from Accidents: IX. The Men There Were Then

It sounds like something that’s been
said before too many times
but I want you to know
I mean it, now, when I say
there are no men around today
like the men there were then.
You see those enormous tree stumps
with the notches in, and you don’t think.
Those were big trees.
There are no trees like that today.
We think today what we do with machines
is hard work, but our trees are tiny
and they did it all by hand.
They did it all standing on springy, narrow
boards, stuck twelve feet up above the ground
sometimes canyons below them
swinging their axes into that big wood.
To move along they’d give a hop with one toe
held under the springboard, to swing it.
Then they’d stick the axe in the wood
and stoop to reach their saws, I never
heard of one who fell.
But one time one man when he
turned to reach for his saw,
he brushed that razor sharp axe
and it slit his middle
right along the belt line for about eight inches.
It didn’t bleed so much but
his intestines came looping down like bunting.
When we came with the stretcher this man
was under the cut crouched on his knees
delicately holding up these gut loops
one by one splashing sawdust off ‘em
with water from his waterbag.
There are no men like that
around today.

:: Howard White, in Going for Coffee (1981)

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