words: Maria Eitz

images: Christopher Duderstadt

Golden Gate park is my neighbor. Every day we spend some of the best hours in each other's company. I like it that way. There are special places in the park where thoughts grow and flower with ease. The Aids Memorial Grove is one of these, so close to my home I can walk there in five minutes as the raven flies. Thoughts gather in the grove, sometimes into prayers.
A crescent-shaped bench, at the bottom of a hill where dogwood trees grow, bends around a wide circle of flagstone paving. Nearby tall redwoods quietly hold their arms up to filter light with their fingers; they mingle colors with the gentlest wind into song.
Above the wreath of names chiseled into the center of the flagstone circle, four hundred names now - there is only sky. There will be more names. They will cover the floor. A carpet of names. I've read the first hundred many times, reciting them like lines in a poem. Now there are too many lines. They comprise a book.

Strangers come and sit on the crescent bench or on one of the boulders by the dry creek. Sometimes they speak to me. They talk to me about one name from the circle. Robert or John or Ashley or Peter. They speak of things I cannot see when I look at the name."My brother Robert took care of things, of birds with broken wings, of me and our mother. He had good hands...""John loved to cook, he used ingredients the way he used shadows in his paintings. But I wouldn't go shopping with him for anything. His pickyness was crazy-making." "Her laugh was wonderful. It would start in her eyes." "Peter, so impatient. Even as a small boy he couldn't wait. He bought me surprises for my birthday or Christmas and then he had to tell me all about them right away."
How to fit the sweep of arms, the steps and skips, the music in her heart, the sound of his voice with simple letters into stone? That is what I want to know.

Stones know. Old stones and rocks and boulders know a lot. They are keepers, holders, carriers of burdens, of weighty things as well as leaves and feathers, shadow patterns and rain. I know I left thoughts, even smiles on the rocks I sit on. Yet each time I return, I find thoughts there I did not know before. In the company of stones and boulders I see more. I hear more.
Sitting on my favorite rock, my back turned to the circle of names, holding sun on my lap, I wish for nothing more. I close my eyes to keep what there is to see outside myself. But I cannot shut off my inner ear and often I hear what is not meant for me.
I hear moans, deep rumbles of sorrow. They make me turn my head. There is a man on the bench, hunched, face curtained off by shade from the tired, wide brimmed hat. He clasps his knees. I watch as he pushes himself up with effort and shuffles slowly across the unmarked stones to the circle of names. There he stands and sways and stares at his feet. He returns to the bench and sits down. He removes the floppy hat and drops it beside him. He bends forward and his naked, hairless head almost touches his knees. He moans again.

Mesmerized against my will I watch him get up, return to the bench and sit beside the squashed hat. This time I speak to him.
"Is there something I can do for you?"
One hand falls from his knee and gropes for the grey hat. His fingers touch the hat but do not move it. "It's been done already," he mufters,"all done already."
I look at him. "What has been done already?"
He opens his eyes and looks at me. He reaches for his hat and puts it on. I can no longer see his face. He does not answer. His silence pushes me to leave. I walk away.
The man's words chase after me "Everything's done already. Somebody must think so. They've carved my name into stone, here in the circle. There's still so much to do. My life is not finished yet."
I don't know what to say to that. I walk away from him faster and faster.
Do stones know if the names they hold are finished?