The Stone Flower

I was eleven years old when I first saw the great shrine of polished dark stone. It appeared to me in the form of a colossal door on the border between the playground and the wild fenland. That border was a fallen willow tree across a shallow stream, fenced off and hidden from the eyes of parents and the type of child who didn’t care to look beyond the bright colours of the plastic climbing frames.

It was always much more fun to play on the side of the park where the fenland was. There was a rope swing hanging from another willow tree, and if you had a friend who’d pass it to you once you dared to climb high enough, you could spend hours there - just the two of you and the air rushing through the leaves. The rustling voices of the trees sounded like the polyphonic whispers of gossip, wonderful secrets caught on the blue and golden lights in the feathers of a swan that illuminated the dancing shadows of children who thought that maybe, they were in love for the very first time. I was one of those children, with my heart beating bright for the boy passing me the rope.

Now, my passage to the swing and the boy waiting on the other side (he was too scared to cross the stream like I did, and preferred the pedestrian method, which I never teased him for but was unable to understand) was blocked by something far greater and more ancient than I could imagine. The stone itself was marvellously cool to the touch, reflective and commanding of attention like the first breath of sharp stars in the summer night. I would believe any wisdom this stone revealed to me, sparks of dust trapped like universes in its immovable embrace. This stone, this shrine, this monolith - it was consciousness itself, and it had chosen to appear before me in the place I liked best, and I could either enter and grow to understand what I had done, or never see the boy with the swing again.

Clearly, I had no choice. I was not yet a poet, then, but something awful was looming in the clouds of magnificent coral and ivory - something so lovely under the sunset and terrible in the night. The stone, like all gods, did not wish to exploit me against my will, but like all gods, the stone knew that children make the best acolytes because they have no room to lie. Children, the stone knew, always pledge their souls with a sweet determination and a burning purity and a truth so intrinsic it fills their tiny bodies with a sense of blinding duty.

At the time, I did not know the nature of the pact the stone offered, but I also did not care because the love I carried inside myself was stronger than any adversity. I looked in the face of god and shrugged. The love for the boy and the swing and the love for the stream and the willow fused into one great eternity of love as I walked across the fallen tree through the stone gate, unwavering. As I ran to meet the boy, the stone shuddered once, and then began to crawl with bubbles until it surrendered to the water with the tactility of a black sand, returning to silt.

Of course, now I know that I was cursed that day, and that the curse and my life have sustained each other for thirteen years. I do not anticipate freedom, nor do I desire it - but the curse consumes me, and I long for companionship in others who have walked through the black gate. Perhaps curse is too harsh a word, but the blessing is painful and too beautiful to express without crying thick tears of obsidian.

Please understand: I have dedicated my life to the stone, and by living, I convey a voice that is my own as it echoes in the grandeur of the monolithic truth. It resonates. Everything I create has to resonate, it has to love, and it has to tear itself to shreds until what remains is the universal grain of meaning. A syllable has to remain, and that sound has to be so powerful and right that it can pierce the timeless heart of a human being. Each word must be an arrowhead capped with ancient stone, a loyal spear in the ribs of the primordial man.

I knew I had the aptitude, but my curse has bound me to the task: create or die trying. I do not always succeed. When I do not manage to write, I become a statue of myself that presses its palms to the contours of where once was flesh. It watches the air distort around its fingertips, rivulets of a restless syndrome congealing into layers of sediment. Meanwhile, the sharpness within me grows feverishly, needlepoint to unyielding skin, like a geode begging for release and only hearing the laughter of an eleven-year-old child with a hammer. Crudely broken down to a homunculus that desperately seeks the strength to move its fingers, I must sweep up the pieces of the puzzle that have been waiting for centuries to flourish into a photograph of a magnolia blossom. I have got to create something groundbreaking, but all I have to show for myself is a photograph of a magnolia blossom!

Sometimes, the stone gate appears to me and taunts me with the exit. Look, it says, you have given me a photograph of a magnolia blossom, and it is cruel and beautiful, but if you cannot see that, do you really belong here? Are you worthy of the stone in your throat if you don’t choke at the sight of these flowers? You are not a gravedigger that casts aside the fertile soil to bury the dead - you are the body of the shovel and the wisdom of the worms and the willow tree whose flesh made the casket and you are the gravedigger but only if you look into the eyes of the corpse and realise that when you die, you will learn my final lesson. It is no wonder that they make angels out of stone.

And so, I shed my skin and give it meaning. I know the swing has been taken down, and I know the boy might not remember me. My bridge over the water has been cleared, that childhood erased. I cry now, for all I have left to remember it by is my vow to the stone, and the fragility of my skin being subsumed by dirt as I look at the photograph.

This time, I will make my skin from magnolia petals - and it will be so soft and human that the stone will hardly tell I have been cursed. The revolution of who I once was demands kindness and care. If all good art remorselessly skinned people alive, then flowers would not be so beautiful to look at, and dandelions would not take to the streets like a pride parade growing through cracks in concrete. I have fashioned too many arrowheads, too many pointed spears, too many butcher knives.

I want to be the antithesis of the stone’s predetermination, so perhaps, the sight of a vivid pink magnolia flower can compel me to dance and point me towards the essence of all that is real and rigid. I recall meeting with the boy before school to climb a cherry blossom tree and shake its branches until heaven came down in flurries of pink light. I recall my father laughing himself to joyful tears at the scent of wild jasmine blooming in a metropolis. He was crying on the street in New York City, maybe the first time I saw him cry so earnestly - and that was long before I saw the great shrine of polished dark stone.

Is it not in the image of the great stone god that I redefine our pact? Is it not like a poet to be arrogant at crossroads? I know the shrine will appear to me once again with the conclusion of this sweet pure truth, but it will no longer appear in the form of a gate. No, it will be a stream of polished darkness, and a willow tree hanging over it, and when I cross it, I will arrive at the other willow, the one with the rope swing hanging from it. There will be a child sitting in that tree - myself, eleven. I will pass her the swing, and she will take it and ride in a great splendid arc before she vanishes into the dust of stars, falling into my cupped hands like a seed. I will plant her in a thousand languages: I love you, I remember you.

In my dream tonight, the great god of stone will hear her and fear me, and we will grow through the unrelenting polish of its beautiful surface. Our devotion will desecrate its image, and it will praise us by splintering into sharp specks of universal dawn, multiplying into countless vows of vibrant verse, appearing as celestial gates before the children who still survive in the timeless human heart. They will walk on fearlessly, and I will wake up as the last one makes the decision to be changed.

The next poem I write will be different. The sharpness of stone will only reveal itself to the flower cruel and determined enough to take root in the slow-beating monolithic heart that has never known pain. The sweetness of the flower will only reveal itself to the stone kind enough to allow itself to transform. The truth of the matter will only reveal itself to those who have been cursed by both. The love I feel so deep inside my timeless heart will resonate far beyond myself, far beyond the great shrines of polished dark stone and pink magnolia blossom.

You will see me exactly for what I am, and I will offer you the love of everything I know. I will offer you all the curses I bear, and we will create together: a field of wildflowers tumbling off the edge of a cliff, scattering as sand before they reach the earth.