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Stone Disease | By Alexandra Teague

Categories: NER Digital, Secret Americas

Landscape(“Stone Disease,” n:  The Victorian obsession with constructing monuments)

Sarah Winchester, Having Been Rescued from Her House, Considers Rebuilding (Apr 20, 1906)

Already, the newspapers are shilling for new buildings:  safer, stronger, walls that will withstand the earth’s dis-ease, as if windows could be willows:  tousled, weeping glass, unbreaking. Why should I believe?—stretching the chimney back to sky:  unsteady cache of bricks, like prayer words stacked inside a shaking throat. Who finds firm ground in probability? Having contracted like a crushed egg shell, the earth is stronger now, less likely to explode. As if my floorboards didn’t quiver like oaks again, rocked by the wind—my room, those hours I waited, a cradle held in breaking branches. Who—having dovetailed plank to plank or breast to breast—hasn’t felt the space that still resists? That fissure where our blent compulsions meet. I cannot consent to heaven and earth, this world and the next, beaten like the white and yolk of egg, Hawthorne wrote. And yet what holds them separate? Even strong walls bend:  soft as envelopes around a page of fear. Last year, in Argentina, I read, a girl’s heart stopped as she dressed for dinner—silk ribbon at her throat, silk stillness of her blood. She woke to stone, scraped knuckles raw against the dark:  that Doric-columned mausoleum built to honor her. There is no reason for fear, the papers tell us now: No need to leave this beauty spot of earth. We still have sunny skies, invigorating breezes, fertile soil. As if we could live, Edened, inside a peach pit—those fine-webbed hollows deep enough for breath. Who says the ground can’t be mistaken? Cannot take back what’s taken? They found her there months later. The thinnest doors stay locked; yet marble crumbles under its own shine like sandcastles under the gleam of waves. We have so little—chiseled stone, small scars—to mark the earth-flung earth.

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ReadSafe,” Teague’s companion sketch to “Stone Disease.”

Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives. 

Image via Wikimedia CommonsSan Francisco Earthquake 1906: Fairmont Hotel and Synagogue, National Archives and Records Administration College Park.

Alexandra Teague is the author of Mortal Geography (Persea, 2010), winner of the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and a 2010 California Book Award. She is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press. Her work previously appeared in NER 25.1-2.