Wilson’s School, Wallington, Surrey
At a time when a good friend and I lived
Together in a half-ramshackle cottage
He thought to chop, for firewood, the birch
That held court in the semicircular garden.
The owner had mentioned the tree amid the sod
Of the soil, and that he’d cut it come spring and sprinkle
The mulch from the leaves to fertilise his flowerbeds,
So my friend was not bound by conscience from taking the ax,
And nor did circumstance still his swinging blade,
Him remarking, – gosh, it’s dry today,
How lucky! I sat with tea and a book
In the cottage’s kitchen, and watched him chop the birch.
He pared the thinner branches, those that he
Could reach, and set about the silver trunk
With his ax. He swung, and a notch of thin wood
Lodged itself in his eye. At his screech
I came running. We rinsed it from his eye,
And he blinked, but the soft skin around his eyeball
Flared red and wet. He chopped some more,
And maybe I saw a slice of fury that lay
Behind his usefulness. The tree toppled,
Was caught between the crook of some huger tree
And the wall. He brought it out, and worked at the branches,
Borrowing my gloves as his had worn to threads.
He severed those gloriously patterned branches
From the tree’s core, and brought one inside. I held it
And felt the surface with my fingertips,
Free of calluses, then set it back
Among the stout pile of logs outside the door.
Come evening I ordered Chinese over the phone
And saw him kneel before the fireplace.
He pushed the kindling into cradles of book-paper
And popped them in the stove. A spark, and flames
Were kissing against the pig-iron walls.
– Now where’s that log I brought inside, he wondered.
Don’t claim I feigned ignorance, I did forget,
Then recalled, – I left it with the logs outside. He gasped
And I heard, as if I were waking, the rain splinter
Against the windowpanes. He rushed outside,
And the log he came in holding was black with rot.
But he laughed, – no worries! The wood’s barely wet!
And knocked his knuckles on the birch, tock,
Tack. – Sound! He knelt. – Hold this, would you?
And he handed me the ruined log, turning
Toward the stove, as though he knew but wouldn’t
Bear to see the wood disintegrating,
The black mould spilling over my hands.
I waited for my friend to turn around.
© Lewis Harrington, 2015
- Date May 14, 2015
- Tags 2015 Cells - Winning Poems