Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sticks and Stones

When, as a kid, I came home from school, hurt by what another kid had said me, “Patty, Fatty,” or something equally mean, my mother used to chant, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Boy, was she wrong! Hadn’t she been a child once? Did she have no idea of the power of her own harsh words? Did my father not know this too?

I’ve only twice encountered hurtful stones. Once when a group of boys threw stones at me beside the East River, just down the street from my grandparents’ home, in Astoria. The few stones that hit made a ping against my arms and back; nothing more than someone pinching me awake in a movie theatre. More recently, when I fell on a poorly maintained driveway because the pebbles hadn’t been cleared from the asphalt and I broke my elbow, well that was spot on, for stones doing damage, though the fault was never with the stones. With sticks, no problem. No one’s ever hit me with a stick though the nuns were threatening, slapping the rulers against their palms. Words, however, with far more accuracy and much greater intention, have hit their mark more times than I care, yet can’t help, but remember.

Praise to the sticks and stones! “...all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight...” as Mary Oliver writes, and “the wave-strike over unquiet stones,” as Pablo Neruda said. Is there a more perfect sound than waves striking beach stones? The first time I heard that was on the island of Lesbos, Greece, 1984. From up the hill in the little stone house in which I slept, the slap and pull of delicate waves went over and through the stones, begging them to come home to the sea.

A few weeks ago, at Jacks Peak, there in the path was a big, ocher colored rock that hadn’t been there the day before. (If you walk often enough in a place, you get to know it like your home. You notice the new things, like when Michael comes home and notices the new lilies on the living room cabinet.)

A beam of sunlight spotlighted it. The sun shone only in that exact place, making an announcement of that rock.—you couldn’t help but notice it. And the oddest thing is that the stone came from nowhere. There wasn’t an obvious source. Michael looked backwards and forwards—no rock walls anywhere around. It was too large for a child to have picked the rock up over there and set it down over here. I feel sorry for those who do not believe in mystery. Some days, the things I love most are the ones I can’t explain. Well, most days.

Once upon a time, when I was a child, someone gave me a stone. If you held it one way, it looked like a stone you might find along a riverbank. If you turned it over, and looked into where it had been broken from its other half, there was color inside, smooth blue and pale yellow, that if polished would have been called a gem.

The sticks have, apparently, left to their own devices, walked away.
But here’s another stone. In his poem Stone, Charles Simic wrote,

Go inside a stone
That would be my way...

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet...

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all...

1 comment:

  1. Archer nocs an arrow, it flies from the bow, and the word at the end of it finds the one unprotected place in my armor, right above the heart....