“Lay down these words” (Gary Snyder)


Yesterday we swam at Trail Bay after our errands in Sechelt. When I stepped out of the water, these were the first stones I saw. On a beach of stones, millions of them, all beautiful, these were the first two. They’re keepers. I live in a house filled with stones. Fossils, slate, concretions from the beach below John’s mother’s house in Nanaimo, wishing stones (and now, another…), an agate from Haida Gwaii, brought to me as a gift, a geode from the Fraser Canyon, chunks of sandstone filled with clam stew, as the fossils in the Sooke Formation are sometimes called, and other beauties. My grandsons often hover by me as I sit at my desk, wondering about the stones on my desk. Mostly I can remember where they came from but not always. When we swam with the children at Trail Bay in the summer, I told them about wishing stones and they hunted for their own. What will I wish for, one of them asked, kind of worried about the concept. Only good things, I replied. I stood with my own wishing stone yesterday and thought hard about the climate emergency, the situation in Ukraine, a few more personal difficulties.

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
             placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
             in space and time
Last night I heard coyotes, at least two voices, though there might have been more. They were close, just beyond the house in the woods where we sometimes see them emerge from or disappear into. The phrases were long and intricate. Maybe this year’s young were heading out into the world on their own and the parents were singing them away, their voices full of advice and love. Lay down these words.
clam soup
In a house full of stones, I am holding a chunk of sandstone in my hand, a little seam of cockle running through it, and tiny flecks of shell scattered throughout. When I run my thumb over the surface, I am standing under the waterfall on a western beach where I found this rock. I am 19 again, 20, 21, a young woman who has been swimming in the ocean and rinsing a few day’s salt off in the fresh cold water of Sandcut Creek. (Before the body of the mind.) I am wishing for only good things. So many bad things had happened and in the absence of a wishing stone, I picked up fossils, 25 million years old, as heavy in my hand as my heart in my chest.
…each rock a word
             a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
             with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
             all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.
Only good things, I told the children. Hold the ringed stone in your hand and wish hard. They are off in the world, far from me now, but I can hear them coming out of the salt water, pebbles as far as the eye can see. My advice is the advice of the coyotes in the night, finding their way in the dark. I’ll keep the new stones on my desk, a wishing stone, an orb like one of the moons of Jupiter,
Cobble of milky way,
             straying planets
Note: the lines of poetry are from Gary Snyder’s “Riprap”.

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