My grandpa had a dusty
plate of seashells, dry,
and in plastic trays, a score
of tree parts, petrified;
each a hardened image
of an old, indurable thing.
(His trees had rock rings -
each marked a hundred years
of settling, from under-sea
memorials to the life of things
once living.) Do they honor age
and greatness? Or mock
with minerals the fragility
of trees in their relative youth,
and old invertebrates
for their few years on earth?
My mother also hunts for shells
and tiny priceless things
on walks outside, to fill
the permanent solo show
on the shelves around her home.
Grandpa taught us where
to start, but momma taught me art,
to revel in the fingering of stone
until it shone from human touch
Some will even grind
these rocks up into jewels,
to reveal the deeper secrets
and unhide the truer themes
of what the earth wrings
by pressure from simple dust
and ancient buried dreams.
I also collect things, and find
that I inherited the eye,
though I don’t often get the time
to walk the wilds, to discover old
bones and gems by ancient trails,
Today, I’m a panner
for urban gold—my claim spans
the blocks, and mines the old
and ever-rising asphalt-mantled
roads; I sift the grit and duff
that cruft and clog the binding
slough, that fill the cracks that jog
across the busted walks that sit
beside the avenues.
in cities … I don’t mind the trees,
nor always wish for grassy fields.
No. I take this place for what it is:
a forest of human things that rise
and stand; some parts designed
to last, to resist the wear of wind
and water, and some to be replaced
as fast as the shifting of the weather.
Along this breaking beach I walk,
between the rising dreams of men,
who’s trophies scratch at heaven,
and the crashing waves of time,
that grind to sand the things
our hands have brought to life.
Here, what was so wonderful
and clear succumbs to the craft
of years, rarely to become
embalmed, and allowed to stay,
enshrined or ennobled
by what’s been taken away.
It’s trash —okay! If you insist
on seeing it that way.
It’s bottle caps and broken glass,
car parts, and other shards
of ancient, manufactured things—
once skipped along suburban
streams, now fractured and settling
into dusty pools and poisonous
eddies that collect where raging
urban rivers intersect.
Here, even ugly things are
made to gleam: iron and her
alloys are redeemed—abraded,
ground and buffed by water
and time, to pock and rough
the surface, hastening
the inevitable blush of rust,
and other signs of softening
that time conveys to human stuff.
Here, also, trucks by rubber pestle
cast-offs into jewels against
the mortar of our gritty, ribboned,
Here, nature keeps
her eye on man, to shame the vanity
of our shiny plans. Though trees and clams
seem happy to be reduced to stone,
we resist, pretend that we don’t know
that humankind is aging also: getting
harder in the heart, and each year
softer in the gut.
mama gathers up our proud inanimates
in bits and pieces to her mantle,
to polish, corrode, and make
more precious our ignoble junk,
and claim for glory countless things
that we, neglectful, send
to the icy bottom of her ancient sea,
where in her cleansing stream,
she rehearses an old and dusty dream.