting
bigger than a barn

from the slope of the pasture, is a free
boulder that may have come here from the top
of Butternut Mountain who knows
how many eons ago,

or part of the underlying granite of Vermont.
I stand on its back, looking into the abyss.
At all events the fascination
is undeniable. I

always said there could be no absolutes,
but this is stone, stone, stone --
so here, so perfectly
here. It is

the abyss inverted, the abyss made visible.
Years ago when I wrote that other poem
I might have taken pleasure from this,
I think I would have. Now

I am fifty-three going on fifty-four,
a rotten time of life. My end-of-winter clothes
are threadbare, my boots cracked, and how
astonishing to see

my back, like that figure in Rembrandt's drawing,
bent. I shift weight on my walking-stick
and the stick slips in wet lichen
and then my boots skid too,

and down I go -- not hurt, just shaken.
And what a hurt that is! Is it consoling
to know I might have fallen
into the abyss?

All this in silence, every word of it spoken
in my mind. The snow falls. Heine,
there must be something wrong with us.
I've heard this pasture

moaning at my feet for years, as you heard
that gray sea, we two shaken and always
unconsoled by what we love,
the absolute stone.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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