Stone trees


This is not a small poem about loss or disappointment.
This is a runnel with no use for a bridge, a curtain wall
with no dead load, a road with no bend to my door. This
is a forest with no trees. This cannot be foreseen.

This is me, opening my mother’s spool box, taking time
to task. Here is her thread, her wherewithal,
filoselle from reeled silk, crewel yarn, cotton floss.
Here is her hand before decades of death, holding a needle

against the white page, flicking noun to verb, as she did me.
And this is me rounding on middle age, still thinking
somewhat implausibly of love. What else is there?
Hours stack up like saucers on a shelf. My to-do list

unravels like a tin song off the radio. Pain when I move,
pain when I don’t. I’m not sure what, if anything, is real.
I am listening to the night, this night, establish itself,
minute by minute, inch by incremental inch,

to fix me to the silence between the pert notes of a bird
I keep meaning to look up, and the jollity of wind chimes
I would snap in my hands. These hours are a box I must
open, with another inside, yet another inside that. Instead,

grant me, if you will, the certainty of a few hard facts
to make some kind of sense of what I’m doing here.
One: there are days that lie and days that tell the truth.
Two: pain has its own music that is neither starry nor trite.

Three: in Arizona, in the painted desert, live trees agatised
to amethyst, jasper, and chalcedony. I read this and find in it
(of course), a metaphor for thickening blood and marrow,
for the fact of pain. It takes centuries, more than lives,

and who knows the difference between loss and accrual
over so much time? All life in those trees culminates
in the glittery consonants of topaz and quartz
as if only words with hard endings could hold sway.

I’m not sure what will happen next, though it may yet
prove to be something as ruthless as it is absolute.
It would be easy to give up, to let the facts of our lives
stiffen to an obvious kind of truth. But we do not.

My mother never sewed: the spool box was for optimism,
it had no winter in it. Even stone trees come to their own
breath-taking conclusion, and death, for all its pretty names,
holds us to a promise that we never thought to make.



Vona Groarke has published six collections with Gallery Press in Ireland, the latest being X – a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Spring, 2014. The current Editor of Poetry Ireland Review, she teaches poetry at the University of Manchester in the U.K. Her Selected Poems is due in early 2016.