Rock Man

                                    for Clarence Simpson

feldspar pebbles I mistook
for beach glass, that pulse
with singing light when you seek them
facing the sun on the beach
below Point Arena. There also
is found the fossil coral, white
as fresh bone, plentiful. Great
splits of petrified redwood,
brittle and musical as the live
fiber, pried from a fifteen-foot stump
upright in the ground where he
used to hunt deer in Oregon.
Fluid daggers of mottled obsidians,
rained molten for 20 miles around
when Mt. Shasta exploded: thin
slabs of the stuff, translucent
hieroglyphs to be leaded in windows,
cut by the great blade, whose motor
grumbled as he started it up
for my wife. For me
one Herkimer diamond, unusual
double-ended quartz crystal
brought by traders overland
from New York digs, its hardness
7.5 versus 7 for normal quartz,
he said when I asked him louder
and louder until he could hear,
and natrolite crystals bristling
white as his stubble but finer.
For the boy fossils, encrusted
with definite history: sand-dollars
clawed from the railroad cut
three-quarter mile above Garberville,
hard to get at until rain weakens
the matrix, and an agatized branch,
see here where opalization's
begun in a crack, packed in
eighty pounds at a time
from geyser country. He still
hunts too, I bet, if he can do
that! Here's a petrified oyster,
he tells my son, take it home
and make soup. I'd have to have
rock-hammers for teeth! the boy
yells, joyful at humor's vein
in the strata of detail, amazed
at the rock-hammers hanging in the shed,
their great fangs worn blunt
by lifetimes of chewing, our own
lightweight and milk-tooth-new
in the car. Bin after bin,
tons of definite chemicals, sweats
and metabolisms of the earth,
brilliant industrial slags,
accumulations of seasonal flows
three miles down a country road. The duck
follows the dog, the dog follows
him following his passion, his wife
smiles, old friends or customers
drop by to see the great jade boulder
unguarded by the drive. He charges us
half a token for the treasures
in our arms, tucks in one baked pebble
of the kind the Miwoks used
bola-style to snare ducks in flight
from a narrow isthmus near
his sister's home. How can I tell him
who will love his rocks
when he's gone, or record
what we took away
and carry on? The name, the chemical
and taxonomic fact, remain with each
specimen like a label in the mind, bone
of data petrified and durable.
The flesh, the cortex
of collection, ephemera of season
and locale, mostly fall away, I can't
recall which hill in Oregon was next
to where or when. Instead I affix
the minutia of my own collection
in the human field: these rocks
each one offered by one mother-lode
of earth-man, a Mr. Simpson near the end
of Simpson Lane, just south
of Fort Bragg. Leave some for who follow.


                                                                  March 1977