Wednesday, March 9, 2011


—For Lynn DeWitt, a distant step-cousin in law, but still family, & to Howard McCord who liked my wood post on FB, which made me look at it anew.

At the dogtail end of summer, in deep August,
when the shadows grew long thin fingers
tinged with indigo verging on violet,
an unmistakable acrid odor of red clay dust 
& bleached oat hay, announced the coming fall.

We had only the enameled Wedgewood stove.
My grannie tightened the lyre-handled bucksaw;
tumped a limb into the arms of the wooden sawhorse
that bucked & groaned as the blade bit deeper.
She raised the gnarled cross-shaped sledgehammer
& a cauliflowered wedge—tools no man wanted—
to split the fresh logs to fit the firebox.
The age-old music of the smithy's hammer & tong
flung small fireflies into the deeper shadows.
There was no one else to lend a hand:
a small child and an old woman raised
their frail shoulders against the coming winter.

One time a shim worked loose from the lever. 
As I raised the hammer up against the darkening sky
it flew off, knocked me in the head. I staggered
under the crucifying blow. Oh, my aching stars!
Glad to be alive, I kept on splitting the wood, 
for she could no longer raise the iron weight.
Bay split like butter, pine fought the wedge,
oak was the most stubborn, but it burned the best.

(not sure whether this is a separate poem or a run on poem...)

I miss the yearly ritual of stacking wood, 
the hard grunt of honest labor, sweat stinging my eyes,
the sharp tang punctuated by fresh bay & pine.
Then, measuring the bright, tawny wall of wood
in so many cord feet against the length of winter.

I miss the venial ritual of fall, the sonorous whine
of chainsaws echoing through the valley,
the careful ritual of stacking wood,
carrying the burden of ages forth 
from one generation to the next.
Then, the archaic ritual laying of the first hearth, 
the careful kindling, blowing the tenuous spark
into a tremulous ribbon of smoke.

Nowadays, people merely flick a thermostat
set the temperature gauge, heat empty rooms,
with no notion of how to keep the hearth lit. 
In the city, I never turn on the heater. 
I can't abide the industrial odor of metal furnaces.
I miss the homey blue tang of woodsmoke, 
the fierce love and combustion of wet logs
hissing a song of rustling leaves and sap 
rising up from the heartwood.

See also Kindling. I seem to return to the theme again and again.

1 comment:

A said...

I'm new to your blog and am enjoying your work, vision and stories...