Poetry at Sangam



FIREWOOD by Jim Schley

Poplar splits slippery clean once a maul finds its route through the log, massive and moist like hard cheese. White ash splits suddenly down vertical grain while sugar maple recoils sidewise across the saw cut, knotted whorl that spiraled as it grew. Every wood has its way against the blow, each its jacket and body: Black cherry, sheathed in cracked leather. Hornbeam in a hair shirt. White birch as flaky as the flesh of certain fish.
            Not fond of chain saws, I’d rather pay for bucked stove-lengths or trade my time splitting the logs felled by a neighbor for the three cords we need.


Set eight or ten upright then take them at a cadence. Split steadily, without struggle. A six-pound maul-head is heavy enough, centrifugal force does your work. Handle raised like a banner pole, effectively resting, then let that steel wedge drop as if it were a whip lashed out and down, straight through the log to bury its edge in the block below. A second before the head strikes, imagine the wood fibers parting and opening, then watch this occur into four or five sections, like a spread blossom or quartered slices of fruit.
            The heat embodied within, when put to flame — our many months of warmth, nourishing as the carrots and potatoes laid by in the cellar.


South Main Street, the Dorchester road, Route 10, Norford Lake Road, Route 122 on the Glover Heights, Union Village Road, then up Alger Brook Road on our spur knick-named Green Dolphin Street, now known as Blue Moon Road — through six moves in twelve years, I stacked wood in sheds, garages, dooryards, under eaves; stacked with parents, room-mates, girlfriends, house guests, and now my wife. At the home we’ve built ourselves the woodshed is sited beside a path from the driveway, rising rows of circular log-ends to the left and to your right the ground dropping off to garden, berry patch, and chicken-run then rising in tiers of conifers and hardwoods as we look east toward the Connecticut River, round-flanked serpent of fog dividing Vermont’s layered green swathes from the further-off blue, New Hampshire’s westernmost slopes and peaks.


Chickens scuffle and carouse underfoot despite the smack and rupture of the maul splintering logs. In early fall, stacking the last of our split wood we hear geese—far off, closer, then gone to Maryland’s outstretched estuaries. One afternoon a goshawk on a pine branch surveyed our yard like a passing feudal lord, grand gray raptor as tall upon the bough as the distance between my elbow and upraised fingertips.
            Worry — and work. Without that effort, hours and hours, felling and splitting, loading and hauling then stacking, come winter we’d freeze: stunned to the bone marrow, our lungs a crystallized lace. Winter forever coming on. Yet the black steel box of the woodstove will be the pulsing, radiant heart of our home.