empty of future, renew the sign: lucent paradox, ineluctable trace ...


more about stones

When I first came to Sydney in 1981, I lived in Thomas Street, Chippendale, as it was then called, though properly it was Darlington and sometimes known as Redfern. Near one of the lost suburbs, Golden Grove, which now survives only as a street name. Anyway. A friend mentioned to me one day how you would sometimes find unusual stones around there, stones that looked as if they had been brought from elsewhere and placed, for some inscrutable reason, on a corner, next to a doorway, on a curb ... not long after he pointed this out to me, I found one of these stones in nearby Vine Street, not far from a big old sandstock curb that had the baleful letters K I L L inscribed in it, as if by some disaffected quarrying convict. I picked up this stone and kept it near me for many years, losing sight of it, unaccountably, when I left Pearl Beach to move back into the City a couple of years ago. It's probably still up there somewhere.

It was small enough to fit comfortably in the palm of my hand, irregularly shaped, very hard, and pitted all over. The upper surface was dark and rounded but, underneath, it was slightly concave and of a much paler colour, as if it had sat for a long time half in, half out of water. Someone I showed it to once told me that there are stones like that lying around about the blowhole at Kiama, on the South Coast. Maybe that's where it came from. Who brought it? Thomas Street is very close to The Block, where an urban Aboriginal community hangs on despite the many efforts from local and State government instrumentalities to re-locate them elsewhere. I used to wonder if these mysterious stones were an occult intervention in the psychogeography of the City but perhaps that's too romantic a notion.

And yet ... the other day, Friday, after I picked my sons up from Strathfield station, we were wandering back down Parnell Street to the car when I spotted another unusual stone, lying in the grass outside some double doors to somebody's garage or back yard. This, like the Kiama stone, is very hard and pitted all over, but it's quite a bit larger and the surface below the pits is a rust orange colour. It's much more regular in shape, indeed, it looks as if it has been worked to make a flattened ovoid, though exactly how you'd work a stone this hard is beyond me. It's just the way there's a slight ridge around the circumference when you lie it flat. This stone also fits comfortably in my hand, but only with my fingers and thumb curled around it. Feels good to heft. Would make an excellent grindstone and, if it is any kind of artefact, that's probably what it's for.

The impulse to pick up and carry away these stones is very strong but it's not unquestionable. If they are placed, shouldn't they be left there? Or, is it the case that they are placed in order that they be found and used again? I'm unlikely to grind with this stone but I will keep it and value it as long as it stays with me - and perhaps that's all a stone asks. Czeslaw Milosz says somewhere that stone is stone because it only wants to be stone. And yet ... who has not heard, at some estranged or estranging moment, the stones cry out to us?

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