The Stones of Gloucester [1972]

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an historical novel


[for Charles Stein, on his birthday]

First Chapter

There are seven of us sitting around a kitchen table in Boston discussing the ways stones have entered our lives. We think back in time. In the previous week at our granite house that borders Dogtown, Mr. Stein and Miss Stonesifer have on at least one occasion been present in a discussion about stones. Mr. Stein recalls once having roomed with two men named Gold and Goldstein. Furthermore, only last week he was in a rock shop in Woodstock and as he walked out to the street someone called to him, “Hey Rock Man.” When he told me this story he didn’t know I was at that very moment on the verge of reading him a dream of several weeks previously in which there are people wanting to blow up a house to get into its stone foundation and I am protesting that this is a terrible idea, meanwhile Susan talks at length about hidden stones, and shortly afterwards we are going into town to watch somebody or other at work on the stones when all of a sudden we catch a woman off guard seeing her in a mirror performing her morning toilet; and soon thereafter I ask Susan to describe her deepest image of what is held in the mind of guru somebodyjii, to which she replies something about Brownian movement in a brown agate mirror-stone and landscapes. And as I was reading this dream to Stein, Susan woke up and said from the dream she was having across the room, “Goldstein, follow Goldstein.” We were understandably amused, perhaps even a little startled. Earlier Stein had been speaking of Kelly’s notion of dreams as translations from pre-dream states wherein the somatic experience has been occurring. Now as the seven of us sat around discussing these matters in Boston, someone commented that Kelly had given his moss-agate ring a name; he called it Rainstone. This reminded Susan that it had been raining the day the four of us were walking around and Helen found the ring.

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Second Chapter

Let us turn our minds forward, I said to myself without knowing what I was saying. Forward? The eye fixes on a stone across the field, and feet, hands, and brain march forward, engaged in the straight forward discourse of handling stones. Or I see a dragonfly-like creature on the wall before me, and go forward to locate my attention there. At any rate such was the case last night as I began thinking of stones. I gazed a long while at the dragonfly-like creature, its transparent wings — four in number—patterned with translucent netting, short black streaks at the edges, a hieroglyphic black “eye” in the center, and varying gradations of iridescent blues and greens that appeared to shift as I changed the angle of my vision. Had I the courage of the Anglo-Saxon poets I would allow him eloquent speech at this juncture in our discourse, but it is simpler to say that he or she held my attention, carried the mind “back” so to speak, and produced the several statements relating to stones and ending with the account of a moss-agate ring, now called Rainstone. At that point I awoke Susan from her sleep and showed her the dragonfly-like creature, and she said: “It’s like moss-agate.” May we say the bug is eloquent beyond his means? Is he a good or a bad omen? This afternoon at Good Harbor Beach I was recounting to Michael Lutin the story of the dragonfly-like creature and the moss-agate ring; we had found a shell with iridescent greens and blues and I thought of the eye formed in the wings; Michael noted that Algol was squaring the setting Sun and would be rising; Susan was picking up shells and stones; the Sun reflected in the windows of the weird [perhaps Lovecraftian] mansion on the point appeared through binoculars to be alchemist’s gold; “Sun in Leo with Moon in Ares,” said Michael; and at about this time several someones were breaking into our Dodge van and delivering us of certain cherished belongings. If the beast was magical, did he harbinger good or ill?

When we returned home I found him in place over my typewriter. Later when I was napping with the light out it occurred to me that the creature would be flying in the dark and eventually find his way to my face and that I would inadvertently kill it. I could avoid this either by turning on the light or by capturing the creature and releasing him to the outside. While I entertained these and other thoughts—wondering, for instance, if one had the right to release a magical beast before the work attached to his presence is done—the creature in fact hit me in the face and my hand leapt forward to swat it in the dark. I got up and turned on the light. The creature was bending like a question mark or a scorpion’s tail. Was it dying or trying to sting the alien surface? Did it even have a stinger, indeed was it in any way dangerous to the human body? Such were the questions that arose to protect me from the feeling of having in some way offended the Earth. Moss-agate or a tree in a stone, the rain falling outside; a wing with a stone in it, or a shell with a wing in it; This afternoon there were, in addition to thieves and the rising of Algol, people hunting agates on the beach, using agate-counters. Susan is scornful, they are not using their faculties. The sunset through the binoculars has the texture of abalone cunnus. Let abalone cunnus stand for a stone which we will eventually find, if not this summer, perhaps the next one. This is sheer speculation. We may have already found it and let it slip through our fingers like third-rate fools.

