Father, His Friend, and Another

Father’s friend Ray at the planing mill
worked wood the color of afternoon air,
curls of it clasping everything there—
like the legs of the saw that mumbled at first,
and then the white shriek through birch.

While the two talked I felt the boards,
yellow and smooth, and uncurled rolls
of handshaved pine, put them like rings
around my arm to wear them home.
My father said, “Sure, leave them on.”

As we started for home Father told me
that another man when they were all young
was close to them, and they sang in church.
When the other man died Ray ran out
to the country and hid, from grief—two days.

I remember that clutch, and I wave again
back through the sun at Father’s friend.

:: William Stafford, in Brother Songs: A Male Anthology of Poetry (1979)

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