Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Poem Stone (August, 2005)

I have called these things "poem stones" for as long as I can remember knowing about them; goodness knows what they are really called, I'm sure there is a title.*

The first one I ran in to accidentally, walking on the south side of Mont-Royal at the foot of the stairs that led to the terrasse above. There is a little grove of trees there that I like very much, and one day when I was walking among them I saw this flat piece of stone, embedded in the ground. It had words carved into it, and they followed the curve of the stone: you had to turn in circles or walk around and around in order to read them. They were in French, I could understand snatches of it: "not far from here Charles and I had an argument. I don't even remember why." Touching, that small whisper of memory, a trace now ground into the granite. For the artist, this is the sense of place, the ephemerality that somehow continues to lie heavily locked in the earth, waiting for interpretation.

I found the second stone (pictured) by accident as well, as I was walking through an overgrown and slightly under-used path, over to the 'eastern' slope (in Montréal, the directions marked on the streets are awry--'east' is more like 'northeast', and north is more 'northwest'). The path ran, at that point, through a small clearing; it was lined with long grass and there were low bushes around. To the left, I could gaze out clear over Outremont and towards Côte-des-Neiges, and I could see the Cimetière Mont-Royal in front. In fact, it was in turning to look that way that I caught sight of the disc of polished granite at my feet, again engraved with French words. I'm not fluent, but it was evocative to read: "It's beautiful, isn't it? When I want to read the last pages of a good book, I come here."

I felt in that moment that the artist and I had somehow connected--his purpose, my accident--and I "saw with his eyes"; the artwork achieved its purpose.

I still see place as the theme; the sense that I, too, come here and find it familiar, come here with special purpose, and imbue this spot with quiet meaning. Poised there with my feet at the edge of the stone, I had experienced a sudden communication within this intensely private moment that I realised belonged not only to me but also to this other, specific person--a revelation of the passage of time and the invisible repetition of movement and reaction. A moment when what was planned (the path, the position of the stone, the words) felt entirely serendipitous; a moment spent alone, where I felt entirely connected.

*I decided to find the title, after all this time; they will always be "poem stones" to me, but they are actually an art piece called La Montagne des jours (1991), or "The Mountain of Days", by Quebec artist Gilbert Boyer. There are five stones, and now I aim to find the two I haven't seen, next time I'm in town; the third one I found was over in another woody area, near Beaver Lake.

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