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Vision at Woods’ Edge

ISSUE:  Winter 2005

Just a glimpse, doubtless nowhere near accurate,
through train window into the New Jersey thicket
past which we plunged in our self-absorbed hurtling
out of countryside into the urban explosion,
a mere glimpse: Farmall tractor squat on flat tires,
maybe rusted in place, three-foot circular saw
blade and log table mounted in front, and there,
running almost halfway from the edge to the center,
a crack in the steel, its ragged progress stopped
at a hole drilled, no bigger around than a dime,
yet large enough, if I step closer and look through
with one eye, to open out until I can see
the hillside above Uncle Will Smith’s, the autumn
coming on, the men gathered for a day in the woods.

You might find this hard to believe. Just listen.
Long hours and short money will pave a mean road.
They mounted that saw on the tractor and went
to the woodlot, set up in minutes, and worked
whole trees into firewood and mill logs,
two men at the saw hoisting crosscut limbs
to the bench and down onto the blade, a sharp whine
for each cut, the stove-lengths flung to one side.
At quitting time one day they noticed the crack
starting in from a notch between teeth, so took
the blade loose and brought it in to the shop.
There, next day in good light, laid it down
on the bed of the drill press and stopped the crack
with a hole right at the point where it ended.
Then back to the woods, reassembled the saw,
and proceeded as if nothing was wrong.

Stand now where Uncle Will’s pasture was,
look around at the fresh crop of houses encroaching,
and imagine, without passing judgment,
what acquaintance with firewood they harbor.
Where farm women toiled, soccer moms pool their cars,
and the skin of a pork loin is clear plastic.

Off there at woods’ edge, where the trees have come over
the old barbed-wire fence, see the dead tractor,
saw-table in place but the blade not all there,
a piece taken out of it like a generous slice
from a pie. Look briefly, but look: they say
that when that one section spun loose it halved
a man’s head as if it had been a melon,
laid it open like an anatomy textbook.
The stillness around the machine was not yet
what it is now, even after one man stepped back
to the switch and cut off the engine.
Just an eyeblink later, the abandoned tractor,
not quite vanished into this untended border,
is lifting the saw in the prayerful attitude
of a mantis, rigid enough to stop looking alive.


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