Up, up and away!
I weigh every stone you lay in my hand.
I measure the diameter and the thickness
For perfect erosion. This white one spins
Cloudy like a Saturn ring on the wash,
the bones imprisoned dive and splash apart
Into fish-gill ripples. Do it again!
Do it again! You implore amazed at
This latest trick of the imagination.
It’s nothing yet. Take some shade and water
And squint. Let me lift you up. You’re glassier,
Less polished, fingerprinted. When you spin
You dig flinty nails into my forearms.
I don’t want to let go – you don’t mirror
The light, you bottle it in shards of skin.
A parent and child – perhaps a father and daughter – are on a beach. He may have told her a story: bring me a rock; if it’s the right shape and size, then when I throw it far away into the water, it will dissolve and free the creature within. The comic darkness of this story is almost completely remote when compared with the wonder of the inanimate becoming animate.
But there is more than the girl’s wonder; this follows the order of a Petrarchian sonnet; we haven’t seen anything yet. “Diameter,” “thickness,” “Saturn:” when the white stone is thrown, it forms an arc in relation to the body of water; one has to think of a ring of Saturn cut in half, then placed vertically. The amazing thing is how we notice an entire world based upon what spins around it: to notice our world is truly to look up at the clouds and imagine. That arc – “on the wash” – is invisible even if like a ring of Saturn it is visible: what matters is what it gives visibility to.
“Thickness” is like Dickinson’s “blank.” It is only a container for life. “Diameter” is the “trick of the imagination.” It suffices to say that when the girl is “spun” in a circle and her “flinty nails” – an innocent but substantial expression of trust – are considered that she is literally of much greater significance than a stone. The magic of the poem is the speaker’s realizing this analogy: ‘inanimate : animate :: animate : ?’ It is the parent whose imagination has not been lost who moves us from cloudy to glassy to light.