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Third Chapter

Miss Stonesifer has a broken jaw and points out one day that the clamps holding her jaws closed will be removed in five weeks, which is how long it will be before we take the stones out of the tumbler. Mr. Stein, who owns half of the stones now tumbling in our house on the edge of Dogtown, will be having a birthday about that time, August 23rd—Miss Stonesifer pointed this out, the same day I was typing a dream about a mythical beast, half dog with wings and half lion, very like an eagle when flying, warm and friendly and capable of speaking English. If we were not around to notice these events, could we say with honesty that they occur? Indeed, would we have the freedom to speculate, asking in one dramatic voice or another: Does a stone by any other name work so well? If the single task we had to perform in order to enter the New Jerusalem were to name the stones of America’s beaches, would we begin at Copper Harbor, Folly Cove, Stinson Beach . . . ? Rainstone, abalone cunnus, that’s two. “Space Monsters” is the name given in National Geographic to certain rock paintings and engravings of Tassili-n-Ajjer, dated 6000-1000 B.C. , as Timotha pointed out the night the seven of us were sitting around together in Boston.

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Fourth Chapter

Joujouka Music Masters are playing their Pipes of Pan. Pan is Bou Jaloud, “Father of Skins,” and in the Rite a boy is sewed in goat skins for four days and nights and he runs amok causing panic through the village. At the end he becomes the Bou Jaloud and is carefully avoided from that day forward by all villagers. There appear to be many ways of moving forward and of turning toward, in order to see and make seen. In the Byzantine mysticism of Gregory of Nyssa, man’s present state is to be clothed in “coats of skin.” He aspires to translate the attribution so that the language reads “wings of the dove.” Timotha is dancing to the Pipes of Pan and it is easy to see that the hands are birds, capable of “soaring aloft.” The Algerian connections are running strong this evening. Only moments before the Joujouka music I’d been staring into the eyes of Carmen, as the Turaeg woman pictured in National Geographic is named. Her hands are indigo from the dye in her robe. Three cowry shells and a fourth I don’t know hang from her hair. I am wondering about the appropriate attribution for her eyes such that will express what I take to be her power to bind the souls of men. Eyes of Circe? Harvey comes into the kitchen, interrupting my thoughts to say: “I have another stone for you. The man who recorded this record of Joujouka Pan music is named Brian Jones, late of the Rolling Stones.” Miss Stonesifer laughs. I show Harvey the picture of Carmen, and he describes what Turaeg music is like: women yelling wildly, ululations heard 20 miles across the desert, intending to call caravans off their track so the Turaeg men can raid them. Now in the post-caravan age the Turaegs are starving because the men refuse all other work as beneath their dignity. On her right fool’s finger Carmen wears a silver ring with a diamond shape in the center and four coils bordering. Would I, even if I could, engineer my dreams with such crude connections? The ocean today was like liquid bloodstone.

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Fifth Chapter

I put the dragonfly-like creature in a jar and carried it downstairs to show it to the others. It was still alive but seemingly incapable or unwilling to fly away when I opened the top. I placed it on the porch, turning the jar on its side to give him the maximum advantage in escaping. Here I am interrupted by the arrival of two seismologists from M.I.T. searching for a large granite “outcropping.” I direct them to the several large rocks back of our house and as they set up their microseismic recorder I interrogate them carefully about the alleged Gloucester fault. It seems there is a difference of opinion among experts: there may be many faults, some of them comparatively recent, i.e., within the last thousand years. Sonar experiments in nearby grabens — elongated depressions of the Earth’s crust between two parallel faults — indicate the recentness of this kind of activity — “Recent,” says the younger of the seismologists, “in our terms, that is.” He laughs. I wonder about the “our,” if for instance I might include myself. The cosmic relationships of today are the karmic relationships of tomorrow, I had said to Michael earlier, and he thought it might be a good slogan to put on the back of a Post Tosties box. Susan is working at the potter’s wheel, and I wonder for the thousandth time if she was an alchemist in a previous lifetime. Wishful thinking, perhaps, another attempt at self-ennoblement. I ask the seismologist if he has read Alfred Lothar Wegener, and he says yes, noting that the continental drift theory is now widely accepted but that he could remember its being mocked in geology classes when he was in high school. That would be the fifties. I point out that William Blake at the end of the l8th century was thinking in terms of a single land mass divided by the Atlantic, Pangaea now a shattered self. He said that was right, the oceans are dividers. Neptune. Spiteful Neptune, lose all companions.

