Monday, January 11, 2010

It depends how you look at it

Inside the stone the world is round.  A woman wears jeans and a clean white T-shirt.  There’s a canvas hammock in the garden, strung between the magnolia and a flaming red maple.  Her family’s washing hangs on the line, snapping its way towards freshness. A taste of summer.


Inside the stone the world is beige.  Flat. Bland. Pale.  The sun’s light is tepid, the sea runs a pale wet tongue across the beach leaving behind a faint tea stain.  The sand is a crushed malt biscuit.

Inside the stone the world is an apricot.  Wind loosens the ripe scent of sex and soft fruit, of wet and round and orange.  Men and women peel off their clothes, step out of their shoes.  They stride past work on cool, bare feet.


Inside the stone the world is a puzzle, a thousand pieces strewn across a landscape. A man is gathering them up, constructing a scene from the inside out.  They remain out of focus until he picks them up, transforming at once from flat and grey, to monumental, three-dimensional structures; his dream of a different life keeps him captive.


Inside the stone puddles are pewter ovals, sleeping.


Inside the stone is a black world, a place with neither windows nor doors. The woman searches for a trapdoor, any means by which she might escape the darkness.  But there are only concrete walls and wooden floorboards that threaten to split.  She can smell the sticky stench of bitumen, the singe of a hot, high fire.


Inside the stone is a soft wax world.  Children know the silent slide of honey.  They walk with candles; lights tilted to flatter the forest, they highlight moss and lichen, outline fallen pine needles with a subtle edge of gold. 


Inside the stone the world is populated by flocks of primordial birds.  They burrow their way out of the dark soil in our gardens and look us straight in the eye.  Their skin is damp and pink as a Desiree potato.  They carry the dirt of the world on their backs, feed on mass nouns and ripe plums.


Inside the stone the world is a bulletin board. Sharp corners stab and cut. People and events are paper cut-outs, underlined, trimmed, pinned to its surface with cold stainless steel pins.  Disturb the layers to see what lies behind or beneath and everything will turn to dust. Take heed. The printers’ pigments will leave telltale stains on your fingers.


Inside the stone is a trapped storm.


Inside the stone a spill of full-cream milk spreads across a linoleum kitchen floor, splashes down the back doorstep and out into the garden.  It flows down the slope, past the exuberant yellow peonies and flowering cherries, gathering speed and doubling in volume as it travels. By the time it has crossed the neighbourhood boundaries, it is a wide white river; the children and untethered lambs of the suburbs run along its banks sploshing, stretching and bending, drinking their fill.


Inside the stone a miniature narcissus threatens to pull up its roots.  It shakes its head, catapults its scent across the sprawling grey of the city.  Perfume drizzles down street lamps, drips onto sidewalks, sticks to the dusty flanks of buildings.  Industry blushes and for a moment steps out of the shadows.


There is a universe inside a stone.

CB 2007 


  1. Extraordinary, Claire. And I dreamed those very birds once. I must have been dreaming inside the stone. Thank you.

  2. Pen - 'huber tuber birds' I called them the first time I dreamed about them, too. They lived amongst the Jerusalem artichokes in your veggie garden! x

    Mim - rather a lot, I must agree! An octave and a half?

  3. I'm new to your blog Claire, entranced by your writing here. I must have arrived through Mim's blog. I look forward to reading more on your work. I find the people I've met on New Zealand blogs are so abundantly talented. There must be something special there in the land of Janet Frame.

  4. Claire - Yyes, that is extraordinary. The first woman inside the stone with the hammock and the washing line has been me this summer up at our holiday place - except that the hammock is strung between two olive trees. And all the other things inside the stone are my parallel lives - the stuff I think and write about when I'm not hanging out washing or reading in the hammock. Astonishing. Have you published this elsewhere? I see Steele Roberts is one of your tags.

  5. Inside this poem is great beauty, almost Zen like in its simplicity too (the white t-shirt). Then for some reason I saw a stone in Haiti and my insides wept. The trapped storm, perhaps.

  6. Hi Mary

    Welcome back from your Hammock Holiday! It sounds as though you've had a deeply replenishing time, listening, lolling, relaxing (I'm a slow learner on this front - am only now really getting the deal on how essential it is to lol and relax... am committing myself to more of that this year). And listening is of course one of the big ultimates!

