CAIRNS (VII) 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, selling 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 Dark…sure, 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.