In truth the building was never green –
this shed where we kept our tools
along a pegboard wall, that seemed
to float suspended atop cinder blocks.
It is the blue hour of a Kentucky evening
and the approaching cold injects a sense
of urgency into the air around harvest
time. It is the end of suppertime, for some
the end of days, and here an interlude.
Younger children gather dirty dishes,
scrape what can’t be wasted; the mother
calls the dogs to the back porch for feeding time;
the eldest step out onto the blood red clay,
preparing to spend the last of sunlight
in the fields.
And the father has come
here into his darkened shed,
and taken his place on a sagging wooden
floor, beneath a stark naked bulb –
this room bathed in the aroma of sawdust
and four kinds of oil. He stands before
the grinder, wheels humming, and takes
tomahawk shaped tobacco knives down
from their hooks, and moves them
back and forth through the wailing wheel.
Sparks swarm like bees, bursting
angry from the edge of the blade,
spilling over his tar-blackened hands
before ending their short, brilliant
lives among the splintered boards.
He lets the machine work until
metal shines and when the blade shines
he hangs it and reaches for the next,
edges gleaming like a frozen
Cheshire smile in the dark.
When finished he gathers the work,
walks toward the door and looks
outside the dirty-paned glass.
We, supper settling in our stomachs,
wait beneath a maple tree for the four
knife handles in his hands, the sharp
smiles singing their sinister chimes.
He leaves the door open to the green
building – which isn’t really green –
save four specks of paint on the door’s
inner edge, sometimes seen bleeding out,
like a family secret that won’t stay put.
Sunlight leaves the woods early,
stops to rest on rimrock.
A whistle cuts gently through dry
oak branches. Cold rises. Deer,
known only by the crash of hooves
on sawtooth leaves, or a snap-
back of the witch hazel branch,
dart away from the path. Blindness
sharpens the senses at dusk.
I can track a squirrel’s location
twenty feet above my head from
its staccato claws, trace the length
of the branch that holds it.
Cold. Wind stopped. I’m left
chasing the heat, which is somewhere
still chasing the sun. And realizing
the beastly sound is my own breath,
and shadows – climbing out of the oaks.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. ~Joan Didion
For hours it seems rain beats on the shingles;
the Weather Channel radar shows a bright red beast,
amoeba-shaped and gobbling the atmosphere
before leaving a wake of wooden limbs and lawn
furniture. Smoothly it approaches the dot
that represents our family and what we, who are
busy staring, angrily, into our own devices.
For two hours nothing happens, except a waiting
for the power to blink, for blindness, for the unknown
and when it happens we’re still caught, surprised,
fumbling in the dark for candles, and where
did you put the flashlight last? Finally the hiss
of a struck match, a candle in the center of the room,
and a narrow arc of light. Gruesome shadows
cling to the ceiling waiting to drop, to devour
everything in our room. And for an hour or more,
seeking proof we exist, we become interested
in each other again; we tell each other stories,
feel the blood pushing through, the air moving
in and out of our lungs. Vibrations. We notice the foot
tapping nervously on the floor that connects us.