James Davis May

The Mending Wall
January 17, 2021 May James Davis

—The Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire


No one noticed as I left both the tour group
and the path to follow the wall, the woods
growing thicker, the wall itself crumbling,
stones scattered like blocks on a child’s floor—
there was order, but barely, which told me
these stones were the ones I wanted,
obscure enough, I thought, to be authentic.
Blistered over with lichen, the first few
swarmed with larvae. Then I found one
that was more loaf than ball, an ax head almost,
and small enough to fit beneath my shirt,
where it sanded down my skin so my side
bled slightly as I smuggled it to my car.
And what did I want it for? So it could sit,
as it does now, here on my desk,
like a paper weight or primal weapon?
In part, I like it because nothing suggests
it once made something, or rather,
that it was part of something made,
something actual that became abstracted
when the homesick poet remembered it
and the farm he sold before moving to England,
then wrote about them, constructing the wall
in others’ minds, in my mind, a thought
I can touch as though it were concrete proof
of thought itself, weighing roughly
as much as a handshake. My own neighbor
shook my hand on the porch we shared
the day she was discharged from the hospital,
bullet fragments still lodged in her brain
from the night her boyfriend shot her
in the jaw and she drove herself home
back to the apartment next to mine,
where I found her outside screaming, and held her
until the ambulance came. We shook hands
weeks later, her neck in a brace, those shards
permanent sparks in the x-rays of her skull.
After the paramedics took her away,
it was hours past midnight and so quiet—
I wondered what my responsibilities were
and still do. Who knows if the stone is real,
if the poet ever touched it. She said, “Thanks,
neighbor,” because she didn’t know my name.

James Davis May is the author of Unquiet Things (LSU Press). He directs the creative writing program at Mercer University and lives in Macon, Georgia, with his wife, the poet Chelsea Rathburn, and their daughter.