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Why My Father Cannot Lay a Stone Wall

Nearly eighty now he drags out the soft
middles of words when he plunders his past,
sweeping disparate bits into piles his voice
steps around. I always wanted to learn
how to build stone walls, he says.

Eyes elsewhere he tells of a man
he knew when he was young,
an old man who said he would
teach him how to build a wall,

to lay stone level upon stones
in layers of orderly precision.
String & chisel & hammers.
The beauty in the lastingness
the sturdiness the essentiality.

Chosen, hauled and worked
stones overlapping, nestling,
settling their shapes and
weights one against another,
colossal footing stones, face and
through stones, hearting, coping.

Aunt Ruby’s uncle he was,
my father says, a quiet man
who had laid rock all his life,
claiming garden walls and arched
bridges at Mr. Vanderbilt’s estate.

The restless boy who would become my father
had yearned, eyes and hands, to learn this art,
had expressed his eagerness to the old man
who nodded, saying yes, he would teach him.

my father says—voice
weary with telling the story
that never ends
the way he wants it to—
he messed around
and died

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