An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Stones and Shadows

1. Visiting the Stone

The air in the car is thick and still. My father makes
a right turn through the cemetery gates, giving me
a significant look. I don't ask why. "The mausoleum
keeps expanding," he says, without irony.

"Have you ever been to a filing? Your mother and I
went to our first last week." I give him the short laugh
that he knows well. Not funny yet again. But I see
that he's right — the mausoleum is expanding.

Construction materials are stacked nearby, and the frame
of an addition has been erected. The original building
is crowded. White flowers adorn its smooth stone wall
in odd spots as if they had been thrown against it

at random. We step out of the car at the back
of the graveyard, and my father leads me
to a new headstone. Then he gestures to the ten letters
cut into its face, shadows hiding in the furrows.

He tells me he likes the view and how important
that is when you think about spending eternity
in one place. Small birds stand like sentinels
on the neighboring monuments, watching us

with black pearls of eyes. Like the stone angels,
they keep us under constant vigil. Low clouds
drift by. The sound of traffic from the highway
is insufferable. I smile at my father and try

to think of kind things to say to him. He smiles.
But driving home, he is again the man I know.
"How would you like to live on Dargan Street?"
he asks with contempt as we pass the beaten houses

of the poor. "How would you like to live
in New York City?" I search for ways to interrupt,
to shut him up. But when I look left, he has become
just a voice in the driver's seat. "Son," says the voice.

"Son, I think it's going to be a good year for you."
The car arrives at the house, where my mother
is waiting, asking where we've been. She holds
the door open for us — me, the voice, my father's body.

2. Shadow

In the late afternoon, he is cooking steaks on the grill,
and we're drinking beer. The clouds have moved on.
Purple martins dart across the air, catching mosquitoes
and going in and out of their houses. We are privileged

in the extreme. And I don't want this to be a poem
of complaint. I only want to say that my father and I
are quiet. That there are words necessary and impossible,
words as grand as shadows cast by stones.

He stabs at a steak with his fork and says, "This one
is your mother's — she doesn't want any blood in hers.
She wants it about as well done as done can be."
My mother's in the kitchen, cooking the potatoes.

The shadows of the martins swim in the grass.
The shadows of the grass dig into the earth.
The shadows of the earth carve the moon
into crescents, halves, and empty holes.

I notice that the sundial in the plant bed is not
positioned well. "Your sundial is keeping bad time,"
I tell my father. He smiles and says, "That's not
what I got it for," pointing to the image in relief,

old man with scythe, and the quotation: "Grow old
along with me, the best is yet to be." Impossible,
grand. The earth is beneath us. The birds watch us.
The blade's shadow quietly cuts X from I.

 

Published in The Boatloads (2008)

Published: 24 November 2008
© 2008 Dan Albergotti and Southern Spaces