Isiah Smith

blue-wall

Nobody had asked me what my opinion had been. Nobody had been around to. Though I had snuggled up beside the nearest sandpile, and was reading a note left there by another stranger, before last summer it seemed, I couldn’t imagine ever talking. My boots had become unlaced, too, and filled with several tiny stones apiece, bits of blue I had stumbled upon four miles or so north of the Mexican border, ninety miles south of Tucson. Even there, when I had dined with people, I had been put to their side, served alone outside the purview of ties, dresses, and light but good morning laughter over sausages, eggs, and steaming muffins. Any words, like table crumbs, had been smoothed away and I was forgotten. Now that my heart had been emptied of blood, and my mind had become a near vacuum of human desire, I was as ready as the Rose of Sharon to bloom in Jehovah’s own desert somewhere in a land I had never seen, beside a boulder near the foot of mountain where nothing before had taken root.

Staked Green Tomato

staked green tomato

All he did one day is putter around the place. He cleaned out the stovepipe by unscrewing its pieces and shoving down a stiff wire brush. He tied up the tomatoes against the wooden stakes with torn up bedsheets. He swept the kitchen floor, and was surprised at how much dirt and hair there were. He folded the music on the piano. He thumbed the wet bristles of his toothbrush. He sat on the back step and heard the crickets and katydids. He sat on the front slab of stone and cursed the cars speeding by in his heart. He thought of rust. And he thought of the density of hematite, how heavy it was in the palm of his hand. And the smell of the cow’s wet hay at the end of road where he ran just after dawn when it was first light enough to see everywhere.

Mallory McGiven

I had been lying in bed blue and depressed. Even the pills did nothing. They didn’t make me sleep. Just even more immobilized. And that had made things even worse. The ruffled hawk feather from the dirt hills of Arizona. The bar of hand-poured silver from Eureka. The smooth Petoskey stone from the shore of Lake Michigan. Stashed away. In a shoebox. In another shoebox. All the other shoeboxes. I had had an entire row once that had been thrown away. Automatically. Even those. Hopeless. And even his colorful striped woolen blanket. Folded and dumped in the curbside dumpster. Even my notebooks. Dumped out in the same dumpster. Even there I could not bear witness to, bear to read my own testimonies. My self-deception. Amazing! The one! In love! At last! The same thing. Ad nauseam. Depressing. Even my own confidences with myself had been wistful inventions of the imagination mostly. Mostly like pretty, colorful decals a little girl had once pressed onto square glass bedroom windowpanes to make herself feel better about her grimly lived life—there’s a rainbow! there’s a unicorn! there’s a windmill! there’s a four leaf clover! there’s a smiling sun! Imagined. Made up. Pretty. Make believe. I had disconnected the landline, blocked my cell, same for any messages. I had lain in the lavender oil bathwater and had remembered how beastly he had been, crouching on his elbows lapping up water with his tongue by the lake, who had, it seemed, completely loved me from his ruined castle which love I had not I felt, dozing eventually into oblivion, nor had I accepted had been my own before I had completely slipped away myself.

The Staircase Of Noble Wood

deserted mine

There wasn’t enough cash left to get two cans of high temp paint to spray the woodstove black. It’d have to do to let it burn through the winter this time, grimy and rusty in spots. Next year will be better. And the switched out pair of snows had just enough tread hopefully to pass inspection if he did it one or two months earlier than the windshield sticker said to in February when by then making it up the hill would be impossible and down’d be deadly.

Fortunately, the cat wasn’t balking at dry food which per pound per meal was much less change to spend than can after can, even by the case, of wet. She’d gotten used to the dry crackle of kibbles in between her teeth, mushed in with a little wet around sundown when she’d come inside for the last time before nightfall. And the cat purred anyway so long as she was treated kindly stretched out on his chest, or balled up on the colored striped blanket folded on the corner of the bed.

He’d go about his business, felling standing timber, cutting it up, and buying a new chain now and then when the spare broke, as happens from time to time. And then the rest was split by hand which, as work, is a decent way of forgetting everything. Making firewood is a good way to live. It takes only calmness, focus, steady breaths, and enough strength to lift a maul above the head before the grace of Earth’s gravity lends her own hand to travel swiftly down between the seam unseen to the human eye.

