Joanne M. Clarkson

Contest Winner - 1st Place

Joanne M. Clarkson’s fourth poetry collection, Believing the Body, was published in 2014 by Gribble Press. She was awarded a 2014 GAP grant from Artist Trust to complete her next full-length volume. Joanne’s poems have appeared recently in Rhino, Nimrod, Blood and Thunder: Musing on the Art of Medicine and Saranac Review. She serves on the Board of the Olympia Poetry Network and is Poet-in-Residence for the Northwest Playwrights’ Alliance. She has a master’s degree in English and has taught but currently works as a Registered Nurse. See more at

The Stone Masons

Not out of faith, but stone. Two men,
atheists both, built the town’s
church. Rock rivered
to the smoothness of loaves. Heft
and sweat. The mortar.

This was no
cathedral. No tower for bells. No crimson
or indigo windows. In those hard times
they toiled for food alone and a place
to sleep where silence breathed
its deep calm. They seldom spoke,
yet there was always communion
between them. July sun
called the house of god upwards
though neither of them believed; the war
had been too hard.

They married
sisters. Lived in the city. And after
one of them lost his mind, the other
sat daily at the bedside, accepting,
while the women prayed. He recalled
then some remnant of Bible lore
from childhood when Christ, fasting,
was tempted by the Devil
to turn rocks into bread.
And he had refused. Let stones

be stones, indifferent to weather,
worship, what breaks a man and what
builds him.

‘The Stone Masons’ is a true poem, one of the few I have written about my grandfather. During the years that I was about 12-14, he was institutionalized for severe dementia. I remember my grandmother praying and crying in a very dramatic way. But my great-uncle, her sister’s husband, who had been his life-long friend, came daily and just sat by his bed. Last year on a trip, we happened to pass by the small town where my grandfather and Uncle Ted had lived as young men. I remembered a story from my childhood about how they had built the stone church there although neither of them was ever religious. (They were both masons by profession.) After going there, I felt I knew my grandfather a little better. As often happens, writing begets understanding and forgiveness.