A Stout and Unflagging Woodsman

Hardcore Carbo Loading, photo: mattagogo via Flickr
Hardcore Carbo Loading, photo: mattagogo via Flickr

“An international team of experts has flown to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to try to recover two highly radioactive nuclear batteries that were found by woodsmen near a mountainous region.”

New York Times, January 2002

The growl of cold air before sunrise says to pull
buttons quick to button holes. Layers of thick wool,
our wives dress us right, fill our stomachs full
of hot grain, cooked slow as on those early school
mornings when we were young. My brother’s bowl
will empty first, refill twice. The women lull
our boy-calves to sleep, then wave us bulls
to distant forests for two days to cut wood. Tools

sing in our four gloved hands as we chop trees, travel
through dense growth. We live for this. Axes never dull,
we anticipate each day. Snowshoes etch their jewels
on white dust, raised and catching light. Soon hours mull
colors of dusk onto our tired faces. We huddle
together for warmth but cannot sleep. Even a skull
feels cold in this frigid landscape. Sergei walks out, calls
my name, points to where the snow now puddles

a hundred steps away. Those cans must be full
of hot oil, he guesses, though we’re not sure all
that means. We tie firm logging ropes to pull
the shapes toward camp. We hope they’ll
share their heated breath, keep our bodies still
until we wake to fly inland like gulls
we saw by water once as boys. Instead, hulls
replace our stomachs, rocking, heads aswirl.

We call to one another, Mother, anyone who’ll
hear us cry. What are these objects? Were we fools
to take them for our own? Before they came, a scowl
of cold was all we feared. Shared prayers now fill
our reddening hands, sour throats. And God will
try to hear us, hold us close, until dawn scrolls
her burning grace across this pall
to bear us home.

What the Woodsmen Found, Janice Dabney

Let it be known that Matt F’n’ Wallace is a woodsman who uses his eternal turgor in the interests of science, and I cannot express higher approval than I bestow upon him for this. That is all.

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