I picked it up from a roadside ditch
one September afternoon, there beside
the creek bottom cornfield: smelling
the water, swimming in a pool
of cool air, the sunlight filtering through
the leaves, I walked in a field
given over to weeds and briars,
haunted by three chopped cars, their frames
like skulls, doors riddled with bullet holes,
beer bottles shattered by target practice.
I wanted a souvenir of the farm, of my
boyhood among cows, corn, tobacco,
so I picked up this rock, the lower part
as brown as a farmer's face in late summer,
the upper, as white as the old man's scalp
when he takes off his cap for prayer.
I took the rock home to the city, placed it
on a stool, stared for ten minutes at a time:
eight pounds of Yadkin County,
a hard rock, breaker of plow points,
a stone cursed and tossed into a ditch,
sand that settled in a shallow sea, the calm
waters lapping whispering, millions, billions.
I try for the stone's emptiness
but find myself hiking along its ridges,
making camp under a cliff,
I become a flea man climbing a face
like a pig's snout, and I say,
"Return to the rock. Now, look at it."
There are moments when, breathing,
I merely look at the rock,
and I am quiet.
--John Thomas York