Felling the Tree
by Hastings Hensel
Each ring a year we cut into, open up,
hacking back every hour the decades.
We keep on, stroke after tiring stroke—
wedge, push, cuss, talk about chainsaws
that would show the tree’s history
as cleanly as a timeline in a textbook.
What makes us want to labor in camp—
an afternoon through blisters, bees, heat—
for a climax so brief? Half an hour in,
and what? We chop through to 1998:
Sosa homering, McGwire homering,
James Byrd dragged through Texas
by four white men in a pickup truck,
and the two of us, fifteen, learning how
to unclasp our girls’ padded bras
in empty dugouts on a Friday night.
It is concentration honed by the blade,
and these damp chunks of brown wood
that splay out like seconds with each chop.
Tell me, friend, what hard knot keeps it up?
Why does this hemlock not fall down
until your last tragic swing of the axe
and the quick, loud crash of a thing
the same dead age as our grandfathers?
Tell me again what we are left with
but a stump, some kindling, the half-life
of a life? We are left with our voices
drifting like ash by the necessary firelight.
Hastings Hensel lives in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, and his writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Shenandoah, Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Hopkins Review, The South Carolina Review, James Dickey Review, New South and others.