May 2001

Jeanne Murray Walker


Jeanne Murray Walker's work has appeared in a hundred periodicals, including Poetry, The Nation, APR, and Shenandoah. Her most recent book is Gaining Time (Copper Beech Press, 1997). Her work has been honored by many awards, including a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and a NEA Fellowship. She teaches at The University of Delaware and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two children.

Laying the Stones  

     Take you. . .out of every tribe a man. . .  —Joshua 4:1-9

You think of yourself as thin,
your arms scrawny, yourself
famous for being slightly gullible,

so how will you lug a thousand pounds
on your mortal shoulders? But Joshua
has bellowed your name. You jump to pick

a stone. Rumor is, it will stand forever
for your tribe. When you lift it,
it shifts like a planet, grinding

across your forearm, leaving
striations of bright blood. You
stagger. You are no one, now,

but the man who carries a stone.
And amazingly, knowing that makes
a fist of weightlessness open its fingers

in the stone heart and spread towards
the baggy granite skin. You carry
it easily. Your own bones are light as flutes,

and you wonder at how nothing is itself,
at how yesterday the River Jordan stopped
and stood in a heap before the holy ark,

at how water and stone and flesh obey like
trained camels. And now, as you thrust it
into its space beside the eleven others,

you can almost feel the hands of your children's
children's children resting on your back.
They've come so soon! You watch them

approach shyly, touch it, then walk off,
a tribe of them bending and swaying
like fig trees, delicate and free on the horizon.



Protestant Icon    Click to hear in real audio

Watching him, she feels love unzip her
from her chest bone to her instep.
His red hair God-struck to fire
on Sunday mornings, his rant
unrolling like Greek catastrophe,
his rabbit's pleading eyes,
his arms flapping as though he might
take off. Poor Catholic girls, she thinks,
with their plaster Virgin Mary, their nuns
yawning under cowls, gold trinkets and
such spectacles of power! Everyone
she knows, muttering how,
when the last Pope died,
the undertaker came before he was called.

Even after they fire Rev. Lindgren,
she dogs on, pitying her Catholic friends,
still seeing that red hair, that taut body
with arms outstretched like Jesus, still looking for
a place to put her eyes while she thinks of God.



Jeanne Murray Walker: Poetry
Copyright 2001 The Cortland Review Issue 16The Cortland Review