Woodsmoke darkens the valley where I live,
and too many men have let their minds wander
off the bridge that binds one mill town
to the next. I’m afraid I can’t keep up
this unrelenting gloominess, though I fear
for friends who can’t afford the proper dress
for winter. I expect to get older, I expect
a cruel country to divide me from the countryside.
So I can’t explain my care for flimsy birches,
a sudden maple grove or the neglected path
where I find a neighbor chopping wood. Last year
his father lost his pulping job and disappeared.
Today he hacks away the alder growth to cut
good burning woods, oak and ash: he’s made
a clearing of his anger and his grief.
I surprise him, the way September snows surprise
the hungry wren, the way forced idleness
surprises any working man. The moment matters.
I want to say, deprived of solitude, we exchange
glances and are consoled. But it’s snapping cold
and the wall of green wood’s stored for another winter.
I put my hands in my pockets. He keeps on chopping.
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