Saturday, May 06, 2017

`Found Some Day, But Not By You'

In “Arrowhead Hunting” (Hapax: Poems, 2006), A.E. Stallings reminds us that “The land is full of what was lost.” Her line billows with implications, but here she means the stone remnants left by earlier residents:   

“The land is full of what was lost. What’s hidden
Rises to the surface after rain
In new-ploughed fields, and fields stubbled again:
The clay shards, foot and lip, that heaped the midden,

“And here and there a blade or flakes of blade,
A patient art, knapped from a core of flint,
Most broken, few as coins new from the mint,
Perfect, shot through time as through a glade.”

I remembered an early post at Anecdotal Evidence based on my family’s arrowhead hunt eleven years ago at Lake Livingston, eighty miles northeast of Houston. My wife keeps the stone hide scraper I found there in her jewelry box with other valuables. It remains sharp enough to draw blood. The five-year-old boy I mention is soon to turn seventeen and will spend a week this summer at the United States Naval Academy. Sometimes reading old work is like skipping through a house rigged with booby-traps. “The land is full of what was lost.”

In Stallings’ poem, “knapped” is nice. As a noun, knap for three centuries meant “an abrupt stroke or blow; a smart knock.” No longer.  As a verb it meant “to strike with a hard short sound; to knack, knock, rap.” That, too, is forgotten, except by hunters who practice the “patient art” of poetry. “The land is full of what was lost.” The poem concludes:
“You cannot help but think how they were lost:
The quarry, fletched shaft in its flank, the blood
Whose trail soon vanished in the antlered wood,
Not just the meat, but what the weapon cost—

“O hapless hunter, though your aim was true—
The wounded hart, spooked, fleeting in its fear—
And the sharpness honed with longing, year by year
Buried deeper, found someday, but not by you.”

The poem’s title takes on another meaning – the arrowhead’s finder, yes, but also the hunter who lost it centuries ago. Without telegraphing what she’s doing, Stallings double- and triple-layers her words, even the commonplace ones, in the manner of the Elizabethans: “wounded hart,”  “the sharpness honed with longing.” The essayist I cite in that early blog post was also a hunter, a preternaturally gifted looker, seer and finder, and, like Stallings, born in the South, in South Carolina. Guy Davenport writes in “Finding” (The Geography of the Imagination, 1981):

“But this is not the meaning of looking for Indian arrowheads. That will, I hope, elude me forever. Its importance has, in maturity, become more and more apparent—an education that shaped me with a surer and finer hand than any classroom, an experience that gave me a sense of the earth, of autumn afternoons, of all the seasons, a connoisseur’s sense of things for their own sake. I was with grown-ups, so it wasn’t play. There was no lecture, so it wasn’t school. All effort was willing, so it wasn’t work. No ideal compelled us, so it wasn’t idealism or worship or philosophy.”

No comments: