In the front corner of our front yard, beside the driveway and the road, are two huge rocks. In the opposite corner of the yard, also facing the road, are two more. When I say huge, I mean rocks that are almost as tall as I am (five foot, three and three fourths inches) and as wide as the span of my arms. They were unearthed, at some point in time, from the fields of this farm and carried to the yard by crane or dragged behind a tractor. One, my grandpa found. Two, my dad. These three are sand-colored boulders. We used to play on the biggest of them when we were children, its flat top making a perfect platform for jumping from, for reading on, for preaching pretend sermons, for setting up housekeeping, for gazing across the road to the orange-streaked sky and the disappearing ball of sun over the hayfield.
The third rock is different from the other three, a dark gray rock with a rounded back and a flat slab front. Dad dragged this rock 7 miles from the farm he owned as a young married man, on a specially-constructed stone boat pulled behind the tractor. Dad has suggested this rock, with its flat front ideal for engraving, be used as his and Mom’s headstone when they die.
He has a thing for rocks.
When we used to go on family trips, back when we children were young and without jobs and could all fit in the same vehicle, Dad would tell us to pick up rocks. “It’s a souvenir that doesn’t cost anything,” he would say. Climbing the rock formations in the Badlands, getting stranded in the Black Hills, running bare-toed along the edge the Pacific Ocean, picnicking beside a river in Arkansas, dangling feet from a pier over Lake Superior, driving along a shale-lined stretch of highway in the West–wherever we went, we collected rocks. Coming home, the vehicle held–besides its normal collection of writhing bodies and food wrappers and tape players and books–rocks. Big rocks under the seats, little rocks in purses and pockets and drink-holder compartments.
I don’t think I would notice rocks much, if it weren’t for my dad. I think of myself as a tree person and a water person, not a rock person.
These things have life, moving.
A rock is silent, reticent as death.
But as is the way of all things silent and steady to the iridescent human mind, rocks seem to hold a wisdom of their own.
“Only the rocks live forever,” writes Natalie Babbit in her children’s book Tuck Everlasting.
I wrote a poem about a rock once.
I was auditing a creative writing class at the nearest university, an hour’s drive from home, and we were given the assignment of using anthropomorphism (lovely word, that) to write from the point of view of an object or animal.
Walking down our gravel road, wondering what to write about, I noticed the rocks. Each an individual, unique, but unnoticeable amongst the thousands of rocks surrounding. Each at the complete mercy of the humans who drove across, and even more at the mercy of the elements.
What would it feel like, I wondered, to be a rock?
I lay down on the road, stomach stretched flat against dust and cheek into gravel, to find out. Soaking in sun and dust and an absence of personality, I felt very rockish–until I saw a vehicle coming toward me, and scrambled to my feet. Luckily it was only my brother, grinning.
I went home and wrote my poem, words straight from head to the paper, still in the spirit of rock. It is one of my favorites. Here it is:
I Am a Rock
That is all.
Would you have me say more?
The sun burns.
Ice brittle cold crackles.
Rain falls. I glisten
I drink not.
I thirst not.
I am a rock.
That is all.
I am made of the dust.
It is me.
Churned in mad fire
in the bowels of our mother.
Born in the billions
of brilliant pressure of pounds pressing
within her womb.
What she is
What I am
she may be.
I am a rock.
That is all.