How to Skim a Pebble, Chris Raetschus
Red Squirrel Press, 2017
A sense of necessity, stone by stone
Leading with the auxiliary verb ‘must’, Raetschus highlights her determination to capture memory. This sense of necessity is furthered throughout the pamphlet with various imperative phrases.
Stone features as a motif within the pamphlet. The final couplet of ‘Stonemason’, for example, unites the image of stone with the theme of preserving memory:
He is carving the figure of a woman.
Turning me into stone.
In the following poem, Raetschus takes the image further in ‘The Sanity of Stone’ with:
while he worshipped the silence,
the strength, the sanity of stone
It’s interesting to consider the suggestion here that stone, the earth, is sentient. However, Raetschus breathes life into it through her interactions, elevating stone into the sublime.
What then, does the act of skimming a pebble mean? Of throwing it into the sea? Raetschus explores this in her final and titular poem, which assumes the form of an instruction manual with the subheadings ‘What is needed’ and ‘What to do’. Again, the imperative voice returns, this time in more of an omniscient tone. It’s immediate and brings a familiar beach scene to life through enjambment and caesura:
You will need kites weaving
in the breeze, a pinch of seaweed
for flavour. Sprinkle a family
The poem concludes with the act of skimming a pebble:
Show the children how to skim,
that fine movement of the wrist,
the hardness between your finger
Here the imperative voice feels softer, finally ending with:
File everything in your memory.
Live it again in the coldness of winter.
This gentle instruction is reassuring and feels, finally, more like advice than a command.