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A pocketful of coping stones

I struggled to find One Point of Interest in this pamphlet — there is so much here that intrigued and delighted me. But in the end, I settled on the parts of Coping Stones that made me return to it a second time, a third, a fourth.

What I loved about Richie McCaffery’s writing was the moments of comfort and reassurance so carefully woven into many of his poems.

The first is from the title poem, which is also the first in the pamphlet, where the poet describes ‘hand-hewn 18th century masonry / capping tall sandstone walls’. The second stanza drifts in the poet’s memory, revisiting foundations built from the rubble of a temple. In the third tercet, an idea strikes the poet — that ‘should these high walls fall, we could salvage / the top stonework to make a home’. The final couplet of the poem ends poignantly:

nothing could get to us
in our dwelling of coping stones.

Words like ‘salvage’, ‘home’ and ‘dwelling’ cocoon us in safety amidst the remnants of historical ruins.

I found an echo in this pamphlet of the creation of something new from something old, laying foundations from ruins. ‘The most beautiful’ begins: ‘My nephew asks what’s / the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.’ The final stanza concludes:

                   It’s hard to say
that the accidental is what’s
beautiful. That I once watched
a nesting sparrow salvage sparrow
feathers from a recent hawk kill.

This idea of ‘salvaging’ is recurrent throughout Coping Stones. Indeed, there’s much warmth in what is presented, particularly (and rather aptly) in one of the final poems, ‘Heat’, in which the poet finds a ‘fossil crinoid in a pebble’ on the beach:

                            Freezing to touch
I carry it almost until we’re back home.
Warmed by my palm, I give it to you
something primal brought back to life.

These moments are reassuring, comforting and lovely; each one a perfectly captured ‘coping stone’ of its own.

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