There was wood to split, pulled from the thicket
Beside the arbor. Man’s work, a man’s sweat
Wetting my clothes as I swung the hammer
Through its arc and drove the wedge deeper. Dad,
I felt you watch from the window where you
Stood the summer before while I pruned fruit
Trees. Cut it here, you had told me, and here,
Then left me to work, though I knew you watched.
Potato bugs picked and dropped in a can
Of kerosene, berries picked and waiting
In pails beside the sink, and all the time
I felt your eyes freeze me, as they do now,
The sledge lifted over my head, my arms
Straight, muscles pushing toward release.
Inside there was a fire, here a blearing
Wind. Behind your window you sipped coffee;
Here I let the work keep me warm. You watched
The pile of wood grow higher; I heard echoes
From the barn’s side keep alive each blow
So that even as I raised the hammer
To restrike, another me brought it down.
I wanted to sink into the grayness
Of winter light, disappear from your vision
And leave behind only the smell of green
Splitting logs. It wasn’t for you I came
Out, and I thought if I could lift one more
Piece of wood, I could build a wall that shut
Me forever in dusk, free from the glare
Of yellow kitchens, and your eyes behind
The pane, and then you joined me.
We leaned into the wind and built the pile,
Hearing echoes together through the dark.
Originally published in Ohio Journal, Autumn 1979
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