Titling Them


He carves the sandstone bases of the bluffs
on the Nebraska side of the Missouri,
following an abandoned railroad track
across the fields to where a path descends
to ease him zigzag to the river bottom.
He turns on the trail leading through foliage,
says, “Feels like walking in a church down here.”
Says he prefers a putty knife to carve
because it keeps its edge against the stone
better than your ordinary knife.
Says this is how he occupies himself
now that he’s retired from carpentry
and hauling pilings up and down the river—
this, and his botany, his love of weeds:
says that he’s logged almost 300 kinds.
Keeps track of the carvings, too, by titling them.
This, now, his Genie of 12 Hollow,
the letters raised above a smoothed-off scrape
in high relief and painted green and yellow,
so different from the local rough incisions,
the Kilroy generations of graffiti:
it shows a genie half emerged from stone,
face, feet, and belly, hands turned palm upward,
with large gold coins cascading down from them
as if the entrance to a robbers’ cave
had suddenly solidified again.
The genie, too, is painted, also green,
red polish on his toenails, two rubies
dangling from his pointed ears, and he wears
a headdress with a gold band and a ruby
set smack in the middle. Our artist guide
leans up against the stone, left hand above
the genie’s head, and his wry smile is proud.
He tells us now that farther up the trail
we’ll come across his own favorite carving,
based on local legend, a campfire tale:
his Lady with a Golden Arm, which shows
a tombstone and a scattered skeleton,
about a woman buried and dug up
for the treasure of her arm. “Can’t miss her,”
he says, “as long as you stay on the trail.”
He turns and leaves us, stooping some way back
beside some weed in flower along the path,
in what would make a good pose for a carving.