Breathing Your Name into Word and Stone

If your flesh cools
my bones bleach,

I’ll breathe
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.



64 thoughts on “Breathing Your Name into Word and Stone

  1. I hope that you still have the gift of stone she gave to you. So sorry to hear about her passing, but she sounds like she made a mark on you. Which was really just another gift she bestowed. A fine tribute, Lady Magaly.

    • I’ve kept them all–many in my planters. She gave me others over the years, and I returned the favor. My favorite is a small chunk of schist that sparkles beautiful when light hits it. She found it during a hike in Maryland, VA… around one of my favorite woods.

  2. It is always amazing how we touch each other. She and you shared a rough beginning but came to a mutual place of relationship. I’m sorry your friend passed young. Blessings, Oma Linda

  3. Love your story and glad u gave her something, others weren’t/hadn’t thought to give… understanding and listening are two qualities everyone must practice… btw, your stones are awesome.. love the heart stone…
    As far as collecting, I collect shells.. My daughters travel a lot and so far I’ve gotten shells from Costa Rica, Slovenia ( recently), Spain… oh and stones- Refugio, my fave spot….

  4. So terribly sad, what a beautiful soul, I am sorry that the world no longer has her walking among us, teaching her gentle, powerful life lessons. I am so pleased she lives on through this post and you shared a small part of her journey, and so happy you exposed how with patience we find true magic in unexpected people, and the fact just being you Magaly enriched and gave happiness to another xox

  5. oh my goodness, i am so very sorry for your loss. your story about her touched me so deeply and now i’m crying knowing you’ve lost such a dear friend. hugs to you and i’ll light a candle for her.

  6. I’m so sorry for this big loss.
    I was actually looking around class yesterday, thinking about how a potential life-long friend could be sitting there – even though most of us are wary or even annoyed with each other now in the beginning.

  7. What a moving write, Magaly. The meaning of the poem deepens so much after I read the story behind it. I think sometimes people cross paths for a reason. I can see why it was that you crossed her path & also why she crossed yours. You both learned from one another & enriched each other’s lives. I can understand why she will impact you forever. Sad that she died so young….

    • I have a friend who always says that life happens the way it does because it needs to. I don’t always agree with this–especially when things get rough… it’s just hard, you know? But I believe you two are correct.

      And yes, to go at such a young age seems to cause a bigger ripple in the world of those of us left behind…

  8. i’m so sorry for your loss but she left you and us with an incredible gift, her memory.

    beautiful write and reference to her


    p.s. i have similar stones gifted to me from my mamasita when she lived in va. beach. she’s now with all those other pretty mamasitas in heaven.

  9. After I had read your story the poem made even more sense to me, I think that some of the best friends I’ve had over the years were people that bugged me initially.. maybe friendship becomes stronger because we have to work hard to overcome those obstacles.

    • You know what? Now that I think about it, I’m right with you. Some of the people who have influenced me the most haven’t entered my life in the most pleasant of conditions. Maybe there is something in the old saying about “having to work for what truly matters”…

    • Most of the stones she gave me are now living in my planters, except for a few. The ones in the picture are from a few beaches around my husband’s parents’ house.

      Shells are wonderful too collect. I don’t have many, but I treasure the ones I do have.

  10. Magaly, such a beautiful poem, which took on even deeper resonance after I read the following note. She sounds like a wonderfully perceptive girl. I love that you both love rocks. I do, too. For years, I found heart shaped rocks everywhere. Now I dont, but I hope for a return to finding them again. I love your closing lines about singing her eternal. That you will.

  11. The poem is an intimate and loving promise. Wow. And the story is touching. I always bring stones home too, but when I moved over the years I began leaving them in the yards of the homes where I lived. I’m not sure why. Maybe the first time–moving across the country in two suitcases–they were too many and too heavy to move. I believe stones, like trees and bones, gather history and would testify/witness if we had a way to hear them.

  12. What a marvelous lesson in life you teach by this tale and tribute to a friend. We are not the same, we each have qualities which we should respect and admire. This is a most beautiful post.

  13. Thank you for sharing this story, How well you wrote it! You brought her to life for me. I hope it helped you; I think writing always does. Your poem is piercing and exquisite, and I love the picture. I have collected stones most of my life, too, and some of these look very like some of mine.

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