Poetry Musings

Tom Absher

Since the early 1970s I have made several trips to the British Isles and Ireland for different reasons but I almost always took time for a visit to one or more of the many standing stone/megalith sites (e.g. Stonehenge in England, New Grange in Ireland) while I was there. I can't say exactly why I am drawn to such places but in part I think it has to do with their being so imponderable, unknowable at their hearts, even though there are lots of theories about their meaning and function.

The evening after my visit to the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney, an archaeologist gave a talk about the site wrapping up his summer long study of it. He said "I can tell you everything about the stones and that place but why." To visit such a place is to walk into mystery that is both palpable and aesthetically beautiful to look at. I also at times have felt some distant connection with what I would call the spiritual resonance of those sites, as if their creators were grappling with the mystery of existence none of us has resolved. And as art works maybe they are there to reflect that grappling and that mystery.

My dear friend Dan Noel, who passed away a few years ago, loved these places as well and as colleagues we often discussed them and even visited some together. I wrote the poem for him after one of our visits to Avebury in England.

The Ring of Brodgar
- for Dan Noel

It's anybody's guess
what these stones were for.
Twenty-seven megaliths standing
in a circle one hundred yards across.
Most are about fifteen feet tall, with another
ten rooted in the ground.  Their shapes
are weathered, fractured, pitched
this way and that in human likenesses
like so many mourners.
This tableau has held forth
four thousand years in an empty meadow
on Orkney Island, Scotland,
at the edge of nowhere
and the North Sea.

I see it as an early art form,
a kind of prayer: nonverbal,
elegant in age and proportion,
and addressed to whom
we'll never know.
I walk into the center of the ring
and overhead the daytime moon
hangs pale in the sky,
another zero.

The only thing to do
with these stones
is stand with them
in the raw, rainy weather
blowing in off the ocean
and for a few moments
be a party to their prayer
uttered in silence:

We are.  We are here.

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