If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious.
				—Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”

On either side of this highway, the gods
	leer down from the billboards,
	what they always sell—

and though I know what they are
	too well, and with all I have left
	despise them, still
	I buy, I buy.

The stone in my heart wants only
	the top of the mountain.
	The stone in my mind
	wants only

to be ground to sand.
		         This stone
	in my hands…what
	does it want?
		         Can one stone
	be a cairn? it asks.			


If my task’s the stone, what is the stone’s task?

	I don’t know…but
	halfway up, we stop
	to check its texts.

Who writes you? I ask. The gods?

	The gods? laughs the stone,
	deleting them all. Who
	doesn’t block the gods?

Just out of grasp of the famished
	the ripe fruit falls.

	Once, to spite the gods,
	I stopped to help. But

even pity, in this place, 
	is hell: all were crushed…

	to reach the fruit
	I’d had to drop the stone.

What, the stone asks, if we
	had to do what they do?

	Below our ridge, hell’s bridges
	and highways,

hell’s commuters stuck
	in drive-thrus, rubbernecking

	past breakdowns and wrecks…
	We’d keep walking, I say.

Not this gloom, not this tired dim
	but final, godless
	who here hasn’t wanted that?

Many try not to be.
	Once, as it fell, I fell
	in the path of my stone.

	It almost worked.


They’re gone, you know, says the stone.
	It’s getting late.
	What started as rain further down
	has turned to snow.
The gods, says the stone. All of them,
	years ago.

	It’s cold, this close to the end.

	Well, I answer, So?

All is hell
	and all manner of thing
	is still hell.
       Past the vacant strip malls—
	past wide-screens blaring
from split-levels—

	past sprinklers tsch-tsch-tsch-ing,
	limply, over parched lawns—

	gods or no, the stone falls.


About the author:

Philip Memmer is the author of five books of poems, most recently Pantheon (Lost Horse Press 2019). His sixth book, Cairns, will be published in fall 2022. His work has appeared in such places as Poetry, Poetry Northwest, and Poetry London, and in the Library of Congress’s Poetry 180 project. He lives in upstate New York, where he founded and directs the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse, serves as Associate Editor for Tiger Bark Press, and teaches creative writing at Hamilton College.

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