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.