Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Jeffers

To raise a stump of rock into a tower, rolling a stone 
     in place as the years pass.
Strangers who only know your silhouette bid it farewell and
     travel to Japan,
Cross China, venture into India, to Europe, and, changed 
     by time and space,
Sail home over the bulging eye of ocean only to see, when
     landfall looms in view,
The stump of rock--your tower--on the headland, and you there,
     rolling a stone in place,
The edifice apparently no taller, as if each night you had
     dismantled it
And every day had raised it up again.  To know, only in 
     completion, the nisus
That dominates the spider when it spins, the bird building 
     its nest, the gray whale
Turning toward Mexico and the sea lion clambering up shingle 
     toward its mate--
The nisus of cairn-building, rock-piling, mortaring stone has
     dominated you.
It dominates the reader bent above the book, poised like a
     stork hunting; like sleep,
It is an utter unity of will and action, known--at least by 
     man or woman--
Only when it is over.  And when the work is over--tower 
     building, poem writing--
You hear gulls cry and see them kiting at the bull terrier 
     out in the garden.
He has snatched up some strip of bloody fur they meant to mince
     with beaks.  Best to detach it
From his jaws, let gulls eat refuse like that.  Go out into
     the damp twilight, feel
The chill along the arms, through cloth, and take the petty
     morsel from the pet dog, toss it
To the scolding gulls, down the rocky bank beyond the garden.
     And lead the dog to food
Inside the kitchen.  Enter, expecting to see the woman, the two
     sons, and your place at table,
Waiting.  And find you are alone.  Even the dog at heel--
     vanished.  The stone house
Glumly dark and a dumb cold coming from its walls, that only
     whiskey cuts.
The cold and dark conceal much, and memory must be evoked 
     to penetrate them.
Meanwhile, they are the elements that starlight loves.  
     Clear cold, pure darkness, outside the window,
Beside the guestbed, where you have planned to lie at last,
     viewing the pure, clear stars without
Obstruction by the crude suburban dwellings--that absurd roof,
     down there, like a coal scoop,
And the spite fences either side your property.  Nothing
     in creation shows
More the supreme indifference to humanity, despite the patterns
     of the zodiac.
The stars, like bits of crystal ground into a griststone's
     granite rim, are small themselves.
Only the surrounding emptiness is great.  Take comfort in the
     emptiness; lie down.
The drink will help you sleep awhile alone, without her, until
     that section of the night
You've come to know--that region you once sailed through
     peacefully, worn out by work and love.
Now, stranded there till dawn, sleepless, it will not matter
     that you foresaw the planet's end
Or our end on the planet.  Only sleep will matter.  At that
     hour, in those conditions,
Just out of reach, receding like the dark itself as daylight
     pushes in, sleep only
Will be the thing you want.  Powerless to attain what you
     desire, yet bitterly
Desiring at all costs.  Perhaps, then, memory, not starlight,
     will intercede,
And the stone house gather warmth from its hearth fire, and
     loved ones reappear, and you will	sleep.

Credit


From Iris, published by Story Line Press, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Author


Mark Jarman

Poet Mark Jarman won the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and has authored many collections of poetry.

Date Published: 1992-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/jeffers