for Maxine Kumin
A cylinder of maple
set in place, feet spread apart—
and the heavy maul, fat as a hammer
but honed like an axe, draws
a semicircle overhead and strikes
through the two new halves
to leave the steel head sunk
a half-inch in the block and the ash
handle rigid in the air.
A smack of the palm, gripping as it hits
the butt end, and the blade
rolls out of the cut. The half-logs
are still rocking on the flagstones.
So much less than what we have been
persuaded to dream, this necessity for wood
might have sufficed, but it is what
we have been taught to disown and forget.
Yet just such hardship is what saves.
For if the stacked cords
speak of felled trees, of countless
five-foot logs flipped end over end downhill
till the blood is wrung from your back
and snowbound warmth must seem
so far off you would rather freeze,
yet each thin tongue torn from the grain
when log-halves were sundered at one stroke
will sing in the stove.
To remind you of hands. Of how
mere touch is song in the silence
where hands live—the song of muddy bark,
the song of sawdust like cornmeal and down,
and the song of one hand over another,
two of us holding the last length of the log
in the sawbuck as inches away the chainsaw
keeps ripping through hickory.