Here the Stones Are Different
After unpacking for five days
we drive to a park. It’s a miracle
that we get there; locals honk
when we slow to read road signs,
and still we turn left
when we should have turned right.
We’re desperate. We’ve grown sick
of newness. Even the stones here
are different—sharp-edged and broken,
like stoneware against a wall.
We walk carefully, step lightly, reach
for tree trunks burnished by other hands.
At the shore, water churns against water,
rock against rock, and as with the candle
and crucifix we found in the attic,
we do not know what is holy—
only that all here is old and once
was touched by someone else.
So we do as we’ve always done,
at different shores, with different stones.
We rake fingers through rock
for the flattest stones, the lightest stones,
and in the sift and the skip, in the flick
of a disc that sails horizontally,
one fingertip just touches down.
On the drive toward the shore my father
sheds stress like snakeskin. A rub against
the seat, a push on the pedal of the car.
Arrived, we spread peanut butter on tortilla,
squeeze honey. Mud scuffs my calves, cakes
my socks. When he was young, he filleted
fish for tourists; all day he wiped scales
and mucus on crusted, greasy jeans. Now
we eat oatmeal in mugs rinsed with coffee.
We hike up hills, stumble down thin, winding trails.
When I slow, he urges me forward, reminds me
to pause at the tops of the rocks. Look,
he says. The glimmer on the horizon.
I come to expect it like a god.
Twelve years old, I slide the still-stiffening
body of my chameleon into a plastic bag.
It curves in the corner, a weight of dimes
that I carry to the backyard, behind the shed.
I dig two inches with a trowel, pat and press
with my foot, then dream of excavation:
two years and perhaps a femur stripped
to matchsticks, vertebrae shining like small
teeth in my hand. Later, I will hesitate
in front of etymology exhibits, strain to touch
the iridescent wings of the dragonflies.
I will think of Styrofoam and sterile pins,
the need to know structure. I will remember
the ziplock bag I left for others to find.
I plant the seeds because I require an end
to the waiting—to the silhouette of limbs
and the darkening ground. I need concavity,
the press of soaked seeds into peat, the heat
of germination an incense for the ice.
In the upstairs window, the crooks of their necks
nudge against earth; heads shed the husk of the shell.
So necessary, that newness. The unfurl
of translucent leaf. The stretch toward the pale light
streaming through glass. And so awful, the opposite:
green shoots grown too quickly, now wilting and weak.
The dwindle and spindle of life in my palm.
That tray of earth, the damp desiccation
to brown, while outside, still the frost.
We are two girls, bobbing bare-breasted,
the soap slick in our hands. We scissor lake
with thin legs; our toes graze seaweed,
knees bent and suspended in the dark gush
and swirl. Somewhere a loon, the catch
of the breath. Somewhere trees and their
shadows, moths thick like the stars. We float;
the lake laps in our ears. Our giggles
are pebbles under the convex arc of a bat.
We lather hair, trail braids through the water.
Behind us, suds stream as if beads strung
from fingers. All exhale, inhale, movement
of consciousness inward. When we step
out and drip, we pull the cold close.
Jennifer Case’s poetry and prose have appeared in journals such as ISLE, North American Review, Zone 3, English Journal, Poet Lore, and Stone Canoe, where her work received the 2014 Allen and Nirelle Galson Prize in Fiction. She is an Assistant Professor of Writing at the University of Central Arkansas and the Assistant Nonfiction Editor of Terrain.org.