And we begin it, our story, with where we’re from: the civilized side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the small farming-built town of Mossyrock, Oregon, the yellow trailer in the Cedar River Trailer Park with a pair of Huskies sweating in the summer heat. We are also our mother’s generous hips, our cousin’s defensive stance because he stopped growing at five feet tall. I know the circle drive outside the green door of my high school days in a way I won’t know this short blind driveway until I leave it for good.
“The minds of stone lovers had colonised stones as lichens cling to them with golden or grey-green florid stains. The human world of stones is caught in organic metaphors like flies in amber. Words came from flesh and hair and plants. Reniform, mammilated, botryoidal, dendrite, haematite. Carnelian is from carnal, from flesh. Serpentine and lizardite are stone reptiles; phyllite is leafy-green. The earth itself is made in part of bones, shells and diatoms. Ines was returning to it in a form quite different from her mother’s fiery ash and bonemeal. She preferred the parts of her body that were now volcanic glasses, not bony chalk. Chabazite, from the Greek for hailstones, obsidian, which, like analcime and garnet, has the perfect icositetrahedral shape.”
This is from my story “A Stone Woman”, a fairy tale about a woman who is turned into stone – or into many kinds of stone. The stone is a metaphor for grief and for ageing and stiffening. We are always being told language is inadequate to describe things. I think it is endlessly inventive if we pay it attention. I love all the buried metaphors in the stone-names. Thinking and writing are making connections. I once gave a reading in a university where a student said self-righteously “You used a word I didn’t know in that reading. Don’t you think that was elitist of you?” I replied that if I were her I should have rushed to the dictionary in glee and delight.
It’s as much about this. The moments spent leaning against the bole of a pine, 12 feet above the ground, on a plank platform. The tree creaking a lullaby. The hours curled on the clover sweet grass. The day so still. What green means seeping slowly into the skin to define grass.
At the low end of the field runs a creek flickering in and out of tree shadows, the color of steeped tea. I test the tension of an eddy and it dimples like fabric; I slide a hand into its cold glass glove and begin running my fingers over slick stones. The intent is to flip the right rock to send a crayfish scuttling out of its shelter in a small cyclone of silt. But even release does not disturb her.
There is a black shape, a dark drifting thing that haunts my vision. Not amorphous but solid. Though I know it is a thing of rods and cones, an anomaly of the eye, it has as much substance as the holly tree pressed against the kitchen window. It will not come when I call it but shies always to the side. This morning I folded down to slip on a shoe and found a small pin feather stuck to my ankle. Another hooked and clung to the smallest finger on my left hand. What have I eaten in my sleep: was it sweet and tender or did it need gnaw and render by my canines? It may be a remnant of night migration, the body making manifest a path dreamt between the lower atmosphere and God. But I think the shadow has something to do with it. Why else the furtiveness?
She eludes you, coquetting behind a gauze of rabbit brush just
summer greening, summons the eye to her plum bosom, the one
wing breaking from her shoulder. Geisha-like she trails
a drape of feather in the dust,
One plane grumbles from horizon to horizon. The lilac, almost stripped by the weather, shudders as the rain strikes its remaining rags of purple. I can hear the kitchen clock stepping delicately around a circle. Some days are like this. Suspended between water and grief and recollection.