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James O'Hern

1933–

James O’Hern was born in Laredo, Texas, on April 17, 1933. He studied at Southern Methodist University, the University of California at Los Angeles, and New York University. O’Hern is the author of Honoring the Stones (Curbstone Press, 2004). He is also a filmmaker and has collaborated with the performance artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña on multiple projects. With Vicuña, he is the president and cofounder of Oysi, Inc., a nonprofit organization helping indigenous cultures preserve their poetic traditions. He lives in New York City.

By This Poet

1

Stonemason

My stonemason John says 
he uses Elberton granite from Georgia 
It has the best grain and lasts the longest
How long is long I ask 
Oh he says a thousand years

I want more than hard gray stone 
to guard her silence 
I want stone that stays alive 
a megalith jammed deep into earth
an antenna to amplify the signals 
emitted from her ash and bone

I went to Ireland 
looking for the perfect stone 
found stone cottages and monuments
mountains and fields of stone
continuous rows of stonewalls
wound round the island like an offering 

I found stone carvings of mermaids 
and ancient unnamed river gods  
a Sheela-na-Gig I thought I recognized 
having seen her name  
on the walls of a cave in the Dordogne
along with her portrait cut and shaped 
on the rounded surface of soft white stone  

There are no stones 
where my mother and I were born 
only the jagged edges of memory   
ground down by the desert molcajete
to caliche and polished round pebbles
leaving no trace of history 
but an abandoned pulque farm 
an adobe jail 
and a dried up river bed