Listening to the Stone, page 2

Greek Athlete and Man with Walrus

The stance is everything:
how the hip thrusts,
the knee bends in response,
the weight shifts
to ease the flesh in its skin,
and the smile, languid,
lies on the Attic face.

Over this grace
we cast our eyes,
our fingers tingling
to the hard cuts
that made it curve,
the effort of bone
that stands,
holding it upright.
Clearly he will win.

Statue of an Athlete, Hellenistic, bronze, 1st century CE.

Next to that repose
the dark Inuit rock strains
with the work of cold.
The walrus, in the rhythm of dying,
slackens. The man must draw it,
massive, from the ice.
He bends to the walrus
as it folds
and they turn where they are bent
together, so that knee and flipper,
thigh and hooded heads
flow and separate again.

This Arctic shape, compressed
and closed, is like the body
grown to dwell in fur and snow,
making life
from the fat mammals of the sea.

They are far and heavy,
and seem more distant than those islands,
sun-worn, grey and olive-green,
where the white stones against the sky
only gleam like snow.

Apollo glows. Sheer youth
and springing step,
he stands as what the marble stands for--
shell container of eternity.
God and man and walrus dance
and nothing will change our lives,
old as the sea plants
transfigured into flesh and bone
and then to stone.



By Isakaraiase, Inuit, ca. 1960s.

Ptarmigan Hunter
He stands
on the whale's spine
as on a ship
in a gale wind,
and from the arc of his upturned arm
leans his weight hard
on the old brown bone,
into its curves,
to fling his stone
at the stone birds,
scattered, transfixed.





Ptarmigan hunter, Inuit, stone and whale vertebra, ca. 1960.

Inuit Carving

Out of the ivory comes a face,
whimsical, scowling.
Out of the bone comes
a seal swimming
into the round place
of the joint where it flips,
and rolls, and turns
with the femur's curve
to whale,
buoyant and heavy,
holding the sea.

Bear with Salmon, Inuit, ca. 1960s.

Salmon and Bears

On an island near the coast
in the western sea
where no man is,
there are bears--
white bears with russet eyes and ears
and ordinary brown bears
who loom, heads swaying,
shifting from paw to paw
on the wet rocks.

They must learn to climb and fish,
not in the pools
where the salmon rest,
but in the risen, swirling water after rain,
cold and clean--

the bears with their sharp teeth holding
the glistening skin,
water still running salty and slick
on the scales--
when the fish leap
and the bears catch their pink flesh
and pearl eggs,
warm and sweet.

Listening to the Stone

Tender as the hand of the carver
at the uncut stone,
the blank sky
reveals its rains like a story.
They stand
and descend, a cloak of greys
and sun, a many-colored coat
that none can steal, or spin.
Light climbs the ladder of the rain
and here and there
like blots
or seeming imperfections,
flocks of crows are knotted in.

Look far
at the edge of clouds
where the hawks are--
your eyes will be happy.
You may hear their cries
and the rock telling
what it wants to be.
The light within the wood sees
the lichens turning stone to earth--
Listen to the stone,
it is wise with birth.




Seeing the Hawk

The hawk flies
past the sound of rain
unbinding the clouds.
Its cedar wings
are visible songs
that catch my throat
as they dip and glide,
gathering the sun
and its great winds.

The hawk flies as the soul
bound up
in the bonds of life.
We are meant to see this--
not as keenly as the hawk
but as far and as sharp
as our own eyes.

(©2/25/02 Carol Snyder Halberstadt)

Musk oxen in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska: source of sustenance and way of life for the Gwich'in Indians
(AP Photo via US Fish & Wildlife Service, published in The Boston Globe, Monday, February 25, 2002.)


Musk Oxen, Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

They flow like grass made stone,
a green rippling strung by wind.
The hills around them bend.
Their bodies widen, curl, and close,
their humped shoulders are the hills,
their bones cut lightens the earth.
Heavy, they stretch,
carving, pulling to life
the grass within.

(©2/25/02 Carol Snyder Halberstadt)

Three views of a musk ox carved by Towutuga, Inuit artist, in Cape Dorset stone.

Poems from Listening to the Stone ©1997-2002 Carol Snyder Halberstadt. All rights reserved.

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