Sunday, February 13, 2011

River Rock

photo by Sean D McCormick

River Rock

He looked out the window at the gold grass plains,
and beyond their rolling miles,
the far, untouchable mountains hanging unseen;
something endless there always drew the eye but
he was glad there were a few clouds
to break up the forever blue of the sky.

It was hot in the cabin from the cooking,
but not as hot as it would have been
without the window.
He was proud of the window, right angles trued.
Next year he might get glass sent up
from Edmonton.

He was tired, and just sat and watched her
cutting up the potatoes and onions.
He liked to see her fingers dancing with the knife,
chopping the way he chopped firewood,
With absent concentration, 
just to get it done and on to the next thing.

She felt his eyes and looked up smiling,
A strand of hair wet on her forehead.
He gave a grunt that didn't fool, went back to
sharpening his skinning knife while the light was good,
an endless job, done to be done again,
like all of them.

The baby was just learning to walk,
rambling around the one room as if
it were a giant’s castle, into everything,
sucking on a river rock to ease her gums.
He took it away, set it on the windowsill
and gave her a biscuit instead.

The prairie wind can't see just
when the smoke stops blowing from the chimney,
nor the earth do more than swallow the emptied bundles
wrapped with care and laid within its open mouth,
any more than the hard-packed road 
feels his boots walking away. 

Today the gold grass plains,
the far mountains and the forever blue
don’t know that potatoes and onions 
aren't found here anymore.
The Edmonton glass is weathered shards and daggers
on the insensate ground.

On a cracked window frame, smooth
odd-shaped river rock.

February 2011

Posted for OneShootSunday at the inimitable One Stop Poetry


  1. Excellent my dear
    thanks for the One Shoot

  2. Great story spawned by a small rock...only a few I've read included that rock in writing(including myself). Nice!

  3. There are some nice details in this, Witch Friend. He would indeed have been proud of the window, as many cabins hadn't any, and indeed they must have been stifling and dark.

    I liked the whole section about the chores, comparing her dicing with his chopping and bringing it home that the cycle of work would never have been done, for them.

    I also liked the swapping out of the rock for the biscuit, which is necessary for the ending, but I liked it even as I read it.

    I do have two quibbles, though, if I may don my pompous know-it-all hat for a moment, the multicolored one with all the bells. I am not liking the mountains with their white hats. That's just not up to Hedgewitchian standards, to me. I think the personification jars, a bit.

    And i can't quite believe that the river rock would have stayed there through Houseproud Prairie Mama's rounds, through the placement and displacement of the window glass, and all the years and changes. I see what you're after...that the merest detail may be all that survives of people's lives...but I just can't quite believe in that rock.

    Still and all, I enjoyed this muchly. Please don't hate me because I'm a gasbag.

  4. The use of your main symbol of the River Rock is both creative and intimately human—reminding me of Psalms and Shakespeare. Great local color and infusion of domestic detail in looking back on former first steps of a preceding generation.

  5. @Professor FB: Kay--white hats gone. Mountains are just hanging there now.
    The rock..I'm thinking something happened to make it forgotten there. Like a midnight Indian raid or sudden death of some kind. (I know that makes you happy) I'll try to work up something and hint that in somehow.
    Thanks for the constructive crit. It's never unwelcome from you or anyone who is insightful and serious about what I throw out into the long-suffering world. I hate writing instant stuff that has to go up fast, as I usually need time to get to know my poems to get them right. This one bothered me too.

  6. I confess I ignored the gave it Life...well done

    Peace, hp

  7. I like the idea of the rock remaining in place. There are river rocks and shells that Baby Puppy has collected setting on every shelf, counter, and ledge in my house. I can believe the rock.

  8. Thank you MZ. That's very true, too.

    I've rewritten it a bit and stuck in another stanza, starting with "The prairie wind can't see..." For those who want the flavor of the original, just skip that one. (I do think it adds a little more context.)

  9. I can believe the window rock as well. I'm good at finding a place for things and then leaving them there forever, just because. Love the story, all the details. History can get very personal. Thank you,


  10. Oh I really like the added stanza! Real-ly like it. I think the poem is much more Hegewitchian now. :-)

  11. You always have this fantastic way with words... vividly creating the elegant story with so many details and colours. I hadn't seen the rock until I read this - beautiful idea wonderfully expressed.

  12. Stopping by from Mama Zen. This is a fantastic poem, the detail is just amazing and I love the ending.

  13. Ok, this is extra spooky if you think of the rocks and window as part of some ruins and this family are the residual spectres hanging around on the prairie living their "lives" as best as they could. Even without the spooky, it is still a fantastic write but... wow...

    My diseased brain, make it stop!

  14. Have I ever mentioned I like the way your diseased mind works, LV?

  15. I can see where you are going...I do not see the rock as something that sat there for decades but as a symbol and reminder of the souls that once and may still resdide within the stones....bkm

  16. Love that you wrote a story about the rock! I mean, why the hell is that rock just sitting there? Not sure what Professor FB was going on about but you obviously fixed it. You really make us feel him and his family. And I love that 6th stanza, its a fantastic description and tells us so much about loss. Great write!

  17. Thanks all, especially dustus, Diana and everyone who saw the earliest version and enjoyed its strengths.

    @barbara: this pic is full of symbols, isn't it? I really loved what you did with it at your place.

    @AM: Thanks so much for your generous praise. You got to see a much more polished version and I think, a better poem. Prof. FB is the one who got that 6th stanza out of me, so we'll give her some credit also.

  18. Um...i didn't even SEE that little rock on the ledge, I thought you made it up til everyone started remarking on it.

    I'm rilly smarte, you gotta beleeb me.

    *turns all red*

  19. Lovely piece. I saw the rock on the sill - loved how you worked that into your story, and how you brought to life the ghosts that lived in that house on the prairie.

  20. Joy,

    When I really think about 'pioneer life', I reach for a martini.

    Such a softy the mega-death nuclear age has made me!

    The loneliness -- and perhaps futility -- of hardscrabbling, of post-digging, of shelter-begging.

    Love this 'slice' -- of life, and of blunted emotion.

    Say. This isn't a 'haibun' is it?


  21. It's a wonderful story poem. I feel like I'm standing inside the cabin, looking at at the hills.

  22. What a mind that just creates a story you have, Joy! Another fascinating absorbing read this poem, a narrative birthed on a river stone! I did take note of that stone, too. But how you wrapped a whole story around it, that's way beyond anyone's way but yours alone. Thanks again!

  23. after reading so many "interpretations" of this photo the "normality" of yours is really nice - and yet - you packed so much into this normality that it isn't so normal any more...if you know what i mean...i loved it..

  24. @Claudia--I think that may be one of my favorite comments ever. Thank you, I'm smiling here.

    And many thanks to all of you who've come by and commented--so many different interpretations of this picture, it's always fun to see how all your minds work.

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  26. Powerful! Life, struggles, monotony, and passion. Excellent work! Thank you for sharing it!

  27. At first a homely story that fades a little as time passes! And yet, I feel somehow that more has happened here because only "he of boots" seems to walk away! (Maybe I read + into too much!) And I too worked in that stone, because somehow it seemed to be a link, a constant through time! A beautiful piece!


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats