Hobo Stones

by Laurie Byro
Third Place, February 2021
Judged by Nicole Greaves

Hobo stones began to appear around Granny’s Farm in South Jersey.
They had memories of the men who laid them down to rest, one
on top of each other. Each one carried an intention. Property owners,
fearful of bad luck were not obliged to move them, to scare away their magic.
There were hobo stones.

One, had been bitten by a terrible black dog. For weeks, the stone bled
crimson, for days the stone burned yellow. In cold weather, the stone
ached all over, wishing for a milder winter. The stone beneath
and the stone above worried, wary the dog would again break its tether.
There were hobo stones.

There were stones the wild grasses that surrounded them hissed at.
There were hobo stones that hissed back. There were stones that tumbled
to the ground; there were stones that lost their direction. There were
hobo stones that parted their skirts and danced at the full moon. There
were hobo stones that ran to the next farm and never once looked back.
There were stones that returned home, regretting their frivolous nature.
There were hobo stones.

There were stones that sneaked into the barn and slept in the hay. There
were stones that loved to hear the lowing of the cows. There were stones
that tumbled to the gulley, then found comradery on the next wall.
There were hobo stones that guarded the children in the farm house.
There were stones that begged the beaten children to run away. There
were stones that begged the children to stay.
There were hobo stones.

There were stones that asked the other stones to play. There were stones
that begged the other stones to work. There were stones that danced
In a circle in the moonlight. There were stones that clung to each other
in the steamy summer grass. There were stones that married and moved
to the next town. There were stones that never, ever left the wall.
There were hobo stones.

Granny listened to the stones and their stories. Often, the stones
didn’t listen back, turned a deaf ear to her. As long as she lived in
the old farm house her husband had built for her, stick by stick, there
were these hobo stones. When her children grew up and moved away,
after her husband died, the hobo stones kept her company. She listened
to them while she grew old and died herself. Then they stopped talking.
Out of respect for her, they hurled their voices into the earth. But In 1915,
there may have been a million hobos and they needed to keep moving.
There were hobo stones.

Cataloguing in poetry roots the work like roots anchor a tree trunk. From here, the poet elaborates and reaches out toward new and surprising directions, but the reader has that constant foundation to reach back to, that grounding that allows us to accept the imagination in juxtaposition. It is ancient in origin and out of the oral tradition when repetition supported memory so that stories and costumes could be passed down. You can find cataloguing in the Bible and in Homer. In America, Whitman used cataloguing to conjure the connections between the self and all things, or the magnificence of the universe. There is a stream that moves or leaps as connections are made and the reader moves back and forth from the finite to the infinite. In Whitman, reading is active, like watching a sporting event. He wanted us to move with him, walking, swimming, seeing things panoramically. In “Hobo Stones,” the lives of these stones and the people they personify are catalogued and give us a sense of movement through time in that repetition of “There were hobo stones.” The images leap as the poem builds. Stones “hissed back” and “parted their skirts and danced at the full moon.” There were runaway stones and ones that returned home like after a Rumspringa, but whether they stayed or left, they always possessed a hunger. In the last stanza, we return to the “Granny,” on whose farm the stones started to appear, or were noticed. While her children moved away, the stones or her children’s spirits remained, or that is a possible sentiment. In the end, when Granny dies, the stones were silenced and moved on, evoking that reverence for our ancestors and the mysteries that are lost with them but are carried with us as myth. --Nicole Greaves