James Dickey

(2 February 1923 – 19 January 1997 / Atlanta, Georgia)

In The Marble Quarry


Beginning to dangle beneath
The wind that blows from the undermined wood,
I feel the great pulley grind,


The thread I cling to lengthen
And let me soaring and spinning down into marble,
Hooked and weightlessly happy


Where the squared sun shines
Back equally from all four sides, out of stone
And years of dazzling labor,


To land at last among men
Who cut with power saws a Parian whiteness
And, chewing slow tobacco,


Their eyebrows like frost,
Shunt house-sized blocks and lash them to cables
And send them heavenward


Into small-town banks,
Into the columns and statues of government buildings,
But mostly graves.


I mount my monument and rise
Slowly and spinningly from the white-gloved men
Toward the hewn sky


Out of the basement of light,
Sadly, lifted through time’s blinding layers
On perhaps my tombstone


In which the original shape
Michelangelo believed was in every rock upon earth
Is heavily stirring,


Surprised to be an angel,
To be waked in North Georgia by the ponderous play
Of men with ten-ton blocks


But no more surprised than I
To feel sadness fall off as though I myself
Were rising from stone


Held by a thread in midair,
Badly cut, local-looking, and totally uninspired,
Not a masterwork


Or even worth seeing at all
But the spirit of this place just the same,
Felt here as joy.

Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010

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