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 threads. 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 swiftly. 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. There’s 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.