If your flesh cools
my bones bleach,
your name into word and stone;
sing you eternal.
linked to Poets United, Poetry Pantry 269
(the post below describes the memory that inspired this poem)
I’m not quite sure when I started collecting stones, not exactly. I remember being very young, four or five years old, and gathering the smoothest and roundest rocks that would fit my big brother’s slingshot. He was very good at hunting birds for food; he spent a lot of time on it; and I really loved spending a lot of time with him. If I had a few good stones in my pockets, he would take me hunting with him… if I didn’t make too much noise or get in the way.
My brother stopped hunting, but I continued collecting stones. I’m attracted to their shapes, colors, textures—the ones that feel extra smooth against my cheek are my favorites; I love them as much as I love the rocks that smell like dry summer rain… wet and warm and earthy.
A bit over seventeen years ago, during my first year in college, I met a person who became one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I didn’t like her very much… at first. I was forced to work with her on a Spanish literature project. I was convinced that she never worked as hard as I did; when she did try to contribute, her efforts ended up creating more work for me. And I really disliked that whenever I left the room, I came back to find her eyes fixed on my stuff.
The morning the project was due, I went for a walk before class. After spending a day—and most of its night—working on a conclusion that should’ve taken no more than a couple of hours, I needed to clear my mind. Collecting stones around a nearby lake always did the job for me.
I stopped a few yards from the lake. My project partner was crouching by the water, staring my way… I said nothing when she began to walk towards me, her hat held like a bowl in front of her… a sheepish grin on her face. I looked at the hat when she offered it to me. It was full of stones.
“I’m a very slow reader,” she said. “I don’t get things as quickly as you do, and my ideas take a long time to show up.” When I said nothing, she added, “Look, I know you didn’t want or enjoy teaming with me. But you didn’t push me aside and you didn’t try doing the work for me.” She lowered her eyes, and whispered, “Even when we both know that doing the whole thing would’ve probably been easier for you.”
I glanced at the stones in the hat, feeling a tad weirded out.
She laughed, and said, “Oh, I didn’t see any quartz pebbles in your rock collection. I thought you might like some. It’s a gift for giving me a chance. I’m bad at seeing what people mean in stories, but I’m good at seeing rocks. Thank you?”
“You aren’t all that terrible,” I said, accepting the hat.
She raised an incredulous eyebrow.
I looked away, and grinned.
Today, I was informed of her death. She lived a short but extremely happy life. Her patience, her grit, and her ability to nurture her blessings, saved many lives… turned her into a forever friend… made her unforgettably loved.