I picked it up from a roadside ditch one November afternoon, there beside the creek bottom cornfield—I could smell the water, I could feel the pool of cool air, the sunlight filtering through the trees—                      there in a field given over to weeds and briars, haunted by three chopped cars, their frames like skulls, doors riddled with bullet holes, beer bottles shattered by target practice. I wanted a souvenir of the farm, of my boyhood among cows, corn, tobacco, so I picked up this rock, the lower part as brown as a farmer’s face in late summer, the upper, as white as the old man’s scalp under his John Deere cap. I took it home to the city, placed it on a stool, stared at the rock, eight pounds of Yadkin County, a hard rock, breaker of plow points, a stone cursed and tossed into a ditch, quartzite (sandstone compressed, sand that settled in a shallow sea, the calm waters lapping whispering, “Millions, billions”): I try for the stone’s emptiness but find myself hiking along its ridges, making camp under a cliff, I become a flea man climbing a face like a pig’s snout, and I say, “Return to the rock, now, look at it.” There are moments when, breathing, breathing, I merely look at the rock, and I am quiet.

JOHN THOMAS YORK grew up on a farm in Yadkin County in northwestern North Carolina. He came to Greensboro with his wife Jane in 1982, earned an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Greensboro, and never left. He recently retired from teaching English in the public schools. In 2017, he won the Page Crafters Prize from the On the Same Page Festival, as well as the Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize from North Carolina Literary Review. His first full-length poetry collection, Cold Spring Rising, was published by Press 53 in 2012. His work has recently appeared in Appalachian Heritage and Tar River Poetry.