Shari Wagner's "These Rocks"
The writer and teacher Karen Gettert Shoemaker often talks about the physicality of writing, what she calls “writing from the body.” And we must do that when we imagine, in order to make our characters, scenes, places believable—we have to find ways to embody them on the page. If we’re able to do this—to fully imagine ourselves inside the bodies of the people or places we’re writing about—we’re more likely to give readers ways to connect physically and emotionally with what we’re saying. Writing and reading take place in our minds, of course, but our imaginations are electrically connected to our more physical selves. Think about it: what makes you cry when you read a devastatingly tragic passage? Or your stomach growl when you’re reading a description of a feast?
Shari Wagner, the poet laureate of Indiana, does this beautifully in her poem, “These Rocks.” The speaker in this poem imagines knowing the earth as “a blind woman knows her house—that intimately, that physically. She extends that beautiful metaphor throughout the poem, and in so doing, writes a loving portrait of a place. What if we all knew our surroundings this well? Might we take better care of them?
Here it is, Shari Wagner’s poem, “These Rocks”:
I want to know these scoured rocks
the way a blind woman knows her house,
understand their journey, listen
to the creak of a glacier in my bones.
I want to open the door for a pileated
woodpecker, catch splintering
water as it falls, dream beneath the hush
of hemlocks cresting the gorge and sense
in their darkness the absent river’s
surge. I want to feel the shift
of a continent, see orchids as snow falls,
then sink into pouches of jewelweed
filling Gypsy Gulch with a ginger glow.
I want to track wild turkeys
as they winter in Box Canyon, bend
low before their rafter of wings,
meet, palm to palm, my own blood-brother
in iron stains leaching through the wall.
You can find Shari Wagner’s “These Rocks” in her collection, The Harmonist at Nightfall: Poems of Indiana, published by Bottom Dog Press in 2013. “These Rocks” first appeared in the literary journal Shenandoah: A Washington and Lee University Review, Volume 61, Number 1.