Think of caves. A pit that goes down, or in; some long throat. Dark and murk and small cracks, like eyes, that run to the surface and let out moisture. Now add shafts: the caves have become quarries. A slight moderation that changes the nature of a thing. On the island of Paros, in Greece, much of that stone’s early use formed winding streets, blind alleys, to confuse marauders, provide corners where islanders could dump on them burning oil. Pirates would attack villages on islands like this and then leave them. The island’s marrow protected itself. I remember some oral history of a ship that ran aground during war times, with no way to leave, then. They said the pirates assimilated and lived with the people there. How much ease or unease there was, I cannot say. To live next to the mothers whose sons you have killed. The nature of many things change.
Walls made of marble will gutter a candle when walking too near the hard surface. There is a sheen up to the depth of a quarter an inch in good stone; eye to the edge, test it yourself, and for that measurement it only looks like glass.
That time in Greece, a sprawling epoch. That place that I, as many others, fell in love with; also there that I fell in love; yet I can conjure a memory’s entirety by imagining only my hand on that flat stone.
In one of the bare rooms, I saw a desk against a window and a straightened bed, the room of writer that lived there, and taught, and he said, “Once from one of my books I made so much money I thought I’d never know what to do with it. Somehow all I have left are a pair of jeans.” Looking on that room, like the room of a monk, the marble of it reflected the man’s image and mine as if they were the same thing, and I knew then I would be a writer.
With others like me, students there, I walked up lots of steps to the Frankish Castle. It was made from various pillars and pilings, disjointed shapes of other marble stones, around 1200 AD. Stones from older ruins of temples across the island. In a class, we were asked, what is it to conquer? And we replied, It is to build my temple on the ruins of your temple. The Frankish Castle looked ancient, as bones look ancient. Also yellowed, and as of a warning.
There was another church made of marble, and also stucco, with a wood bolt and rusted iron lock over it, where they said some students snuck away once at night to be together. Pretty things in the dark that were not praying. They were caught by an island policeman with his flashlight, and it was only by the school director intervening that they were not deported then and there. And probably only because this church was not as important as another. Though the story may not have been true, and only meant to scare.
One of my friends took photographs of the paint, and paper, peeling off stucco houses and alley walls there. The curling in the images looked like continents, maps to unknown places. Places not of this earth. Photos like that could only be taken of stucco, because marble never changes.
I fell in love and the from the way we talked, on marble steps ever winding on the isle, I thought it would always be, but the human heart changes.
In the courtyard in ceremony, they revealed a bust of marble of the ancient poet Herodotus, who lived from 484 to 425 B.C. He was from that island, and by some he was considered a coward because at a battle on Turkish shores, he turned and left. Put down that heavy spear. But that writer that I knew said, “Poets always put the truth of their hearts above their country.”
You know this to be true if you have ever left and looked on another place and felt a stirring that it was not your country.
Though we imagine marble as smooth, the shapes it is cut into can have edges, or wear gradually over time. I lied about marble never changing. Imagine bricks on a street. I fell down upon these once because of an overzealous dog, thinking it was playing, by jumping and biting and pulling at my clothes and bag. Really it was more like attacking. An old woman came out from a house and shouted at it and I took it to be her dog. When it tired of its mean game, she beckoned me over and warbled in that harsh and intriguing Greek tongue. I understood only something that sounded like a treatise of the animal’s nature, and that I should come over sometime for tea. I said Efkharisto, thank you, but Oxi, no, I had to leave, and thought at her, to myself, while looking on small welts of blood, Control your dog.
Marble does not have to be controlled. Marble is the master of its own stilled doom. It went through fires once and since then, the world has been one long scene. We, people, are to it as uncontrolled ghosts. Flicker and then gone. No explanation to the stone. We are the ghosts that dance, so temporal to that crust of earth, that dance on what has risen out of brine and sea. Cracks in us, too, that rise to the surface and let out moisture. When my ferry left, when I saw the shape of the island receding for the last time, I knew it to be there, to exist forever, and I felt I was the one disappearing. I’ve not been able to shake that thought.
About the Author: Caitlin Palmer writes about wanderlust, malaise, and decay. She has work at DIAGRAM, Under the Gum Tree, Midwestern Gothic, and others. She's been nominated for Best of the Net, shortlisted for the Redivider Blurred Genre Contest, and included in an anthology of Idaho writers. She's pursuing her MFA at the University of Idaho, where she is the Fiction Editor of Fugue and the program's Hemingway Fellow. She’ll be querying the stories we tell ourselves about the earth and our place on it by reading from her fiction at an international conference for literature and the environment, this summer.