Bunyan’s Chores, A First Fancy:
Ax in Hand.
Perhaps you learned of Paul Bunyan from stories in books mother-read or father-read at bed-time, in rainy-day books you read to yourself, or by pass-the-time tales when in-the-car with family. Perhaps you stood in the shadow of a gargantuan Bunyan statue, or rode on the wide back of Babe the Blue Ox and there learned how Babe came to be blue. Or, perhaps you are a tree-chopper who in fire-light’s glow tells tales of the day’s battle with an army of giant pines, a tall-tale that honestly grows inch-by-mile into truth. We all seek for truth, we all share stories, we all look up to the vanishing, manly men.
As for myself, I met the hero, Bunyan, when winter-running long-deep in the snow beneath the towering pines of the Northern Forest, and would not have noticed him but for the floating-cloud of breath-steam that through pine needles magically appeared. Cloud-encompassed, I paused, looked about and there through snow-heavy trees discerned two large blue eyes, icicle-clear, measuring me. Well, I did as you would when alone in the wood on a snow-crystal-day, breath-fog-paused by a bearded, tree-hunching giant who ice-eye stares straight into you … yes, of course: I said to him, “Hello.” friendly like. The giant nodded. “Mr. Bunyan?” I asked. Again, the nod, this time tinctured with a rosy-cheeked, fine-toothed, grizzly smile. “Nice to meet you, sir.” I said, “Fine day.” In a whispering bellow alike the low roar of a leaf-stirring frigid Sunday-morning squall, he returned, “God’s glory.” I nodded twice, then quickly I paced along my way through fresh-clean-snow, and he went along his, I suppose.
Many years ago, forty, I guess, long before the classive revival, when all poetry that might be found was found on progressively aging paper, I from nature began to compose verse. You might remember those progressive days, those first days of plastic Apples when all that could be done with the things was to play Pac Man and other time-eating games. “Betterment, self-improvement, progress”, we were told. Alike you, I was told many things. I cannot know how you came by yours, yet, my computer was given me by a friend who hoped I would find a future in technology, in science, and in forwardism, a future where Skinner-like I would be trained to push button-keys with more than one finger. Neither the training, nor the Apple, nor the ten finger practice survived that month of enthusiasm for dot-swallowing Pac Man.
An yet, In time, in technology, into the gelded, digital world I entered, rope-dragged and resisting, and here among the vacant wood-less paper I found other, former woods-runners who, alike me, were writing verse. One such, Arthur Mortensen, was among those who founded a movement in poetry … no, not a thing alike a bowel movement, that thing which most modernist, progressive-art-movements are, but a classive returning, wholesome and fulsome. In fact, Mortensen and other poets turned in disgust away from progressively narrow, progressively disgusting movements, and turned toward the light, toward liberty, beauty and the good, expanding into narrative verse, an expansion of poetry named … well … Expansive Poetry. Perhaps you know expansive poetry; if not, you can find it, here, Expansive Poetry Online.
Just now, I do not remember if my first Bunyan poem was by Arthur published; if it was, credit goes to him. If not, here you will find “Ax in Hand”, a narrative, jejune verse composed before I discovered poets who alike me had abandoned old progressivism to return to classive modernism, the goodness and the light. Here, now, my one button-pushing finger copies-and-pastes for you an early, honest, narrative verse true to our American tradition:
Ax in Hand
THE WOODSMAN is a manly man
Who works all day with ax in hand
A-chopping trees to board and lath
In all the woods across the land.
He wears a shirt of colors plaid;
He wears suspendered denim pants;
He wears stout gloves upon his hands:
The woodsman is a manly man.
And when he works he has to sweat,
And when he sweats there down his neck
Run twigs and sawdust, dirt and nicks
That scratch his thickly muscled back.
“Timber!” the call that echoes through
The forest where the redwoods grew
Proud children of a Primal God
Who forced upon the fertile sod
The lusty passion of His seeds
That Mother-Earth in zeal could feed,
Could give a Race of Giants birth,
The proof that God once loved the Earth.
On “Timber’s!” echo follows quick
The bellow of a broken bark
Twisting with a creek, then “Pop!”
The body of a giant drops,
From the heights of heaven’s edge
Onto the ground where she lay dead,
Dead and heavy on the earth,
Dead and broken in the dirt.
And all around her siblings stood,
Sentinel soldiers made of wood
Who will neither weep nor moan
Keeping silence in root and cone;
Besides, a flood of resined tears
Cannot stop the ax they fear;
The ax they fear cannot be stopped
With tears or pleas that pity drops.
Again the woodsman’s Mighty Ax
Rises to the skies, then “whack!”:
Remorseless to the murder done
Ax shows itself before the sun,
Ruthless high in singing glee
Cuts through the air into a tree
Where the razor edges bite
Hungry for another life.
Again and again the woodsman’s Ax
On fleshy bark and branches whacks
Gashes the trees in silent pain
Again and again, and again and again.
And again the echo, “Timber!” sounds
As trees like thunder shake the ground.
Again the Ax does lusty swing
And giants fall in silent screams.
Down the river’s windy road
The mighty mortal corpses float
To the buzzing sawing mill
Where workman subdivide the kill.
No solemn funeral is here,
No mourner sheds a woeful tear,
No epitaph in rhyme is read
Over the bodies of the dead.
There is no quiet of a grave
Only drill and saw and lathe;
No moss where life might spring anew,
No, every limb of wood is used,
Is stacked by width, by length, by height
Tall and close, priced and tight,
Strictly sorted, precise in count
That not a twig nor coin be lost.
A workman takes a long straight stick
And knifes it to a gear, then click,
The driving motor starts to turn
And metal through the thin bark burns
And tears and cuts and sands to shape
Until the will of Nature breaks,
Until the stick loses its self
Becomes a spindle on a shelf.
Like hording ants over a hill
The yard-men greedy orders fill
By pound, by ton on trains and trucks
Till every flat-bed is filled up.
Then with a slap they’re shunted off,
Each truck and train spit out a cough,
A burp of fuel, a puff of smoke,
A grunt like oxen on a yoke.
With a herd-like prod and nudge
The smokestacks steam, the axles budge,
The whistle screams and pistons sound
Like gears grinding in the bowels.
The muscled iron-cold machines
Are goaded like the horned beasts
To Chicago’s slaughter pens
By the grisly will of men,
Men who take their coffee black,
Men who drag on cigarettes,
Men who stride without a care
Because the open-road is theirs,
And men will drive the hot, gray mead
As if it was a docile street
And not the bloody killing fields
Where now the ghosts of crashes wheel.
Here upon the road of death,
Stiff gears will crank without a rest,
Will fed with liquor sucked from soil
And swallowed by the gallon, oil.
Black smoke like coiling djinn clouds
Speeds thick through meadows, woods, and towns
To reach the soul of she unborn
Before her house of wood is formed.
The child in her mother’s womb
Cannot know that soon, too soon
She low shall lie within a crib
Encaged by sticks reborn, yet dead,
Tight turned by tools, a spindled tomb
Pink painted, centered in her room,
And round her room a merry border
Of woodland creatures lined in order,
And here the pretty child will dream
Of very many lovely things,
Will hear her father’s tender voice,
And sometimes hear a creaking joist,
And here she will become a girl
Dressed in frills, in bows, in curls:
Happy, she without a clue
Of the pains that built her room,
Of the mind that drew its plan,
Of the many strains of men,
Of the hunger of the ax,
Of the woodsman’s muscled back.
She windowed smiles to see the bird
Who hopping on a twiglet chirps
In Nature’s song of pure delight
Beneath a redwood shaded night.