Cut a foot into a century tree and find a maggot who beat me there. Like a shook soda, black ants pour a fountain out of another cut. Cut the whole tree down and a twig of a limb throws off my chain. It’s not a dogwood, but the bark has a bite. We’re both bleeding from the wrists. I knew the risks. The tree, I’m not so sure. A white oak cherry poplar surprise. Sourwood, sweetgum, sassafras, sick of more. Maple a muscle. Cedar I’m sore.
I burned gas, and dripped oil, and filed down metal teeth to see where that insect was. I murdered many burglars when I tore down the house we were robbing. And I saved a tree by killing it. Given it an eternal death in preservation its hundred year form could not afford. I went to school with a beetle in its larval stage and we each learned how to lap our tongues clean through the limber heart of timber.
The infant who wrote a dissertation in his crib. I cut mine to inch and quarter floorboards. For a house that will outlive me. But me and my classmates, we’ll forever be the only ones who knew the sound it made when a hundred years of red oak tree smacked the ground and made it shake.
Birdhouses and mailboxes and bedframes and double doors. Heavy wooden portal stoppers leaned up against racks of plywood. Medium density fiberboard with a watch-face sized hole drilled in front, a short cylindrical nose pegged under that gaping cycloptic opening. Sixteen slats glued together, screwed to two belts of black metal bent in gentle bows. Hypothetically, everything in a workshop is hypothetical. Growing dust. Doors off hinges. Overflown housing. Mailboxes with no fixed address. Potential piles up. Scullery doors in the corner. Solid oak end tables crushing castor wheels.
Space. Who builds space. Not the carpenter. Not the writer. The politician. The doctor. Not the builder. Emptiness. Pure, layered, reinforced racking potential. Who prints blank books. Fills pens instead of emptying them. Who makes the makings. Doesn’t care whether or not birds ever come. Who builds little boxes that resemble houses. Who makes doors who isn’t trapped by door frames. Leaned in aisleways, stacked in back of showrooms with cardboard sandwiched between. Custom doors stacked, piled, pre-divorced from their future portals.
There are so many ways to pray, but none come close to creating space. Full pens. Empty books. Empty frames. Doors with no deadbolts drilled in them. Miniature houses, no birds. The rigid rectangles that clutch the soft shapes we sleep on. We don’t know.
We don’t know where birds will nest.
We don’t know what we’re building.
We don’t need to. It’s better that way.
Let the birds decide.
Until then, build little empty boxes.
Little board sliver slithers soft forked maple fangs into the palm of my hand.
It bit me. This thing I am ripping. Stripping.
Nibbling no more than an eighth an inch a pass.
Rabid dog mahogany.
Cherry red in the tooth.
Creamy peanut butter pine
with rotten streaks of jelly.
Forty five minutes on a sixty five year stump. Hands hurt.
Everything passes through them. Curled fingers on folded palms
grown out of vein wrapped wrists on click elbows. A stump like that,
that old, the very base of the very tall, will not part for a five pound splitter.
Barely dented. No splinter. The full abrasive weight felt sharp hard
vibrated in your hands. The stump takes none. It all falls on you.
That is five minutes in. Only you don’t know there’s forty to go
and you hurt clean up through your shoulders already.
But there is always a better tool. A heavier hammer. An independent wedge.
And a clearer head now knows the time and height and density
and fibrous energy and twisted splinter chorded towers. A mind
that now knows every one of sixty five years breaks down into hours,
and hours to minutes, and seconds begging roots dig deeper
in the earth to find good water, stumped trunk run up higher
above the heads of others in seek of weather
with lightning dentures that roll like thunder
and bring Prometheus’ fire to the forest
and burns us to make us stronger.
Never been anywhere other than the front yard of the lady
who just lost her husband, in the house up the road. Until
carried piece by piece in the back of a jeep
by the boy from down the street. Me.
Three iron wedges in and hitting it still not splitting it,
still, from the opposite side. Feeling each hit in his fingers.
Every one of sixty five years.
Each individual second within the whole of forty five minutes.
By the time you feel the full weight of time,
you’ll know, because your hands will hurt.