Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Fay Mtn : Poetics of Stony Flows, Part III: Sedimentary, Metamorphic, Igneous

see part one of this essay here and part two here





Rock forms in a river of the earth’s hot blood.

Iron-red, it is the dead stuff—the stoniness—that makes blood lively and life-giving. Flesh is made of rock matter.

Stonily, my students stare back at me when I ask if rock is living. “No,” flatly. We read
the opening of Hugh MacDiarmid’s “On a Raised Beach”

All is lithogenesis—or lochia,
Carpolite fruit of the forbidden tree,
Stones blacker than any in the Caaba,
Cream-coloured caen-stone, chatoyant pieces,  
Celadon and corbeau, bistre and beige,  
Glaucous, hoar, enfouldered, cyathiform,  
Making mere faculae of the sun and moon,  
I study you glout and gloss, but have
No cadrans to adjust you with, and turn again  
From optik to haptik and like a blind man run  
My fingers over you, arris by arris, burr by burr,  
Slickensides, truité, rugas, foveoles,
Bringing my aesthesis in vain to bear,
An angle-titch to all your corrugations and coigns,  
Hatched foraminous cavo-rilievo of the world,  
Deictic, fiducial stones.

Rock is the bed of blood’s red river. Or, bedrock is blood flow.

I read the first eight lines and my students notice it sounds like I have a mouthful of stones. I imagine they are small and round, and they taste like salt and pennies. We try to find stoniness at the hem of language (something never to be ironed out).

“All is lithogenesis—or lochia,”: either/or, stone or flesh; dead or alive; hard or soft (1).

And/or, stone is flesh; death accompanies birth; that which is hard erodes; that which is soft becomes coal, life’s grave power source.

Coal fires global capital. Coal kills. Coal is sedimentary rock: fossils of living things.

The compacting of matter into new rock forms. Pressurizing. Afterbirth as expulsion. We add inward/outward, pressure/release to our list of pairs. In this poem, pairs cleave together/apart. The paradox of stony life—the full feeling of being stone—brought to bear on partnership.

“Bringing my aesthesis in v[e]in to bear,” as a rush of feeling runs through the canyons of an other: “your corrugations and coigns” (13-14).

In this poem, stones are not only the objects of art or tools for art-making. Stone is a maker and is the made. Rocks are therefore reflexive. They materialize and they are life’s raw materials.

It is stoniness that runs like a river of blood inside the “I” of the poem to the point of aesthesis. To aesthetics. To desire.

“I” desire, not like, but as a rock. Geologically. Slowly. Paradoxically. At the hem (shore?) of language.

This poem is a beach. A beach is a river of sand.[2] I open my mouth and stones fall out.

“I” am a desirous rock. No surprises there; I desire because I am a rock. Because I am made with rock.[3]

What about queer desire is stony, rather than animal? It’s not so obvious as birth. Stones are born, after all: “lithogenesis” or “lochia,” although their life is not a cycle (1). Born in lava, pressurized, forced together, broken up: igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary. Recombine in all possible orders. Cross continents glacially over thousands of years. Rather than cycle, recombine, juxtapose, make-over. It may be better to ask if animal life is as neatly cyclical as we imagine.

Queer desire is the making of stone, which is living whether or not we notice it.

Queer desire recognizes sediment for sediment’s sake. Queer desire alerts us to the stony quality of animal life: world historically slow, magnetic, aesthetic, erratic, tangential, and, yes, bloody. The taste of minerality. Flows with course and recourse.

This text is precise, hard, and strange-sounding. It thinks about origins and it’s going somewhere, but will not return to pure heat.

Pulse: contract, expand. I am a desirous rock. I desire because I am made with rock. Hard and slow. “Bringing aesthesis…to bear” in my veins (13). I bear. Slow and again. Again and still.

Queer desire indexes the stony insides of me: compacted histories of sensation almost imperceptibly slow. It attunes me to the stoniness of an other and the world’s stony others. Not alienation but contiguity of strangeness. The soft rocks inside you are buzzing to try being next to mine. What poem is made by our “[d]eictic, fiducial stones”? (16) What happens when I open my mouth and a beach flows from my veins into an other’s? It’s happening in a language I don’t speak.

MacDiarmid registers the almost-unspeakable desire of stone: a desire foundational to the flows of history and which complicates the animal and vegetable metaphorics of organic life’s supposedly cyclical nature.

“No, stones are not living, but they are inside living things,” my students decide. Living things.




[1] MacDiarmid, Hugh. “On a Raised Beach.” Collected Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid, Collier Macmillan, 1967, p. 221.

[2] “Beach: A River of Sand.” Encyclopedia Britannica Films. Youtube, posted by LSU Center for GeoInformatics, 6 Sep. 2011,

[3] See also: Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Stone: an Ecology of the Inhuman, University of Minnesota Press, 2015.





Fay Mtn is a poet and teacher living in the state of New York with her partner and their two cats. Currently enrolled in a poetry PhD program, Fay is author of chapbook Body of Water, two artist books, Poem Composed for a Long Book and Winter Garden Orchestra, and is founder of the small press Yield.

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