I Have No Answer But Stones
Who will walk / Between me and the crying of the frogs?
—Edna St. Vincent Millay
Either you believe, or you don’t, my friend says. Which is it?
We’re parked on the dirt road in darkness, beer bottles balanced
on the hood of her truck. It’s Passover, and I’m speaking in stories again,
counting them out like drops of wine on a white serving plate:
one for blood, two for frogs. In the bog below the hill the peepers
weave a net of their shrieking; they cinch the night’s throat taut.
How to say I believe most in the power of what I do not know,
secondly in the power of that which I can hold in a closed fist?
We collect stones from the road by headlamp. My friend likes
purple ones best. This is how I learned to carry stories, to tuck them
into my pocket, familiar weight chafing my thigh—
what my ancestors must have carried, shuffling toward exile.
A story pressed onto a child’s tongue is not the same as bread,
but it will suffice for a time. Before me a woman bends under her bundle.
From the bundle a thin string of rice keeps pouring over the street…
I think of nothing, wrote fourteen-year-old Yitzchak Rudashevski in his diary
the day the Jews were herded from Vilna. What does one haul with
a body that doesn’t know its own ghosts? If the stories clink like stones
at the bottom of my empty sack, they give me a rhythm to walk by.
If they rattle bones or doorknobs on nights as dark as this one,
I know I’ll let them in. Listen, I tell my friend, then stop.
I have no answer. I drink more beer. I load my pockets with more
and larger stones. Each year the frogs shrill a tower of glass
to the top of the sky. Each year they scream until it shatters us.
Reprinted from Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Issue #23, Spring 2018. Copyright © 2018 Julia Bouwsma. Used with permission of the author.