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Stone Walls

Stone walls emerge from leafy ground
and show their bones. In September a leaf
falls singly down, then a thousand leaves whirl
in frosty air. I am wild
with joy of leaves falling, of stone walls
emerging, of return to the countryside
where I lay as a boy
in the valley of noon heat, in the village
of little sounds; where I floated
out of myself, into the world that lives in the air.

In October the leaves turn
on low hills in middle distance, like heather, like tweed,
like tweed woven from heather and gorse,
purples, greens, reds, grays, oranges, weaving together
this joyful fabric,
and I walk in the afternoon sun, kicking the leaves.

In November the brightness washes from the hills
and I love the land most, leaves down, color drained out
in November rain,
everything gray and brown, against the dark evergreen,
everything rock and silver, lichen and moss on stone,
strong bones of stone walls showing at last
in November cold,
making wavy rectangles on the unperishing hills.

Wesley Wells was my grandfather’s name.
He had high cheekbones, and laughed as he hoed,
practicing his stories.

The first time I remember him, it was summer at twilight.
He was weak from flu, and couldn’t hike for his cows
on Ragged Mountain; he carried the old chair with no back
that he used for milking
to the hillside over the house and called up-mountain:
“Ke-bosh, ke-bosh, ke-bo-o-o-o-sh, ke-bosh…”

* * *

While he milked he told about drummers and base-ball,
he recited Lyceum poems about drunk deacons,
or about Lawyer Green, whose skin was the color green,
ridiculed as a schoolboy, who left town and returned triumphant…

and riding home from the hayfields, he handed me the past:
how he walked on a row of fenceposts
in the blizzard of eighty-eight; or sawed oblongs
of ice from Eagle Pond; or in summer
drove the hayrack into shallow water, swelling wooden
wheels tight inside iron rims;

or chatted and teased outside Amos Johnson’s with Buffalo Billy
Fiske who dressed like a cowboy….

While I daydreamed my schoolyear life
at Spring Glen Grammar School, or Hamden High,
I longed to return to him, in his awkward coat and cap,
in his sweater with many holes.

A century ago these hills were bare;
you could see past Eagle Pond to sheep in the far pasture,
walls crossing cleared land, keeping Keneston
lambs from Peasly potatoes.

Today I walk in Fields grown over—among
bare birches, oak saplings, enormous
sugar maples gone into themselves for winter—
beside granite that men stacked
“for twenty-five cents a rod, and forage
for oxen,” boulders sledded into place,
smaller stone
fitted by clever hands to lock together, like the arched
ramparts at Mycenae.

I come to the foundations of an abandoned mill;
at the two sides of a trout stream, fieldstone walls emerging
uncut and unmortared
rear like a lion gate…
emptiness over
the still-rushing waters.

Allende’s murderers follow Orlando Letelier
to Washington; they blow up his car by remote control.
His scream is distant, like the grocer’s scream
stabbed in the holdup….These howls—
and Tsvetayeva’s in Yelabuga,
who hangs herself in her cottage—
pulse, reverberate, and die
in the scrub pine that grows from granite ledges
visible against snow at the top of Kearsarge,
because jamming plates drove
the Appalachian range through the earth crust
before men and women, before squirrels, before spruce and daisies,
when only amoebas wept
to divide from themselves. Stone dwindled
under millennial rain
like snowbanks in March, and diminished under glaciers,
under the eyes of mice and reindeer, under the eyes of foxes,
under Siberian eyes
tracking bear ten thousand years ago
on Kearsarge…
and the Shah of Iran’s opponents
wake to discover nails
driven through their kneecaps. When Pinochet frowns
in Chile, hearing these howls,
the corners of his mouth twitch with an uncontrollable grin;
Tiberius listening grins….

Each morning we watch stone walls
emerge on Kearsarge and on Ragged Mountain;
I love these mountains which do not change.
The screams persist. I continue my life.

At Thornley’s Store,
the dead mingle with the living; Benjamin Keneston hovers
with Wesley among hardware; Kate looks over spools of thread
with Nanny, and old shadows stand among dowels and raisins,
woolen socks and axes. Now Ansel stops to buy salt
and tells Bob Thornley it got so cold he saw
two hounddogs put jumper cables on a jackrabbit.
Skiers stop for gas, summer people join us, hitchhikers,
roadworkers, machinists, farmers, saw-sharpeners;
our cries and hungers, stories and music reverberate
on the hills and stone walls, on the Exxon sign and clapboard
of Thornley’s Store.

At Church we eat squares of bread, we commune with mothers
and cousins, with mothering-fathering hills, with dead and living,
and go home in gray November, in Advent waiting,
among generations unborn
who will look at the same hills, as the leaves fall and turn gray,
and watch stone walls ascending Ragged Mountain.

* * *

These walls are the bones of Presidents, men and women
who were never born
and will never lead the Republic into the valley of cattle.

* * *

When gangs fight with dogs for the moose’s body,
and poems for Letelier are scattered like the molecules of his body,
and the books are burnt, and this room wet ashes, and language
burnt out, and the dead departed along with the living,
wavering stone lines
will emerge from leaves in November, on mountains without names.

* * *

Pole beans raise their green flags in the summer garden.
I grow old, in the house I wanted to grow old in.
When I am sleepy at night, I daydream only
of waking the next morning—to walk on the earth of the present
past noons of birch and sugarbush, past cellarholes,
many miles to the village of nightfall.

-Donald Hall