Cutting Wood: After a Family Photograph

The rickety steam engine clatters
in a frosted hollow of southern
Indiana hills. White puffs of steam
hang above a hedgerow of bare trees
in the background. You stand there,
grandfather, the ends of your moustache
curling about the corners of unsmiling
lips, grazing at the circular saw about
to bite into the green pulp of a log.
I feel in my blood your reverence
for the medium of wood, respect
your demand for the precise cut.

For twenty-five years your son
crafted processed wood into chairs.
He still stares at the grains
in wood. Now I, who remember touching
your hand only once before you died
in my third year, sit behind a desk
and daydream of the forests which
fed that saw. Soon after you lay
in the earth, your son led me into
the woods and cupped my ears to
the leafy murmurs of shagbark hickory,
wild cherry, oak and beech. He taught
me how to kill for food the animals
that ate on the fruits of those trees.

One short summer’s work in a wood
factory still has me running my finger-
tips over the finished grain of woods
your rough saw once cut into lumber.
With your love of the precise cut,
grandfather, you would understand my
need to carve with a pen a line smooth
and delicate as wild cherry, yet tough
and durable as hickory. I glide over
the sawdust toward you, with the shadow
of the photographer caught in his picture.

:: Norbert Krapf, Finding the Grain (1977)

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