By Reginald Gibbons b. 1947 Reginald Gibbons

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.

Reginald Gibbons, “Wood” from The Ruined Motel. Copyright © 1981 by Reginald Gibbons. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: The Ruined Motel (1981)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Reginald Gibbons b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Activities, Jobs & Working, Trees & Flowers, Winter, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Reginald  Gibbons


Born and raised in Houston, Reginald Gibbons earned his BA in Spanish and Portuguese from Princeton University, and both his MA in English and creative writing and his PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University.

Gibbons is the author of more than half a dozen collections of poetry, including Sparrow: New and Selected Poems (1997), winner of the Balcones Poetry Prize, and Creatures of a Day (2008), finalist for the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Jobs & Working, Trees & Flowers, Winter, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.