A Stone To Carry Home
Page Count: 60
Publication Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Cover Artwork: Photograph by the author.
About this Book
In this collection Andrea Potos exults in images of luminous earthly beauty – a blue scarf lake, Greek bread that tastes of heaven and salt, cobbled streets shining like jet in the rain – that also hint at the inevitability of loss. In these poems, Potos prepares to watch her daughter leave home and then takes us with her and the daughter on her journey to Greece and into the mountains of her ancestors, where eventually they arrive to the ruin that was once the home of her beloved grandfather. There is a sense of resilience in the talismans she evokes – cut fresh lemons and olive oil, stars in the sky that light up the stones at night, and of course, the stones themselves – that image by image bring past and the present together to offer a deep and expansive sense of home.
“Potos is a poet of place, etching the topography of heart, history, bonds; in this collection, she is a master cartographer of family, of art, of wonder. Her titles pull us across penciled maps – How to Meet the Brontes, Proust and Panera, with ‘no compass but water and light.’ These poems are the loaves of fresh bread she discovered en route to Delphi, ‘twined with a Greek cheese waking your tongue to heaven and salt.’ After reading this work, ‘you have no choice but to travel, remove time from time,’ our journey enlightened by her words which we will pocket, along with A Stone to Carry Home.”
"Andrea Potos’s poems in A Stone to Carry Home are careful and tender, skillful and strong. She captures the poignant and inevitable separation of mother and daughter (Trying to Talk to My Daughter) and embraces her Greek heritage (My Grandfather’s Home). She describes “never so many mothers/steeped in the fresh/milk of each moment” (In the Café Where I Write) and shares “a blue and white flag answers the wind” (At an Athens Window). You will find her word work wonderful."
Andrea Potos is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently Arrows of Light (Iris Press), and An Ink Like Early Twilight (Salmon Poetry). Another collection We Lit the Lamps Ourselves was also published by Salmon Poetry, and Yaya’s Cloth was also published by Iris Press. Andrea has received numerous awards for her poetry, including the William Stafford Prize in Poetry from Rosebud Magazine, the James Hearst Poetry Prize from the North American Review, and three Outstanding Achievement Awards in Poetry from the Wisconsin Library Association. Her poems are published widely in print and online, including in Poetry East, Tiferet Journal, Presence, The Blue Nib, Headstuff, Women’s Review of Books, Atlanta Review, Heron Tree, Peacock Journal, The Sunlght Press, and many others. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her family.
Read a sample from this book
My Grandfather’s Home
Tin, corrugated and rusted, now covers
what was once the roof, a few mossy
tiles lie scattered.
Three walls remain; in places, vines
sprout across the uneven grey.
My daughter and I bend, peer under
a muddy tarp that cloaks
a rubble of fallen stones,
as if saved for the day the granddaughter
and the great-granddaughter could cross
the Atlantic, drive the dizzying
mountain roads to kneel
on the April grass
and reach their arms inside, pick one stone
to carry home.
Daughter at 16
Each day is another cutting away
from the body of mother/
daughter, each stitch released
to make room for the girth of her reach.
I tell myself this is how
it is done,
picturing the way she’d sit
for hours on her toyroom rug,
cutting along the dots
to free her paper dolls
from the background that held them.
After a Transcontinental Trip
You welcome the weight of fatigue
like bricks of time
that have settled within you.
You love the trickery of the hours
lost and not found,
though gain is everywhere—
the spell of the journey, your eyes
snapped open in a still-dark
morning, a place you would never
have ventured if not for your flesh, rekindled
to tell you—now, now—
give your attention to this world.
Review: A Stone to Carry Home reviewed by Libby Maxey for Mom Egg Review (August 2018)
A Stone to Carry Home, Andrea Potos’s seventh poetry collection, is the perfect read for mothers seeing children off to college this fall. Although the airy, Mediterranean cover photo might suggest that these poems will be songs of travel, the journey on which Potos takes us is more interior and temporal than it is geographical. Yes, Potos gives us the flavor of Greece—the red wine, the dark coffee, “the slicing and the frying, / the olive oil, lemon and thyme” (38)—but she also gives us the flavor of worry, anger, and aging. She gives us the violence of loss and the bitter-sweetness of tenuous reclamation. Potos captures the complex feeling of being both left behind and pushed ahead as time marches on.
The book is split into two sections, “Widening Spaces” and “The Spell of the Journey.” The first opens with the ominous “Midlife, Late,” in which the speaker sees us each bracing ourselves against a door to keep out a patient line of impending losses: “Through the keyhole of the hours, / their shapes carve shadows on your floor” (11). Potos confronts the threat of her own mother’s illness, the memory of her beloved grandmother’s death, the death of her daughter’s best friend, and the prospect of sending her daughter, already increasingly distant, away to school. Sometimes, as in the beautiful “Visiting Your Child’s Chosen College,” “Worry unpeels / its wolfskin / and lies down” (20). But sometimes, grief drowns reason. In what used to be the daughter’s home, “The air is unsung with her voice” (24), and in the café where the mother goes to write, other mothers’ children are too much with her:
In the second section, Potos and her newly adult daughter take a trip to Greece, a spring break escape that is also a search for their heritage. Before we get there, however, Potos takes us to Haworth to meet the Brontës and to Emily Dickinson’s grave in Amherst, implying that these women are as much a part of her heritage as the Greek grandfather whose ruined house provides the titular stone to carry home. If we want to know people, even the dead, being where they are or have been is crucial: “You have no choice but to travel, remove time / from time, go with your self” (31). She continues this theme after Greece, visiting Van Gough’s bedroom and Les Deux Magots, a Parisian gathering place for a generation of artists, thinkers and, of most interest to Potos, a timeless staff of uniquely professional waiters.
Yet, Potos’s brief sojourn in Greece seems more important after the fact than in the moment. Of forty-two poems in the book, only six take place in Greece; an equal number explicitly recall her being there and explore the effects of that experience. After Greece, Potos finds its beauty in her sleep; she finds it easier to replace the weight of the future with memories of tranquility; she is more inclined to trust her daughter’s happiness so that her own “stalking heart” can return home (45); and, of course, she is full of new inspiration for her writing: “The words are already drafted / from another air” (46). The final two poems, “After a Transcontinental Trip” and “Lines Lifted From a Travel Journal” are both immensely satisfying, as Potos shows us travel, for all its rigors, as a means of rekindling, a way of seeing home space with new eyes, an opportunity to bring worlds vibrantly together. The spell of the journey does not dissipate with homecoming; rather, it reorients the traveler. Potos’s early focus on loss gives way to a focus on gain, and she has gained enough to give.
Potos has won a number of awards for her poetry, and its appeal is clear. She makes verse accessible with brevity, clarity, honest emotion, and one strong conclusion after another. This collection is seeded with simple recurring elements—water, bread, coffee, singing, stones, blue, red, yellow—that grow together in significance, making the poet’s world both more expansive and more intimate. The reach of this network includes the reader, and after we’ve felt gold “penetrating each cotton pore” of Yaya’s flapping laundry (42) and warmth burning through the glass of a coffee shop window, we, too, must feel emphatically that “even against pressing darkness: / There is a sun” (43).