Maybe one day his name would be posted in the middle pages of the local newspaper with all the others whose land and homes were in arrears. But that could be some time yet. That could be some time before the sheriff came. Things by then could change, maybe for the better, maybe not. Years back, when he was rich, he’d had a lawyer who’d gibed, “You can’t squeeze blood out of turnip.” So to turn turnip, so to turn rock. There never was shame in being poor.

For gifts, he’d give away a pretty enough feather he’d find (or had found) lying somewhere in the woods. A first edition of The Lives of Cells, by Lewis Thomas, would be nice from his bookshelves. A diamond unearthed from the great days swinging a sledge at Herkimer would please him immensely, too. There were enough rocks and minerals and handfuls of Apache tears to give away to others for years.

Leftover Ancon Sheep Rocks

sheep rocks 1

These stones had been here for almost two hundred years, maybe more. Cleared by a farmer’s hand, he laid them atop another much larger one he could never move, to clear his pasture land for grazing Ancon sheep. These short-legged, wooly animals were a genetic aftermath of some Massachusetts mistake permitting low stone walls and shallow fences around the countryside to be built. These stones I had found here and there about these woods were leftover afterthoughts of some greater task. No Giza in the desert. No Chichen Itza. No Stonehenge. Just a practical doing away with a bit of solitary labor. For me their anonymity was a great relief. Unless some reckless body troops through these woods again long after I am gone, they were there. Unless a Wrecker of Mead Halls, some outlandish, wanton arm of purposeful carelessness comes by, these rocks must remain lovely and pointless as the backside of the illumined moon, dust upon some forgotten shelf of being, a pair of wings fallen off a nameless angel. Long after we ourselves had been allowed to fade away like nothing, like that hard-working farmer’s breed of sheep, all our sunken thoughts were still awaiting some rising of the great Ocean’s long forgotten seas.

Bluestone & Lichen Field

bluestone & lichen

The things he had loved were the things he had seen. And the things he had seen were so often the ordinary. He had once seen a shooting star shoot far across the sky in the Yucatán, so long he could say, “Look!” and his wife could turn her neck around and watch its burning glow burn across the night. He had watched the praying mantis babies, no bigger than grains of rice, dangling from dozens of threads, emerging downward from their cocoon in the middle of his backyard swamp as a wandering boy alone. He had seen herds of reindeer standing like a fields of stones in Lapland when he was a man. He had seen a single, small maple tree in the middle of the grass whose leaves had turned all red saying, “Fall!” He had seen the cobblestones of France, the cornfields of Wisconsin, and the beach sands of Monastir. He had seen the ferns’ patch moving across his yard for twenty years, the birch trees fall; and, up the hill, the multitude of sunspots glowing deep orange on the glowing brown-leafed ground. And he had even seen the wood thrush, that most reclusive of forest birds, sitting still just feet beyond his home, without song. He had been inside a cave in Pennsylvania once so deep within the earth that the beauty of lightless blackness he had seen that with his own eyes too. That cave might have been the most peerless vision of all, of all things in his life so far he had already seen.

Sunstones & Sagebrush

sagebrush and dirt

At night, silent military jets dropped slow blue flares from the sky. These lights would fall gently in slow downward curves, eight or nine flares falling from the sky at once. Soon afterwards, more jets would pass silently through the airspace and more falling blue flares would glow in the night sky like the first ones. This maneuver might occur a third time and then the sky was black again as if nothing had happened. All was silent that night and any other night. Sometimes, too, in an enormous “V,” blue lights would hover overhead, too huge and moving too slowly to be any known, or even any imaginable, human aircraft, for sure a top secret military program no one outside of the military would ever know about.