Earlier in the afternoon Barbara Richert was trying to decide whether to rent a car, and I couldn’t resist letting her know my apprehensions. We threw the I Ching and got 47. K’un / Oppression (Exhaustion), and as I saw the Abysmal, Water, beneath the Joyous Lake, the image of a sunken car moved in my mind. “The hexagram is full of danger in its structure—a lake, with an abyss opening under it, through which the water flows off downward.” Graben, as in grave. Cyclops hurled a large stone into what is now a bay near Catania; Odysseus did not on that occasion lose all companions. Oppression, but the superior man pulls through. In what terms do we measure the length of a journey? The microquakes are measured in hertz, a unit of frequency equal to one cycle per second, named after the 19th century German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, notable for his work on electromagnetic phenomena. The younger seismologist spoke of the convenience of a unified theory in geological science provided by Wegener, and I said that future historians might speak of our half-century as a period of field theories. I mentioned Charles Olson, as local spokesman for same.

Behind me I hear the voice of Nicolas, age 2 1/2—I mean just now, two hours after the departure of the seismologists, a full day since I put the jar with the dragonfly-like creature out on the porch. Nicolas is asking me to name the colors of stones from Susan’s box. Carnelian. Lapis blue. But no rainstone or abelone cunnus. The seismologists had to carry their 150 lb. microseismic recorder away because it wouldn’t work. I asked if local influences might be the cause, as everything else seemed to be in order. They said no. I was thinking of our “Lovecraftian” house, as rumor has it: did something very old spook the gear? Did the Earth once more refuse to be measured? Venus conjoining Pluto and squaring Saturn, as Michael said earlier: breakthroughs in personal relationships, karmic headaches for the next thousand years. A relatively short time, in our terms. Little Nicolas holds up an ornate silver mirror and asks what it is. I say a mirror. What kind? A silver mirror, a pretty mirror. “Is it pretty if I don’t look at it?” he asks, holding it to his body. No. Only if you look at it. He puts it back, starts to leave with something from Susan’s box. I ask him to put it back in exchange for a  Coyle d paperclip, brand name Noesting, now out of production because of their use as slugs in the subway. He asks what it is. I say a pretty paperclip, a coil. “A coil?” A coil. “Like Mrs.  Coyle ?” Yes. “But this isn’t Mrs.  Coyle ?” No, just a coil. He departs. I am happy that Barbara did not rent a car today. Enough Neptune for one summer. Neptune, ruler of cars by and in the sea. Of all manner of long-range vehicles. Circe, Carmen the wailing Turaeg, lust for the distant, fear of the near, calling us off course. The picture Michael drew of Pisces: a man overboard, the ship traveling into the distance, the bereft man’s two friends with their backs turned, unnoticing. When I saw the Magic Marker picture across the study, the angle of vision caused me to see the word “CAR” where the man was. Under dark seas.

