by Ricky DiMartino
Below old, round hill of tall oaken wood,
Cleft into its foot of sod and red earth,
A grey-walled cavern deep and dark there stood,
Arrayed with gems and jewels and ore of great girth.
Alone and untouched this cave did not stay,
For many a miner from far and near
Heard tale of lodes as long as the day,
Of gold and emerald and rubies dear.
The mine bid all to come and swing pick-ax—
Men, giants, and dwarves—amid sweat and groans.
Kings, queens, and lords spent the best of men's backs,
And peasant women clawed with calloused bones.
Then one bright, chill morning on cusp of spring
The threshold of the cavern door was breached
By a maiden with hair of golden rings.
In she walked where no wind or sunlight reached.
Above her, beside her, and underfoot
Were many stones for which men lust.
Just one small gem, if in her pocket put,
Would deliver her from a life of dust.
Candle in hand, bare feet upon dark dirt,
A sudden glimmer of gold caught her gaze.
Shuffling to its glare, something snagged her skirt.
Turning round she cast her light through the haze.
There upon the ground was nothing of note,
Save one oddly shaped, crusty lump of clay.
Nothing would draw any soul to its coat,
Yet from her eye came a curious ray.
With lamp by her feet and hand outstretchéd,
The lass bent low to examine the clump
Of ugly, hardened, broken earth wretched.
And whilst in study hearts began to thump.
For reasons not even her mind could guess
This object of no desire had found
Its way into the pocket of her breast.
And out she walked from the cave underground.
Townspeople and passersby looked askance
At this fair maiden with nondescript orb.
Yet if one caught glimpse of her eyes, by chance,
One would see what this girl sought to absorb.
For in her heart she sensed there could be more
To this plain chunk of mud crumbling apart.
She was determined to get to its core
And someday, perhaps, unearth its true heart.
To her small humble stone cottage she fled,
Just on the border betwixt town and wood,
And with each swift, quickening step she bred
A thought, a fancy... a dream of what could.
Through cottage door she burst, clutching hard rock.
Forgoing all past, she began at once
To scrape away by finger and by block
The grit and the grime through grimace and grunts.
But unforgiving was its filth and crud
And fast to the clod of clay they did cling.
Thin did patience wear 'mid many a thud.
Fiercer tool was declined lest gem she sting.
Set upon her task as waves upon shore,
She beat earth with renewed vigor and joy.
And as sediment heaped about the floor,
Expectation and hope failed to cloy.
Wonders were imagined and hopes were sown.
What could lay underneath the ugly smut?
Sapphire, emerald, or onyx stone?
Surely much labor would yield precious gut.
But the blossom and bloom of spring did pass,
As oft they do in seasons of great trial.
And into a woman grew the sweet bonny lass,
A woman bitten hard by winter and denial.
Housework neglected and garden long dead,
Thoughts of ill spent time stirred up weary fears.
For life lived between but table and bed
Left little food for the hard coming years.
Prudence and patience no more in reserve,
Down with hachet of steel she struck,
To get at this thing gnawing her nerve,
To divide its marrow from the muck.
And as she cut deep and carved many a chunk,
Hewing and sculpting, leaving no dark blot,
Something was wrong; in fact, it plainly stunk.
It became not sweet but wreaked of foul rot.
A fungus it had, coursing through and through.
She nearly threw the thing out the window
But something stayed her hand and then she knew,
Into the blast furnace it now must go.
And char it she did and char it some more,
Refining and purging night and day,
Until blight and blemish were seen no more
And long-sought jewel might shine forth from burnt clay.
But much scorching left it with coat of ash.
All it was now was cinder and black soot.
Against hard stone wall the rock she did dash.
Then, to be sure, she kicked it with her foot.
Her endeavor had lasted long, too long.
And yet the stubborn clod refused to yield
To her tireless striving, brave and strong.
So out she walked to bury it in the field.
The long years had been inclement and grey,
“With nothing,” said they, “to show for her toil.”
So here she knelt on this cold autumn day
To dig a hole and damn it below soil.
But as she clawed the tough earth up and out,
Her grief and stress became too much to bear.
Looking up at darkening sky with doubt,
She collapsed upon the ground to die there.
The ashen clump fell, no more in her grip...
But there came one last smite upon the stain.
And with the thunderclap that loosed the drip,
She saw now at last what had been her bane.
For as Heaven's shower washed o'er the stone
And the last stains drained away to the north,
She raised her head to behold the unknown.
And a diamond, the king of jewels, showed forth!
Of all the stones under the oaken hill,
To have at the last found the best of gems
Was vindication that left her most still.
Her rejoicing was heard on down the Thames.
Her soul light but her body frail, she rose
For one last journey across this sad earth.
With her precious diamond in hand, she chose
To give the needy great treasure and mirth.
Finally she passed into well earned rest.
She had given her life for this one ore,
That in the end, when complete was her test,
This rock might be of some worth to the poor.
The vast masses that had long scorned and mocked
Were now in awe and marveled at her wake,
Scarcely believing that among them had walked
This woman, immortal jewel of Heaven's make.
*Dedicated to all wives.
(C) August 21, 2017
(C) August 21, 2017