The Discarded Stone
It shouldn’t have been there, but there it was,
a nineteenth-century gravestone partly
exposed at the edge of a rubbish pile
back in the woods. He assumed some farmer
had finally had his fill of always
having to skirt an abandoned plot
of graves that no one had tended for years.
Perhaps he had struck a half-buried slab
with his cultivator and broken a tine
and, perhaps, after cursing and counting costs,
he had hauled away every stone on the site
and plowed it all under. And now, some years
or decades later, this exiled stone
had come to light in a wooded ravine
without a clue as to where it belonged.
He spent the afternoon digging it out,
using his big Shire mare and a rope
to dislodge and drag it up to the road.
With a neighbor’s help he stood it on end
and hoisted it up on the wagonbed
where, once he had hauled it back to the farm,
he spent a good hour scrubbing it clean,
or as clean as he could make it, at least,
which wasn’t very. After so long
in the ground, white marble is less than white
and no amount of hard scrubbing with soap
and a stiff-bristled brush will bring it back,
but he did his best. The head of the stone
was another matter, with a scrolled edge
and a single lily carved in relief —
it was almost translucent where the sun
had bleached it to whiteness over the years.
Such graceful feminine lines bespoke
a woman still in the bloom of her life,
or perhaps a child. Whatever her name,
the autumn rains had erased it long since,
as well as the dates, except for the year
of 1811, which, given the stone’s
Victorian style, he took to be
the year of her birth. And as to where
the marker should go, he knew just the place:
a fieldstone wall he had built years ago
to enclose the garden of his late wife
and protect it from any wandering sheep
or cattle that might have slipped through a gap
in the pasture fence. Guiding his mare
by her bridle, he pulled the wagon in close
to the garden gate, then inclined the stone
slowly and carefully down, and leaned it
against the wall, just under the boughs
of an old apple tree. He had always been
a credulous man in many respects
and seemed to retain a child-like trust
in what other folks dismissed out of hand.
He took it for granted that spirits roam
the earth after death — he even claimed
to have stumbled into their presence on more
than one occasion, and said there was nothing
fearful about them. They seemed to him
just poor errant souls bewildered in death
as once they had been bewildered in life
and just as greatly in need of a place
to call their home. He imagined that she
would find comfort now that her stone, at last,
had come to inhabit this quiet spot.
He had often sat in this place himself,
underneath this tree, in the difficult days
after his wife had died, and he knew
what a healing place it was, where any
suffering restless spirit might find
the solace it sought. There were drifting falls
of petals in April and summer nights filled
with a redolence of old roses from
the other side of the garden wall.
It wasn’t a thing he would ever discuss
with another soul and he wouldn’t mull
the matter over, for what he had done
was right and that was enough. He murmured
a prayer for whoever she might have been,
and never noticed the hesitant breeze
that hovered beside him, casting a faint
elusive shadow and stirring the leaves.
There were other tasks awaiting him now,
and other concerns to be tended to.
He unhitched his mare from the singletree
and, promising her a measure of oats
and a goodly night’s rest, he took her by
the bridle and walked her back to the barn.
“The Discarded Stone” is from
Stark County Poems by BJ Omanson (Monongahela Books, 2020).