Author’s Note: “ ‘Stone Sijo’ is my attempt to highlight the materiality of language by using only monosyllabic words. I think of each word as a stone, and the poem itself as an edifice constructed of carefully-placed stones. Sound is foregrounded. The stanza form is that of a sijo, but I linked five of them to create a longer poem where the monosyllabism would become more obvious, more weighty.”
Stone sijo (monosyllabics)
Stones teach us to make things fit,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaas a cairn will make us choose,
as best we can, to form the shape
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaseen in the mind. But shapes can change.
One might say stone in this place or rock in that
aaaaaaaaaaaaaato mark the path of a thought.
One might say rock in this place
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaor stone in that, if the sound sounds
smooth or rough on the lithe tongue,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaahot or cold in the live ear.
And all this is due to what each stone gives
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaor does not give. Stones do not take.
If you learn, you will know this.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaIf you learn, with a quick tongue,
to speak the speech of hard, still stone,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaathen you will know the one earth-truth.
Ask a stone to tell you what it means to be stone,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand you will know. Stone turns to stone.
I have heard some say that stones
aaaaaaaaaaaaaalack mind, lack life—hence we say stone-
cold, stone-deaf, stone-blind, but those whose words
aaaaaaaaaaaaaasay such things do not know stones.
Go, go there, where stones lie, and look
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaat the hill stones, creek stones, sea stones.
Hear each stone—hill stone, creek stone,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaasand stone, sea stone, strong stone, hard stone,
sand or soap stone, bone-of-earth stone—
aaaaaaaaaaaaaatell their stone tales, how they came there.
Then, at last, stone-taught, steeped in stone-fact, sing
aaaaaaaaaaaaaathe first low note of your own stone-song.
Joshua McKinney teaches poetry, writing, and literature at California State University, in Sacramento. His work has appeared in Kenyon Review, New American Writing, Boulevard, Denver Quarterly, and other journals. His most recent book of poetry is Small Sillion (Parlor Press, 2019). He is the recipient of The Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize, The Dickinson Prize, The Pavement Saw Chapbook Prize, and Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing.
Delmarva Review is a national literary journal with strong regional roots. It specializes in finding the most compelling new poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from thousands of submissions annually. As a result, the authors may be experienced writers (like today’s poet), or they may be students seeking discovery from their first established public journal. The Review is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit publication supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. It is sold in paperback and electronic editions at Amazon.com and other online booksellers and at specialty regional bookstores. See the website for more information: DelmarvaReview.org.