Wednesday, 17 July 2013

"Sisyphus" poem

I wrote this poem about 2008 or 2009. I had been immersing myself in work on my book on poetry and the business I was running was about to close down. I had no idea what was coming, but giving up was no option. This poem was one response to the situation.

It may be the best poem I've written.


by Gareth Jones

A man, a stone, each standing of a height.
His fingers drag across the stone's rough grain
from side to other side, and then a pause.
Two palms are placed below and sharply press,
a shoulder settles in, feet firmly set,
and leaning in, as if for strength against a wall,
the man begins to rock the stone. It shifts.
Easy. Easy. No time for sudden force,
but for the slow seduction of the stone's own power.
He almost stumbles at the moment of success.

His arms embrace the stone, his cheek pressed flat
as if against a lover's cheek, his chest
scored slightly by the rough support it found.
While from below the stone, a cracking noise,
as crisp and sharp as crystals breaking,
and his foot, finding balance, refragments
splinters of old plastic, metal, wood, and clay
that once were worth a fortune to a child.
Now outgrown, they form a rubble, rough as coral,
which, lacking other function, lacerates his feet.

The blood swells to drops that stand up from the skin:
pomegranate seeds, scattered on white clay.
He plants them as he passes and their smears
become a dotted path that follows him
as man and stone move up the easy slope.
He cannot see he leaves some part behind
to nourish earth or ants or show someone the way.
Since blood and earth encrust each cut upon the feet,                      
the track diminishes and disappears:
The way behind unknown as that ahead.

They leave their inessential burdens all below:
no rubble here, no earth, just granite, warm
from the sun's attention, from the acts
of ancient ice and patient southern wind,
kind to feet. No obstacles remain
except the slope, that slowly steepens here,
and the stone's own great weight. They exhaust
so the pair must sometimes pause and rest.
Their intermittent movements tend towards the peak
though their angles left and right obscure the trend.

But both have patience, and the man more force,
and humility enough to test the ways,
retracing wayward steps to start again.
So they arrive: an oval on the height
with flowers tangled in the seeding grass.
A depression in the centre holds a pool
of water nearly clearer than the air
with green leaves springing from below:
This is a place to stop, refresh, and contemplate.
Around it, like a map, is all the world he knows.

It is here the Greeks who tell this tale
go wrong. They make a myth about this man,
a man whose effort brings himself and stone
up to the apex of the hill. But here the myth
asserts his stone escapes him at the top,
slips off without his will, and tumbles down,
rockets off the angled rocks, beats soil to cement
thuds and clatters like a breaking world, rolls on,
and slowly stops. No, the stone lacks will,
and the hill is none so sharp as that.

Instead, the man would rest, so rests,
letting aches escape the muscles of his arms,
the whistles of his breathing slow and end,
the wonder of arrival fill his mind. Then what?
The stone is there, the wonder loses shape,
and sitting is no goal to keep for long,
but he can see the whole circumference of the world;
each tangent point along its arc, a proffered goal;
a distant limit, too, but glowing, bright,
insensible as shackles made of light.

Each degree a bound, but each a boon,
and so, again, he chooses to begin.
He stands, tall as the stone, and touches it,
gently checks the roughness of its grain,
places palms and pushes once again.
He moves the stone up to the edge and past--
driving it with strength where there is need,
guiding it when gravity agrees.
His choice, to push, be pushed, be altered, alter, learn,
knowing that these joys of choice spring from the stone.

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