The Staircase Of Noble Wood

deserted mine

There wasn’t enough cash left to get two cans of high temp paint to spray the woodstove black. It’d have to do to let it burn through the winter this time, grimy and rusty in spots. Next year will be better. And the switched out pair of snows had just enough tread hopefully to pass inspection if he did it one or two months earlier than the windshield sticker said to in February when by then making it up the hill would be impossible and down’d be deadly.

Fortunately, the cat wasn’t balking at dry food which per pound per meal was much less change to spend than can after can, even by the case, of wet. She’d gotten used to the dry crackle of kibbles in between her teeth, mushed in with a little wet around sundown when she’d come inside for the last time before nightfall. And the cat purred anyway so long as she was treated kindly stretched out on his chest, or balled up on the colored striped blanket folded on the corner of the bed.

He’d go about his business, felling standing timber, cutting it up, and buying a new chain now and then when the spare broke, as happens from time to time. And then the rest was split by hand which, as work, is a decent way of forgetting everything. Making firewood is a good way to live. It takes only calmness, focus, steady breaths, and enough strength to lift a maul above the head before the grace of Earth’s gravity lends her own hand to travel swiftly down between the seam unseen to the human eye.

Maybe one day his name would be posted in the middle pages of the local newspaper with all the others whose land and homes were in arrears. But that could be some time yet. That could be some time before the sheriff came. Things by then could change, maybe for the better, maybe not. Years back, when he was rich, he’d had a lawyer who’d gibed, “You can’t squeeze blood out of turnip.” So to turn turnip, so to turn rock. There never was shame in being poor.

For gifts, he’d give away a pretty enough feather he’d find (or had found) lying somewhere in the woods. A first edition of The Lives of Cells, by Lewis Thomas, would be nice from his bookshelves. A diamond unearthed from the great days swinging a sledge at Herkimer would please him immensely, too. There were enough rocks and minerals and handfuls of Apache tears to give away to others for years.

A Birthday Prayer

frozen gap

Winter is coming, and my tires are very thin. Lincoln’s bushy hairline barely clears the tread when I push a penny in. The cloves I planted on Columbus Day, the scapes they might by springtime’s greening be trimmed back, and grown to bulbs of garlic by July. So much is uncertain, while others are too clear: through ignorance, malice, and folly I lost the woman I love.

Through hours of stacking and tarping down, I ought to have enough wood to last me, to be just warm enough. I know for some there are the famed Snows of Kilimanjaro. But for me, I had just as soon be lost in an Irish public house, drinking and muting myself, guilty as a Christmas ghost. What it were to be a little kinder in my past. We, too, had quarreled though it never made time pass. It only made me brutal, recalcitrant, and increasingly deaf.

It made me care more and more about the fistful of coins I had left in my glove-box, and whichever rows I had of withering corn to get me through it. I became rustic against my own good and yours. O, these things, this blank apostrophe, are far from me now, and just like all the light, carefree change I once had tossed into the great River Danube, today’s lost treasure is become a heavy sunken thing to me.

The golden coy fish I have seen a-swimming in the bluestone opening in the hidden woods, to know their muddy bodies are safe there later on throughout the coldest months ahead is no little human comfort. And if I am graced to make it ‘round the snowy corners for the getting of a loaf of bread and chicken, and you are blessed with enough darkened morning peace without me, may it all to have been plenty.

Gentle Goes The Day, And Gentle Goes The Night

There are so many things when I am walking that I no longer touch. I may see a leaf or I may see a stone, and these objects in the woods are so lovely I want to take them home. But I have learned to keep my hands still at my side. I have learned to see with my mind better, and look with my eyes. Even dead forked sticks that have fallen from far above, once I had sought to clean them up as I might clean up debris. But these suspended branches are really just hanging there in balance for a time. Nobody could position them as they are. Human hands are really no good for this. Instead, how long will this be so? Instead, what breeze is that? Instead, what life will bring a man at times to walk like this, and what events befallen him just as softly, gently sometimes to his knees?

Fallen Autumn Beauty

fallen autumn bird

Time ago it was he had said to his father, “You fail me yet again.” And the father looked around at all the leaves of all the basil plants, all of them a foot taller than his son was then, all having blackened overnight. He had meant to let them grow. He had meant to let them reach their fullest height. He had meant to harvest the leaves when they were at their plentiest. He had done this before. He had done this before that. The point was in planting the basil, and so much of it, to make homemade pesto. But the putting off of collecting the leaves until October allowed the chill of one night alone to ruin the crop, and the boy just pointed out as a boy will do his dashed hopes in his father, a man he so deeply believed in. Since then, the father never failed once to harvest the basil when the leaves were ripe. The yearly stores of pesto, which the two ate fresh, and which in small plastic containers the father froze, they enjoyed over the years, summer after summer. These yearly gardening successes continued. Many other things were allowed to wither. Many other things blackened, some of them overnight, some of them over an entire season, some of them took years of time. When the father himself had been very young he traveled the world and took with him a handful of paperback books, one of them belonging to his own father. He kept close to himself this line inscribed upon his heart from one—“More mischief comes into the world through misunderstanding and neglect, rather than malice or wickedness; the latter two, at any rate, are rarer.” I can’t today say a thing about the ashes of the living, but I know a thing or two about blackened leaves of the dead. And if there is a remaining sorrow in my bones, that grief must be for a little bit of green innocence my wishes for the future had left behind there.