From one stone came a collection of stones—
oblong planets with their own moons and
sunspots. Some were freckled, running
Saturn’s rings around in mottled blacks
and pinkish gray. But before all that
came the first stone in shocking white—
like tibia bones, but whiter than I’d ever
guessed a skeleton could be. How clean,
then, is my own? Could it glow like
radium in the dark? Maybe Moby
Dick was a skeleton turned inside-out.
But this stone’s a tranquil whale that
musters no resistance if you pick it up.
Stroke it, and your hand’s on much
too smooth of a ride. No blowhole.
No lingua. No franchise. Just fluted
astro-stillness never muddied by a lichen.
Everything maculate abandoned
at the watermark. Blankness yearning
for the company of crowds.
All the kids’ bodies nestled their devices,
their screens as hushed as aquarium night-lights.
But that’s not happening on Voice Road,
Michigan, which ends in a field cleared
by pirouetting tree trunks observed from a car.
Voice is the windlass that rescues diffidence
from splintering the everyday: your voice
sheltered me through sharing when I thought
I didn’t want to speak. And many things
do happen in the wilds of northern Michigan.
A new young monk lofts Christ-like
in the monastery, floorboards kissing
his arms and legs and cheek. Now he’s
risen, smiling at the Hegumen holding
his right hand. South of them, Petoskey
stones are acting much like hieroglyphs,
but short on verbiage no matter how you puzzle.
And Voice Road is always there. One clear
night in Arcadia, Michigan, I had a dream
about a dog named Missionary. Missionary
chased a ball into the river. Then kicked
at the constancy, the slower part of water
that my dream said resisted every tremor,
every arabesque. Then Heidegger, or Derrida,
asked me to dream of Van Gogh’s shoes—
my husband’s snowy Timberlands, kicked
out the door on the nights he sells Christmas trees
late into December. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field path as evening falls, wrote Heidegger.
And why should we chase a philosopher
from poems, if his words just lowered me, hand
over hand, to the loneliness of work?
Christina Pugh’s fifth book of poems, Stardust Media, won the Juniper Prize for Poetry and is forthcoming in 2020 from University of Massachusetts Press. Currently a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome, she is professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and consulting editor for Poetry.