Issue 26: Ian Duhig


for the ‘Rock, Pebble, Quarry: the Sculptural Lives of Stone’ event at Leeds City Art Gallery

If we attempt a penetration by smashing the rock, it still does not display in its fragments anything inward that has been opened up. The stone has instantly withdrawn If we try to lay hold of the stone’s heaviness in another way by placing the stone on a balance, we merely bring the heaviness into the form of a calculated weight … but the weight’s burden has escaped us. ―Heidegger, ‘Poetry, Language and Thought’ (46.7)

1 Quarry: Living Stones

Around here, the crop that never failed was outcrop;

Harehills Stone to locals, by town called Elland Flag –

or in class, Pennine Lower Coal Measures Formation.

Tight-layered as fingerprints, its lines almost invisible,

getters dug deep through rag good only as aggregate

to its thick-seam block which would rise as mansions,

prized for resisting foul weather but taking fine detail,

each load tooled with the signatures of men who’d felt

proud and tired as if they’d raised all Carrara’s marble

to wake a new Renaissance oversleeping in these beds.

Leeds’s purist Masonic Lodge of the Living Stones,

founded to return Brethren to a more mystical focus,

bought matching blocks, one dressed, one left raw,

rough ashlar for the uninitiated asleep in brute stone

opposite its smooth brother, enlightened by a craft

of clean aprons and open secret words: Mahabone!

This black and white page layers coal, hares’ bones,

nearly-invisible lines, dark words asleep under rag,

got up by the forgotten, and, for a different future,

poems waiting for another chisel to write them free.

2 Rock: The Sun

The next time that you visit Leeds Art Gallery in summer,

don’t trip over the cracked Elland Flag on the promenade

inscribed YOU ARE A ROCK, and, below, Mene Mene,

nor wonder why versions of the text with these last words

never contain this repetition so clearly there in the original,

ironically, of the word in Aramaic that means “numbered”.

Son of a sculptor, archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau

suggested a pun here on measures: mina, shekel and perases,

a repetition for twice larger like two stones making a quarter,

so Mene Mene, from ‘mina’, meant itself then itself doubled,

(scholars who weighed Charles’ words found them wanting).

Charles Baudelaire’s ‘The Sun’ has him stumble over words

‘as over paving stones’; I stumble over the coinage petrichor,

this sounds like trying to get the blood of gods out of a stone

stumbled on outside an art gallery, after rain, one hot summer.

‘Raider’s Bread’

A lump of moorland flint commanded to become bread

by Tony Earnshaw and furnished with knife and board,

mounted like a reiver with his wooden buckler and dirk

then boxed in a vitrine and quatrains in surreal gongshi.

Stone is the breath God takes between Commandments,

skin the spaces monks invented between words in texts,

the air interleaving loaves like poems rising from pages.

This text will never be the best thing since sliced bread:

better ideas slept in Earnshaw’s last blank paper block

he set aside to use his loaf on, napping ready to knap,

the wit of that artist they called the Imp of Surrealism,

a devil in a desert asking you if you’d like a sandwich.

In Letters

for Patrick Wildgust and Chris Pearson

Everything has two handles. ―Epictetus, Enchiridion 43

Sterne’s two-handled walking stick is lost

of course, beyond his letter to the US fan

who sent it, thanking him. This digressed

to his back-to-front book taking stick then

for being too like his new gift, designed

to get the wrong end of, if it had an end.

All do: disposed of with Sterne’s estate,

the pun in wood disappeared. Or did it?

Maybe this walking stick didn’t go west

but took itself off like Tristram Shandy,

is now out-flourishing Trim’s arabesque

in the pages of some new Kitab al-’asa

or maybe it doubled back to Dr Eustace,

the fan who’d posted it in the first place

from Shandy Hall, his American home,

with two stories, as the US spells them.

The Best Poem I Ever Wrote

shamed my others, like Chapter XXIV

in Tristram Shandy, cut by the author,

so I cut it, but the rest just complained

that, conceptually, the poem remained.

A former homelessness worker, Ian Duhig still develops projects for the socially marginalised as well as artists and musicians. He is currently preparing with Satnam Gulsian a song and spoken text for this year’s Ilkley Literature Festival. His New and Selected Poems are due from Picador this December.

Copyright © 2021 by Ian Duhig, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.