I have collected stones early on.
I never counted them, but inspected each
like a jeweler looking for perfection
or flaws. I was limited to what fit
in a front blue jeans pocket, undetectable
from a mother’s keen eye.
They often felt heavy as theft.
It was as if I was taking a mountain apart
and reassembling it elsewhere.
Sooner or later the evidence would catch up.
You cannot teach guilt from a book.
I read about gemstones, learning their secrets:
ruby, sapphire, emerald, jade. Translucent
as a dead spirit, like colorless goshenite, or
abrasive as sandpaper like corundum
allegedly worn by Helen of Troy.
Since adults never seemed to know answers
to questions. I found some books had information.
Turning a stone over, feeling it rough or smooth,
I felt like an ancient god spinning the earth.
If I put my finger down randomly like on a school globe,
I might touch the African deserts or Pacific Ocean.
What I was searching for was the sense of smallness.
Some stone that would speak to me,
telling me what it is like to be ageless, not able to die
like my friend struck by a car. The stones understood
having been around longer than remembrance.
Books never answered why children can die.
I read that some people leave a stone on a grave
as markers of respect. For years I would visit him,
leave a stone like it was a prayer
asking him to forgive me for surviving and him not.
When I was young, I did not believe children could die.
After his death, I had too much belief
like semi-precious stones in my pockets
turning them numbly between my fingers,
small planets of pain. Now I no longer search
for exception clauses for death in books.
PHOTO: Martin Willitts Jr as a child (age unknown).
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I asked all kinds of questions like any child. All children pose metaphysical questions, especially like “why do people die?”I had a lot of experience with death when I first saw my grandfather cut a chicken’s head off when I was five. I knew a lot of people who died, but a friend dying as a child really made me question the value of death versus God: “Why did my friend die?”We were the same age. So the real question was: “Would I die too?” Parents have no answers. I had been collecting rocks for as long as I can remember. I knew that any questions I had might be answered in a book. I taught myself about rock collecting among other interests through reading books, but none of the books answered my question, “would I die?”Even though I had seen death and had slaughtered animals, I never could reconcile the aimlessness of death versus anything I read including the Bible.You might say I had a troubled childhood to be so serious about death. This is not exactly the case. I was curious and wanted answers for troubling questions like any child trying to make sense out of a senseless world. Out of my natural or unnatural curiosity, I became a Librarian trying to provide answers to children by recommending books which may or may not answer of their questions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Martin Willitts Jr is a retired Children’s Librarian. He won the one-time 2014 International Dylan Thomas Poetry Award. He has 28 chapbooks and 8 full-length collections, including recently Irises, the Lightning Conductor For Van Gogh’s Illness (Aldrich Press, 2014) and Late All Night Sessions with Charlie “the Bird” Parker and the Members of Birdland, in Take-Three (A Kind Of a Hurricane Press, 2015).