Returning the Stones
by Tony Curtis

In later years, retired and free, they’d come down
for quiet weekends, mid-week breaks, out of season
the small hotel between the church and castle,
or B&Bs in the villages along the coast,
so this place could be claimed as their own.

Walks on this beach determined by the time it took
to find a stone or pebble that was heart-shaped
or approximated to the heart: love’s old game.

                                                  At home
they’d placed each one on the mantelpiece, and dressers
until the collection had spilled out into the flower-border,
heart pebbles arranged as a larger heart shape,
prompts to recall their visits,

to remember the seasons—
the sea and sky that stretched all the way to America,
flat and calm for thoughts, or crashing over the headland
so that the waves’ rough edge left brown foam at their feet;
the dog walkers giving up,
a young couple turning away from the weather,
running back to the car, hand in hand.

And once on a cold morning in March
the young woman who’d ridden down on her chestnut
appearing behind them so quietly,
soft hooves on the sand to plash,

plash, plash, plash through the shallows
until the sea swelled up to its fetlocks.
Taking time to stare out towards the unreachable island
before cantering the length of the beach back to the farm lane.

                                  She’d said to him:
Flowers and fruit
you can cut and take:
stones are only borrowed.

Her ashes are miles inland, under the ground
at the childhood church to which she’d returned of late.

He has resolved now on each visit to bring them back:
all of them, the heart-shaped pebbles they’d taken,
breaking up the pattern, a handful at a time.

On flat days like this, he stands at the edge
and skims them—three, six, ten kisses with the sea
before going down to the place it has chosen for them.


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