My Father’s Axe and Other Poems

Boundaries

Lucy, boundaries might be made
of Roman stone walls or hedges, but they’re boundaries
all the same. I would walk through
the English fields in winter and my feet sank
with each step. Mud, grass, sheets of leaves –
all the way down to their fossilized ancestors –
no backbone, no bedrock, nothing firm beneath.
Mist haloes even my fingertips, even now.

You asked why I let men do what they do to me:
a sheen of moss covered everything that lived
in the shadows. In the village pond
the ducks never stopped chattering. Night thickened fast
but men never scared me so long as the ducks
were talking to one another, slapping the water
and becoming hysterical over nothing. Yes, in winter
the trees looked like claws reaching out to grab me,

but when it was dark, the ducks’ voices carried
far enough to reach my ears. I tried once to touch one,
to bring it to my chest, to hold onto it,
but it sped away so quickly I wondered if it had ever been there
at all. The boundaries are the only firm thing there.
I’m just trying to grab onto something, Lucy.

 

 

 

Lucy

[1]

What does no sound like when it rumbles within
a girl’s chest? Does it bang its tin cup against her ribs
the jolt of which forms her lips into the mistaken O?
Does it hang its N like insomnia from the lungs’
branches? Does it gallop through every chamber
and add a link to its chain for each empty room,
each deaf ear? There is a lifetime of mire for a no
to breach to make a sound though it waves its bloody flag
in her retreating pupils, under her flailing fingernails,
between her trembling toes.

[2]

He might have said something to Lucy after
the kiss, after he found her alone in the old barn
after he wrapped his fingers around her wrists
like thicker twist ties her mother kept in a kitchen drawer,
after he grunted into the wind of her hair.

[3]

She only made it to the birch tree
that looks like a woman picking up her child,
the one at the end of the second bend in the river –

[4]

She told her soul
find a place
like in her mother’s
Eckancar stories
while his god stared
from behind the clouds.

[5]

They re-baptized Lucy at sixteen
in a red plastic pool bought at Walmart
for $9.99. On the altar of the corner
Baptist Church, she wore nothing
beneath the white gown. The pastor touched
the small of her back and one shoulder,
collapsed her into the cold water.
Gray ladies gasped. Water fell
over the edge. Lucy stood, bore
the brown center of her breasts and the lower V
pews of men couldn’t help but see.

 

 

 

My Father’s Ax

My father’s ax boomed its staccato in the backyard
only yielding to the metallic punctuation
of the ax back hammering a splitter for those extra
thick logs. I’d gather the pieces to stack
in his perfect box cross patterns, log towers he’d reinforce
with long thin chips splintered and scattered on the torn lawn.

Inside only my mother cleaved us, her dichotomous
moods, my father’s thickening silence, his rough hands
dipped in the ash bucket next to the fireplace
where his kindling rested, unlit. He taught me
to stack it in the stove just so, a great empty space
in the center like a gutted home so the flames could breathe,

a noiseless void to provoke the burning. He let me
light the crumpled paper and the kindling popping
sounded like the ax’s chopping, like the beer can tab’s
crack and sigh, my father’s mouth too full to stop her
talk, to tell anyone anything of what holds
a being together, what good comes from stacking
a meticulous pile that won’t blow over in just any storm.