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.
Ira Sadoff is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently True Faith (BOA Editions, 2012); a novel; a book of critical essays; and The Ira Sadoff Reader (Middlebury College Press, 1992), an anthology of stories, poems, and essays. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tin House, The New Yorker, AGNI, The American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, he lives in Ulster County, New York. (updated 10/2018)
Sadoff’s AGNI poem “Self-Portrait with Critic” was chosen for The Best American Poetry 2002.