Sam Hall, Drystone-Waller

by Roger Elkin

Most of the time he’s alone, up at the cloud’s
Edge, fingering the rigging of the hills as he threads
Together the fields’ reticulated setts.

Today there is a difference:
I work with him repairing the frets
Of webs perched high on Simcock’s fields
Where the grass feely spills. I say it’s
Different, but in our mute exchange of grits
He doesn’t really need me. He has grown immune
To loneliness: his only company, the lark; his clock, the sun.

His eyes, pale as skies but clearer,
Recognize where walls will crumble.
There where it sags outward, a bulge to tremble
On the verge, is a pain like the hernia
He’s nursed for years. Pink and clean
The inside face, the outside scribbled at by rain,
He knows by instinct each property of stone,
Each boulder’s hold as he juggles its position,
Finding points of balance, weighing cheek by cheek.

At snapping-break, as we relax behind our morning’s work
The noonday sun leaning on our head, the air (freed
From the tamper’s clang, the dressing-chisel’s clink)
Knits together its palpable silences. Suddenly his outstretched
Palms grasp hold of mine, rough-raw with blebs and stains.
He makes to speak. His words build blocks of sound that slowly link
With sense to make relationships: “Look, son, ‘ands is tools.”

But all I see are calloused atolls
And the gritstone building darkly in his veins.


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