The Black Stones

By Michael Shally-Jensen

And you yourself,
some impossible Tuesday
in the year Two Thousand and Nine, will walk out
among the black stones
of the field…

— Galway Kinnell, 1978

I did that, and it didn't go as expected.
For one, I'm not the person in the poem,
though I share certain affinities with her.
I'm fond of looking at events as potential
memories, of thinking I'm learning when
I might not be, of burrowing deeply into
sorrows — so many imaginary bones —
when I really needn't, and, above all,
of contemplating "the still undanced
cadence of vanishing," that marvelous
thing that only we humans seem to
take notice of, for better or for worse.

But things are different now from what
they were then. As I'm sure you know,
Galway. People speak more directly —
though it doesn't always mean communication
is improved. We listen to all kinds of
crazy music, including music that
people speak on stage and music that
lasts 639 years. We hardly have time for
poetry anymore, and when we do it's
the kind that's in greeting cards. Most of us,
in fact, are far dumber than we were then.
A black stone might be mistaken for a
hand-held device. And fontanels, which
are supposed to keep rain from hitting
the brain, could be misidentified as
a global brand-name. We are, Galway,
a long way from the "little sleep's head"
of which you spoke, though I, personally,
appreciate the sentiment.

I love black stones in the rain and
have some, even, in my soggy yard.
I too would prefer that the sun never
go down on good days and that
my house never experience trembling
or falling. Catching a glimpse of a kite
in my father's angled eye, rather like
the moon viewing an earthly angel (to
twist your lines a bit), is something I have
done and remember as vividly as I
remember the first time someone told
me that the wages of dying is love. These
are all gorgeous expressions of our
mutual beliefs and perceptions.

But, you must realize, unlike the
comforted child of your poem, we
are still screaming upon waking from
a nightmare. We're still clingingly
searching for the hard permanence of
stars and loving kisses. Many rats do
emerge alive from plague events, and
men now roam the earth like fleas. We're
all too aware that the only path left us
is that of vanishing languages and shrinking
icecaps. We no longer think that grown-ups
never die. All of us, in short, know that
here is the world and it is largely darkness.
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About Michael Shally-Jensen

Michael Shally-Jensen trained in cultural anthropology before entering the book publishing trade, where he has long worked as an editor and manager. He lives in western Massachusetts. His poems have appeared in the Aurorean and Smartish Pace (prize finalist) and are forthcoming elsewhere.


  1. Posted March 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Thought provoking and a bit of melancholy…I like this poem very much!


  2. allison
    Posted April 2010 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    beautifully sculpted unique work of art that deserves recognition not only for its powerful message, but for its style, analytically and structurally, and fresh originality. well done michael.

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