Edge of the Axe

(a postponed revision of “The Carpenter” from 1966)


I grew in the roots all winter,

wine waiting to rise;

I mellowed in wood till you made me see

the luxury of chair and table

set in a frozen skeleton of maple.

So seeing, I cut and killed the tree.

You made what you wanted

and we moved on.


I swam in a rolling tide of pine.

All the coniferous, brittle

turpentine trees

breathed into me

spirits of ordinary needles.

Then you began to see

how broad pine beams

build structure into dreams.

Again I saw timbers

toppled and trimmed,

treated for use.


Then I spoke in the oak’s rough tones,

grumbling green solidity.

I grew tough,

drew up gnarled and huge.

But soon enough

hard floors and solid stairs

called for the oak, broken and cut.

You cancelled the monument,

moving on.


Kneeling about the base

of a towering cypress temple

tended by storks and egret priests,

I needed to grow to know the grace,

the grand patience of that place.

I rose to an insular spike of pride,

mystical spire spun with thin green,

when again at the edge of understanding

you stepped away and wanted

weatherproof wood

so your structures would stand

when you moved on.


Save me the still willows,

silent, to wait on.

Stay, let me sit a while,

shifting and watching,

sifting my will

slowly away.



(22 July 1975 — a good example of ruining a poem by revision?)

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