Crevice Communities Exhibition 2021

Nancy Kuhl
Rock and Root 2021

The first law of friendship is sincerity
invisible text to get to from Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828

1. Field Guide

Stem and leaf in spare drawings— 
nothing like stem and leaf. About

moss: sea moss is not a moss; 
reindeer moss is not a moss.

Goes on like this for three pages. 
The lesson might be: what you think

you know is wrong. On stone what 
grows grows like paint or polish,

like a spill spreading across a table. 
I study the drawings; I’m easily fooled.

2. Postcard

Not climbed – we drifted. 
Do you remember? To

the smoothest ledge (taut air 
slipping across taut lungs). 

That rock, how it held us; how 
it suspended the inevitable

rest of the day. We talked 
and talked; we each lied a little

(but only that much). I’ve all but 
forgotten every word we said.

3. Field Guide

Of lichens, at first the message 
seems so much the same: lichens are 
like plants, but they are not plants.

Then, the improbable shift: they can 
seem to live on thin air. And: anchored 
by a holdfast, lichen can grow 
inside solid rock, between the grains.

Holdfast. My skin is prickle and itch. 
Confounding, the absolute intimacy 
of this earthly accomplishment.

4. Tested a Theory

I remembered you there. No. 
Not you there. I mean: in that forest,

I thought of you. Riven shelf above 
the lake, end of the trail -- we didn’t

stop to think. We jumped. I mean: 
with others, I swam – you weren’t there.

If it’s an argument, we’re still in it. 
This, an idea in a body in icy water

(a body sundrenched and breathless 
and floating; newly awake, newly alive).

5. Observation and Identification

Like a needle, like a river, 
like antlers, like fingers, like
            Consider other subtle 
distinctions – grip and catch

versus hold and fasten. How 
uncertainties inherent in difference

recall mistakes occasioned 
by similarity. 
                  Bent like a sickle,
keeled like a boat; tongue-shaped; 
jagged, sharp – like a row of teeth.

6. Dear Reader

Cleave contradicts itself: to split 
apart by force of a cutting blow; 
and to attach and hold fast. Then, 
too, fast sometimes means to move 
          Confusion can also be a certainty.

Now it’s winter where we climbed; 
where rock and root; where break and 
sun and lake and lichen and moss. 
no sure language at this elevation; 
wind carves a path of howl and echo.

Rock and Root uses the exquisite relationship between organic crevice flora and inorganic stone bodies to explore failures in human friendship. Friendships are among our most critical and sustaining relationships but, unlike familial ties, they find their root somewhere other than blood and beyond family culture. From a distance, they can seem to be free of the complexities of romantic bonds, but when they fall apart, they can leave us profoundly heartbroken. Rock and Root interrogates the intensities and vagaries of friendship and its aftermath and marks an imaginative intersection where human connection crosses with the fierce-and-fragile rooting of mosses and lichens that cling to a granite landscape.

Nancy Kuhl’s poetry books include Granite (A Published Event 2021), Pine to Sound (Shearsman 2015) and The Birds of the Year (Grenfell Press 2017). She is Curator of Poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Provenance: Peer reviewed submission.

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