By daytime, the campers camping in the aluminum shell of an abandoned trailer would sift through sifters looking for sunstones that would be caught in between the grates of the wire mesh. The boy and his father took turns sifting in the heat all day long. Later in the afternoon, the handful of stones they had caught sifting would be handed over to one of three men who lived six months out of twelve in trailers that had not yet been abandoned there. After the sunstones the boy and his father had collected had been weighed on a scale and examined under a jeweler’s loop, and then rated and priced, the father paid for the stones they had sifted out of the dirt and wanted to keep; those the boy and his father did not, the men swept into one of the four bins, according to their weight and quality. The best of these stones flashed brilliant copper from the inside. The three bearded men whose mine this was allowed the boy, as was their custom, to allow the youngest member of any team, to pick for free any one sunstone from one of the four gray plastic bins filled with them laid out on folding tables among the pale sagebrush and barren dirt. The boy’s pick was the very best sunstone in the bin. It had the most shiller, the bearded man told him. It was worth more than the total sum of all the stones they had bought together.

In the evening, after making supper and cleaning the dishes with as little water as possible, the boy and his father played chess outside. The boy always won, trying game after game to make his father a better chess player, however mediocre the father’s mind was in this. They played until it was nearly dark, just before the jets returned. For the son and his father, it would well be said, many years later, that these indeed were the best times in the best of times.

To Find Beautiful Rocks

desert fence and sign

After that, he just took off. Took his tools and went. “Catch me somewhere in Arizona, Tucson if I’m lucky, shot by the border patrol if I’m not,” she told the police he had said to, told her, as he left. Of course he had had no idea at all of any sort of trouble, or of encountering any. Fact is, he just knew of a place up in the hills, back in the dirt roads, where nobody went. Up there, there were old copper mines. Mostly abandoned, except for the big gigantic commercial ones that had hacked off the entire top of a mountain so that it had become Red Mountain to the locals. And out there, why, you’d see rich green chrysocolla, the sort of stone the Indians said would heal you if you touched it to your heart; and if you scratched around, a bit of deep blue azurite, blue as the deepest blue sky would show up in the rubble. You just had to claw it away, dig it all, all the heaps, through all the leftover debris, the tailings from another day and another time. There were a couple of people, a pet food store owner, and a Brazilian masseuse, who had reportedly seen a man matching his straw hat and description in a little faraway town just a few miles north of Mexico, who had probably seen him before he had disappeared.

“ΠΑ ΒΩ ΚΑΙ ΧΑΡΙΣΤΙΩΝΙ ΤΑΝ ΓΑΝ ΚΙΝΗΣΩ ΠΑΣΑΝ.”

rocky coast

Having come to this coastline many times before, I know I cannot see it anymore than I can see it. I might as well be The Little Prince trying to describe the Fox to the Rose, or the world of the Lamplighter to the Banker. I might as well be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. . . The moment I lift a lens, pick up a ruler, even raise a wine glass to my eye, that world disappears in exchange for one that I have named ‘real’. We have moved the blue planet into its own space and observed it from afar, and by doing so removed it from ourselves. Indeed, the lever that Archimedes claimed that, if given, he would move the world, we have done so already.

Nevertheless, once upon it time, we lived upon the world, as though nestled within a fairy tale. It was, as my small son had said to me long ago sitting beside me on a bench in the grass, “If we are a part of Nature, then the bench has to be a part of nature too, and so is the grass.” There was, however, that Greekish fulcrum in both time & space that lifted this simple and naïve world of the peasant and country poet away, which placed those into the picturesque, never to be returned to again. Still, I think, we can indulge in a harmless glimpse backwards. There, we may quickly gaze upon these forgotten, obliterated places where long ago we were (as well when we were not) from moment to moment, step to step, and time to time.

Cold Pastoral

stone wall 2

The painted stone reliefs of Arcadia will already have been vanished. Whatever had looked upon these walls will have long disappeared. Still, the lichen will grow and exist as it did. And somewhere else, the horseshoe crab, with its strange bluish blood, will crawl upon the sea floor. And somewhere else, too, the louse. And somewhere a beetle. Adamantine reality will not call to us. Though another had once said that the stars are there because they needed us to see them. And still another yet because we had imagined them to be. But we can see today that these boldings are over. It is not very difficult to see that now. Whatever was our tenancy here, it was had briefly. At times it was most spectacular. And glorious. At others, not so much. From a leftover bluestone quarry that was completely abandoned 150 years ago, it is still important for the few passersby who come here to walk through last season’s fallen leaves along the footpath and pass by this silent, earthly beauty.