Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ruth Stone counts

It seemed as if she might write -- and write well -- forever.  But she did not.  Moreover, poems by award-winning poet Ruth Stone (1915-2011) are not celebrated for their use of mathematical imagery.  Still, she noticed numbers.  She counted.  As in "All in Time."  

   All in Time     by Ruth Stone

   Behind the glass door of the waiting room,
   one hundred and fifty passive-agressive
   passengers girded up for Galveston.
   The bearded conductor let them out
   one by one to the named coaches.
   A mother who says to her baby,
   "Now you lie there until I tell you to move."
   And four small girls, hair in tight cornrows,
   quietly smiling at something you can't see.
   An old sixties-type hippie father
   is on the bench with you.  He's going
   off to Boise to say good-bye to his daughter
   who is on her way to a Peace Corps
   medical team.  He has ten minutes to catch
   his train in Chicago.  He shows you her picture.
   "One tribe," he says, "so they don't have
   any wars.  Flat and grassy," he says,
   "just the beginnings of mountains.
   Twenty-six months," he says.  "That's
   a long time, you know."  And then the friend
   you haven't seen for seven years until
   this visit, the friend who seems to have emerged
   like a cicada, shrill and predestined,
   gets there with the coffee and carries
   your heavy cases onto the train.
   You both cry. She has begun to think you are
   her mother and you have retreated
   into your wounded child.  When you say good-bye
   you pull apart like Velcro.

"All in Time" is in Stone's collection Ordinary Words (Paris Press, 1999).

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