Tombstones

1

the chisel, chipping in,
finds names the
wind can’t blow away

2

it breaks the heart
that stone holds
what time let go

but the stones are
the time left
that the names can be in

3

the ground flat or,
rolling from a hill rise, slightly
shedding,
no downpour can

organize flows to displace
the stones,
identifications tumbling
from one mound to another

4

set on the line between
time and abyss,
at the intersection
of usual time ongoing
and a time stopped within
other times,
the time of protons and electrons
going on as usual–a stone–
levels of existence
in existence, times
in time, one organization
gone still; otherwise,
nothing appears lost

5

the spirit, though, invisible,
weightless is lost: its
winding kept the winding
going: but only
winding when the winding stops
disappears:
when one loses nothing one
loses everything

6

but why put a stone there:
we put a stone there
too heavy to build or fence with,
having no mineral content of value,
weighty enough
to hold time down,
a memorial, often without
recoverable recollection,
a deed to a million
facts, all missing

7

rivulets of scattering,
corruption’s ways
of getting on with things,
rememberers unremembered,
still the name
will call together in the last
time, the new time, in the new morning,
all the bits of information and,
the name said,
the form will come again–the distance
between named and name run

8

dust’s shape in air
could be a momentary
memorial, an instant signifying its interval,

that what is gone is
going on with other
going things,

a stability of motion
in time
accompanying its own time:

instead, a stone’s
block
halts ongoing,

a blockage that says,
timelessness hereby measures
time going on as usual

9

the stone-name signifies
what it can find to mean
in some living head:
when the heads
are empty,
the stone’s name names emptiness,
not the one
now neither a thing that is nor was

10

as if the name were not
already nothing,
stone, chipped away,

leaves the name nothingly
present,
grooves of absence

a further sign of a sign
that lightens
the anchorage of its carriage

11

the grooves fill with moss,
though, that spring
speaks green
and fall burns out with cold
into winter’s black writing

12

a mockingbird sings to a whole
graveyard: the turbulence,
polishing the gravestones,
melts the names

13

the wind roars, sweeps, whirls,
nearly free even in its calms,
and the wind carries leaves, sand,
seed, whatever: rain pours,
puddles, flows: the ground
yields to this or that pull, break,
flush: among the swirling
motions, the stone’s slow swirl
keeps the name

14

a stone sinks in soil like
a pearl in oil
or gathers sand and leaves
from the wind
to heap itself away:
or rain undermines a corner
and the name face
pitches to the ground
as if to call on
the deep for whatever rising
might raise it up again

15

when gliding perhaps under a glacier
or dissolving to bacteria and roots
the stone wears smooth
and can no longer keep the name,
will a clinging existence
give way, will an edge-fine
existence no longer exist

16

stones, names in them, are
just stones: when the stone
brushes mind, memory
changes the stone clear through

17

what does it matter if
a stone falls or slides and
misidentifies a mound:
the stone’s outward
reference given up it
calls to itself

18

stones, as if forms of intelligence,
stir: concentrate light
still and you have them:

still, other durances exceed stones’–
a pulse in one of earth’s orbits
beats once in four hundred thousand years:

in certain orders of time
stones blow by like the wind:
starlight pricks them like bubbles

19

the things of earth are not objects
there is no nature,
no nature of stones and brooks, stumps, and ditches,

for these are pools of energy cooled into place,
or they are starlight pressed
to store,
or they are speeding light held still:
the woods are a fire green-slow
and the pathway of solid earthwork

is just light concentrated blind

20

the stone makes
its longest, hardest
“effort”
to hold on to, memorialize
the glint
or glow
once
in someone’s eye

21

not coarse, hard
things last
longest, perhaps,

but fine, the very fine:
if only the wind
could take letters:

if only light
spelled names:
when love brushes

through our nerves
and sends
a summary to our brains,

perhaps the summary
is sent by
vibrations

really the universe’s–
the universe, something as old as that
and with as much future

22

if love is fine
and stones are harsh evanescences,
how we may dishonor
love to letter down its name,
wasting the love
on the hard waters of inscription

23

the light in an eye
transfigured in
frames of feeling–

how is this small well,
so shallow and
deep, so magical

and plain able to
center all
the circumferences–

the eye itself
vision’s vision
and visionary sway

24

the universe is itself
love’s memorial,
every cliff-face,
rocky loft having
spent
itself through love’s light,
here held
till love again burn it free:
ninety percent
of the universe is dead stars,
but look how the light still
plays flumes down
millennial ranges

25

nothing, thought, not stone
nor light lasts
like the place I keep
the love of you in and this

though nothing can write it down
and nothing keep it:
nothingness
lasts long enough to keep it

26

if the tombstones were
thrown together in one pile,
that would be some gathering,
a record higher than
Everest:
but if time crumbled the stones,
washed out the grit,
melted down the shapes,
all the names distilled would
spell nothing

27

a flock of
gulls flew
by I thought but

it was a
hillside of stones

28

this boundary stone plunked down
with no answering
cornerstone, no three-stone
description of area, no field-square,
a point, dot
evaporated out of dimension,

but still a deep bound,
a boundary whorling deep

29

the letters,
holding what they can, hold
in the stone

but holding flakes or
mists away–a
grainweight of memory

or a rememberer goes:
in so many hundred years,
the names

will be light enough
and as if balloons
will rise out of stone


(A.R. Ammons)

From the book “Summerian Vistas”, — a book discarded by the Houston Public Library and sold to me through a used book seller.

The photograph at the top of the poem is my own. I generally do not like to have photographs accompany poetry, but will indulge myself from time to time when a poem I am reading brings a particular photograph to mind or vise versa.

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