    Thanks for entering the space of this piece and for identifying ways in which it speaks of the things that are part of all our story.

    "Inside the Stone" appears in my 2007 collection titled "Open Book - Poetry & Images" published by Steele Roberts.

    I will be over at your site again later today! Thanks for the great exchanges. C

  7. HI Elisabeth - thank you for visiting Icelines (so named because my first few months of blogging happened whilst in a field camp in Antarctica!) and for your generous response to this prose poem.

    As you now know, I am a regular visitor to Sixth in Line and thoroughly enjoy the riches that communicating across this cyber space affords us all. What strikes me often is the range and depth of material that everyone's engaged in... and how like each other we all are; it matters not whether we hail from the North, South, East or West. We stand on common, uncommon ground... something I find quite marvelous.

    Looking forward to the ongoing conversation... Take care, Claire

  8. Dear lmrb - how good to see you (as in, to see a pic of you). You look so familiar... I was a wee bit surprised to find you're across the ocean in Sydney, not quite a stones throw from the hill above Tomahawk and Musselburgh! Still, we all know that lines (especially those of communication) can streeeeeeeeetch to such an extent that distance becomes no more than an abstract construct.

    I know what you mean about the Haiti stone - the rubble, collapse and bruising. My heart weeps for those stricken people, too. Let us keep our candles burning.

    Blessings, Claire

  9. Thanks Claire. I've written a fuller response to your wonderful and thorough comment about astrology on my blog. It's so generous of you to offer so many rich and detailed and dare I say 'scholarly' thoughts on a topic that we all too easily disparage, oftentimes out of our ignorance and maybe even fear. Certainly you've help shift some of my own preconceptions, you and Jeanette Winterson, from both of you such terrific writing on new territory for me . Thanks again.

  10. lmrb, this is for you - an odd place to post it, but the goosegogs are some way back now. I happened upon this recipe today; it definitely looks like one to try!

  11. Thank you, Elisabeth. I appreciate your openness to new things. It takes courage to test the waters, especially in a public/personal space such as this. It's a bit of a dance and there will always be elements of concealment and of disclosure. The great thing is there's no need for attachment to any one ideology or outcome; no place for territoriality - a bit like dogs meeting in the park. (I mean this in the best possible way!)

    I do think we're living in extraordinary times. So much is in flux. Don't you find that the more you try to pin something down (an idea, a time, a person, a travel plan, etc... ) the more likely it is to slip between your fingers or wriggle into some new shape? The take-home message really does seem to be 'Now is what matters'.

    So glad you found the link to Jeanette W's article helpful - and thank you for your generous feedback; this is the first time I've sat down and tried to articulate some of these things. There are surprises around every corner!

    Take care.

  12. Thank you! Love synchronicity - I'm a lemon tart nut, and now I can add goosegogs - rare and expensive items in Sydney's stores.

    And I've changed my photo - for fun - float south of Taieri Bridge, first letter is...that's my dreaming space. Maybe a blog next.

  13. A pleasure, lmrb - lemons and goosegogs are natural companions in the garden and in the kitchen! And as for lemon verbena... well, I could tell many a story about this plant. It's one I can't be without - have planted one in every garden I've lived in. A friend steeped a bunch of fresh leaves in almost-but-not-quite-boiling water the other day. It made a heavenly drink. It's wonderful to toss a few springs (or branches) into a bath, too.

    Your dreaming space, South of Taeiri Beach ... could you be referring to Chrystalls Beach?

    You're thinking of starting a blog... oh, do!

  14. Akatore aka Akatore. Bliss.

  15. Oh my goodness, lmrb - not only do I think I've I found your 'dreaming space' (I recognized it from your photograph, my heart leapt), but my search led me to a research paper that references foraminiferal records from the Akatore Estuary. I'm not sure what to say, except that I feel suddenly 'whelmed and emotional.

    Goosegogs, lemon verbena, parrots- and now forams...

    This is like coming across an ancient song line - and by song line, I know you will know that I mean the music and veins in the land; the aboriginal, ancestral kind...

    Whew. Something just happened and it's not something I can find words for.