Little children love gravel, kneeling to play in gravel,
even gravel covering dry, meaningless dust.
It’s not, “Look what I found!” it’s the gravel itself,
which is what puzzles adults: nothing’s there, even beneath.
But that’s just what Catherine, watching children at that,
especially loves: that there’s no purpose, no meaning.
So, that day in the metro when the pickpocket
she’d warned a tourist against knelt, glaring at her,
a hand at his ankle, I wonder if one layer of that instant
of her mind had drift into it, children, children and gravel?
It didn’t come to her until later, telling it to me,
that the thief may well have been reaching into his boot
for a knife, or a razor; only then was she frightened,
more frightened even than when the crook, the slime,
got up instead and shoved her, hard, and spit at her face,
and everyone else stood there with their eyes attached,
only then did she lean against me, and shudder, as I, now,
not in a park or playground, not watching a child sift
through her shining fingers those bits of cold, unhealable
granite which might be our lives, shudder, and shudder again.
—from Rattle #25, Summer 2006
Tribute to the Best of Rattle
C.K. Williams: “About my poem: The thing that interests me about it, and what made it really possible to write, was the great disparity between the poem’s two themes, children playing in gravel, and men aggressing my wife on the subway. I wanted to write about what happened to her, but wasn’t able to until I found that frame to give some emotional distance from me. Maybe that’s what poetry is all about, pretty much?” (webpage)