Poems by Karen Keltz
As our readings have been cancelled because COVID-19, we are happy to share three poems
from Karen Keltz. Karen was to be our writer for the March 13th reading.
GETTING WOOD WITH DAD
Wood heats twice, Robert Frost said, once chopping,
I think my math is better.
I say the memory of wood-getting
years and years later
heat once more our hearts.
On a summer's day,
wearing chocolate brown cotton gloves too big for us,
and long-sleeved shirts to save us scratches on the arms,
we ride with Dad in the old clunker pickup
with the whiskey flask under the driver's seat,
up to Mount Fanny.
Driving up a fanny makes us sisters laugh,
a joke we're sure is safe from the adult next to us,
his ears immune to silly twitter.
Dust follows us like beggars trying to join our family.
The whole valley below appears checkerboarded
between the tree branches.
Our house disappears, even the roof.
Alongside the dirt logging road
there lies a pile of slash that will keep us warm next winter
if we work for it now.
That's our first lesson:
Things desired do not drop into our laps.
The next step after wanting is
Sawdust chucks decorate the sky in arcs
as the chain saw grunts, catches, growls into action.
Insects dining on rot and human sweat join the dance.
Our slapping, no deterrent, seems to amuse them.
Chainsaw smoke stinks up the air.
After the stove-sixed cunching,
Dad wields the axe and the wedge.
The sleeves of his workshirt rolled up above his elbows,
his muscles and sinews,
say this is a man who works,
this is a man who keeps his family warm in winter.
This is what a man is.
His arms are mahogany, but we can see the glimpse of
untouched creamy skin just under the sleeve.
This is our dad, too-tough outside, but tender underneath.
We've seen him cry with his tongue pressed behind his teeth,
and we like this about him though we don't talk about it.
This is our second lesson:
People are not always what they seem at first glance.
As a section of log becomes quarters and eights,
the sweet smell of what's held secret under bark
seeps from each crackle of wedge's split.
Dad stops and blows the dust from his nose
on his big, red and black hankie.
Now comes our turn.
One girls throws, one stacks, and the pile grows
a cord at a time.
We're clumsy, better suited to the kitchen,
and Dad barks instructions.
No soft, sweet talk here.
The V's are fit into openings of the tops already packed
so that the stack won't fall over on the bumpy ride home.
The third lesson:
If we don't get it right, we do it again.
This is the only practice for the final stacking at home.
From the cooler we take a slug of water in a Mason jar,
or the battered tin cup, and feel the overflow
drip down our chins and chests into our cleavage.
Particles of sawdust cling to the wet and our lips
after we dry them on our arms.
We pee behind the trees, then resume our work.
How many cords of wood is the winter long?
Other men in old pickups full of wood drive by,
checking our handiwork.
If there are boys in the car,
we get interested and embarrassed,
our hair dusty and dripping.
Just a dog, we don't care.
The pickup bed tacked full and tight,
we head home, the landscape rising up,
trees and grass and swarming bugs, to meet us.
The dust comes too, joining the smoke from Dad's cigarette.
Our sweat dries and cools us.
Sometimes if it's a good day, we all sing.
If left to
my own devices,
I'd become a flower lady,
one of those who,
like cat ladies,
would have all kinds
of breeds and species
on counters, mantels,
backs of sofas,
on end tables,
on the window sill.
showing off their pistils,
tubers and spores
and smiling at the day.
If you came to visit,
they'd sit in your lap,
roses and dahlias,
and one little iris
to sniff and nibble
at your ear.
I find relief
In what I can count on--
wild currants flowering
their cherry, cherry-hued hello
the first guests I'm happy to see arrive.
swallows swooning, swooping in the skies
building spring homes
in the birdhouses
the golden baby-beaks
cheeping at each oval opening
the hummingbirds sucking nectar
from the honeysuckle blossoms
the bees buzzing plans in the Pieris
As it was in the beginning,
is now and forever shall be,
The Joy rains,
soothing like a warm shower
at the end of
a hard, hot sore-shoulder day.
--What I expects happens.