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Sixth Chapter

Of all manner of language vehicles, ruled by Neptune, The Odyssey, The Wanderer, The Cantos, it can be said that the experience of time is that of a single man or a single mind regarded as occupying the center of the story. Everything that happens hangs in on that center. How is this so? The sailor leans out of the crow’s nest, the ship bounces on the sea, both withheld from Neptunian excess by a metacenter, defined as the intersection of the verticals through the center of buoyancy of a floating body when in equilibrium and when tilted. Where, I wonder, is the center of levity in this story. The body remains afloat and the spirit soars aloft. Wings of the ship, or the brighter side of Neptune. As we were recently driving from NYC. to Boston with ZK Oloruntoba, Yoruba doctor of vodoun, Susan had a dream in the back of our van in which ZK was driving our car and suddenly we were going down a road with a large sign bearing the words: W R O N G  W A Y. A few days previously we had visited him in his apartment—this was in NYC, not in Susan’s dream—and he had played over and over a Yoruba song on the broken piano. At first it sounded a little amateurish, but gradually it took hold of the mind. It mounted in force, its several basic melodic components repeated in various combinations. At a certain point in the music—at a moment of special intensity—I heard what sounded like a clap of wood on wood, as if the piano itself were a large woodblock. I could not tell if the note was inside or outside the piano. I let it pass without comment. Later he played back the tape of the performance and I heard the sound again. And again I said nothing. Then it happened a third time. I mentioned it to ZK and he seemed to know what I was talking about. We played the tape back of this other recording, but heard nothing on it. Shortly afterward we left and discovered that our car had just been burglarized. And several days later, at Good Harbor Beach, the Yoruba tune haunted my mind and, as already recorded in this history, our car was robbed on that occasion. Algol. Neptune. The dragonfly-like creature. The Yoruba tune. Thieves. Only the latter was mentioned in our report to the Gloucester police. The waves were rough that day and they were like liquid bloodstone. There are many islands to be encountered in a long voyage. The map is obscure. There is always a single man or woman. The metacenter is not visible to the naked eye.

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Seventh Chapter

The jar was found broken by the driveway. The dragonfly-like creature may or may not have escaped with his life. We know what we know by signs, but the signs are not always clear. How to keep alert enough to ask the pertinent question, e.g., Ruskin wants to know how the apple got UP the tree. If the dragonfly-like creature did not get up into the air, he at least got off the porch, if not on his own wings, at least by the hand of Nicolas. The fire leaps in our fireplace, the dolphin leaps in the sea, the frog in the swamps of Dogtown, the mind leaps to conclusions, conclusions leap into the past, past into present, the tense leaps—the silver mirror is pretty when and only when you see it. Trinidad once told of how, when they were children in Santiago, a llama nudged and bullied them until they ran home; it turned out the animal knew of the imminent earthquake and wanted to protect them. Imminent: About to occur or run to meet. Impending. Projecting over or toward. The so-called “earthquake-sky” consists of an eerie discoloration and serves, it is said, to warn the alert. Eckermann reports that Goethe roused him in the middle of the night and made him gaze into the sky. “Listen,” said Goethe, “this is an important moment; there is now an earthquake or one about to occur.” “Goethe dreams,” tittered the women of the court. News reached Weimar a few weeks later that on that night, April 5, 1783, Messina was partially devastated by earthquake. Look up, said Ruskin, look at the sky. “Northern light in the southeast” is the sum of information left by Goethe as to what he actually saw that night. Not much to go on. Only the subtle but very general sense of being sucked upward, like the sulphurous smoke and molten fires of Aetna. What wandering bodies, what fixations of Algol, what lunacies are yanking at these micro- and macro-seismic occurrences? She strolls past and my cock leaps up to greet her. Action at a distance? When I rise I rise in the middle, wherever she sits with her legs crossing and uncrossing. As for the body of Earth, we have Mr. Faraday to thank for the durable notion of force-fields. Time passes as she passes, the charge is everywhere to be had. Praise to the phallic stones of Grecian isles, whose seed is retained that we may find our way home.

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Eighth Chapter

He looked out the window and something in the woods caught his eye. He sat down in half-lotus, breathed deeply, counted. The woods rose up around, or the third dimension vanished. Stages of iridescence in blues and greens, like the interior of the shell or the wing of the dragonfly-like creature. A story is a single sentence, but what is a sentence? An entry in the Gloucester Chronicle, in honor of our Anglo-Saxon genes. In this year Mr. Coyle expressed the opinion that Dogtown was founded by Vikings. Evidence? The granite foundations of the no-longer extant houses; the number of Finns now residing in Rockport. This afternoon Mr. Coyle, leaning on his cane, a fat reddening mosquito on his scantly white-haired scalp, told wild stories about Charles Olson, Pana Grady, John Wieners, Allen Ginsberg, and their rowdy friends. Then he spoke of a mysterious stone engraved with fleurs-de-lys, suggesting perhaps an early French settlement or maybe a trapper coming down this way from Canada. He’d show us the stone because it was hard to find, he’d have to look around himself, and he’ll do it, if he can just get these legs to work—that’s thanks to the Japanese, nothing he did to himself, let’s get that clear. There’s Nicolas [he points], got his pants off again. Came up to my door calling Wally, and there he was naked as a blue jay. Strangest kid I ever saw. And if you go walking through Dogtown, watch out for the swamps. Extend right there back of the house. Use to be foxes, one red, one silver, came out from behind the house, and two deer from the other side, friendly enough to come right up to the backdoor over here. Guess someone shot ‘em. Well, remind me to show you that Frenchman’s stone. He hobbles off promising to lend his copy of Charles E. Mann’s rare book, In the Heart of Cape Ann, orthe Story of Dogtown [Gloucester, 1896]. This was occurring at the same time that the two seismologists were carrying off their defective microseismic recorder. Broken clock, too delicate to fix on outskirts of Dogtown. Shades of Huygens, Dutch father of our Mercurial perfections, bearer of the temporal cramp in our meditatable days, virgin father of our virgin calculations, artist of our withholdings, rhythmic retainer, periodizer of prose, Thothic measurer. Hertz. Car rentals. In what units do we measure our travels?

Mr. Stein is Mercurial in mileage. Three days and he gets the itch to go. Carry a serpentine stick, carry the message or seed, crossbreedings and viral transplants, spiralities. “The myth generates history,” he said the other day. In what units do we measure what we find out for ourselves? Avoirdupois, or having poise? Karats, or little horns? Cubic centimeters of chance? Electric field strength in volt per meter? Magnetic flux density in tesla? Flux of light in lumen? Iambs? Graphemes? He was looking out the window and something in the woods caught his eye. A sort of clearing. Green turquoise. Green Man who mates with Salt Woman. Rock Man lifting the stones we look at. Turquoise needs sun, without it the stone dies, like any living thing, say the Zuni. I look at the double turquoise ring on my right fool’s finger. Mother Isis in brown matrix, or the submerged Heart of Pangaea. Dogtown of the Soma. Green blood of the vine. And I notice in the upper shoulder, at stage-left of the larger stone, a new wave has emerged of a green that seems infused with a species of cerebral serum. This strange new presence is growing rapidly. How far or how fast remains to be traveled.

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Ninth Chapter

Twice in one week their ship was beset by thieves as they set in at the ports of New York and Gloucester. That’s often in our terms. But we are not so easy to stop. We need long lives to find the abalone cunnus, make enough gold to matrix our stones and fix them to our bodies, transcribe the message of the tenth planet. Emergence. The Dolphin leaps at midheaven of my birth, and I imagine myself possessed of certain rights therefrom. To be exalted always in the connections made. There is an Agate Beach in California and an Agate Beach in Oregon. It is inconceivable that there exist on Earth any names without stories. If a story is a sentence, are there not stories the length of split-second phatic utterance? The time it takes to look into a beachstone and see rain falling on the grave of Apollinaire. Agate grave, raining ink, all in the cry: LOOK! Susan is always saying, Look! We are walking through Dogtown. She says, Look! A granite pebble with the green of Good Harbor Beach. A complete sentence learning to live with an open end. No use pretending we know about outcomes. We ride the wave and the wave breaks. Looking down from the rail of the ship, the face of the Moon shifting on the water, we see black paper, white inkblot stains, quick signatures, clouds as 6’s and 9’s. Every night for one entire crossing of the Atlantic I looked down from the rail of the Aurelia. The Moon a mushroom in water, an egg in the sky, a ball bouncing on a ship. Winglike clouds rising on the horizon. When I think back I see certain details that I ignored at the time. The scenario fills out, clauses appear in the sentence, the body grows full by nourishing the middle. No use pretending we know about ends. To say with honesty that certain things happened, i.e., that they were thought about, talked about, kept coming up, were noticed. The fate, for instance, of the dragonfly-like creature, a broken jar by the driveway. A broken jaw, and in two days Mr. Stein’s birthday. What direction the prose? Michael says: “It has to do with the stones, it really has to do with the stones, the texture and the threads, it really has to do with the stones.” “The stones make a constellation,” says Tedlock, as we sit around in our house on the edge of Dogtown, looking at our turquoise rings. Look up at the sky, says Ruskin. The moons of Jupiter. Oracular binoculars. Scenarios, or the patterns we have at hand. The Zunis believe a man can hear an extra pair of footsteps following him around. So the story goes.

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