By James Swansbrough
after Philip Larkin
Man hands on misery to man.
New plumes rising up
from the same conflagration,
an expanding thunderhead.
presaged your arrival,
the pyrotechnic fuse burning
brighter than archangel Gabriel.
Your sex is the crescendo.
Behold your parents’ proud eyes
gleaming through the sparks and the
bloating smog, itself no veil to vision
but rather the annunciation:
That gender is a flashpoint;
That destruction is but a prelude;
That your birth will be diminuendo;
And the world is already on fire.
Blue yields to black smoke as
grass and forest feed the hungry maw.
Tanker aircraft release red retardant,
their engines droning a tremolo
accompaniment to the flames’ hiss
and snap, the staccato chasing evacuees
who cry out throatparched for succor.
Those who fought, witnessed, or were rescued
from the inferno will rebuke you and yours,
their invectives a rising chorus of imprecatory psalm.
For it is no roiling thunderhead
that wafts its sacrificial scent skyward to please God.
No: they burned things up, your mom and dad.
They did not mean to, but they did.
Acres surrendered themselves to flames
and their smoke was your mushroom cloud.
Walden Log Homes
Way out Middle Valley off Boy Scout Road you’ll find Scott’s lumberyard
unless you blink and miss the unnamed turn to the unmarked fence.
The gravel ends at a roundabout encircling his Wood-Mizer sawmill,
its weatherworn tarp crazed and bleached from what may once have been black.
Fuel cans and offcuts line its flanks, the sawdust previously puffed away on the wind.
The tin roof spans seventy-five, maybe ninety foot, the enclosure open-air on four sides.
A few piles of old bandsaw blades greet you from the shaded perimeter,
their rusted teeth smiling welcome with lapsed menace. You’ll need Scott to weedeat
before you approach, mostly to scare off the snakes. The mower you’ll find at the rear
of the yard reclaimed by nettles and creeper. Grab a can of Hot Shot too for the wasps.
Then climb in, count some rings. He has planks and logs there older than
your grandfather, from trees that were shoots and saplings at America’s founding.
Mix of round and hand-hewn logs, squared by broadax or adz; logs quarter-sawn, half-sawn,
rough-sawn. Myriad southern species: Red oak and white oak; heart pine and poplar;
locust and cypress; maple and cedar, beech, hickory, walnut—and chestnut that predates the blight.
The logs hail from hollows of Appalachia. They emerged from Virginia lowland and
Carolina piedmont, from Kentucky bluegrass and Georgia clay, out of Tennessee hollers
and Alabama pine forests. They became cabins, corncribs, barns, and smoking sheds
before they were purchased, dismantled by hand, and moved under Scott’s protection.
Some are wormy, some cupped, some spalted; all are weathered but strong.
Their splits and checks and notches tell a story Scott can read like runes or hieroglyphs,
their grain a cipher to the nineteenth century. Some beams still have porcelain
knob-&-tube wiring, others hand-drilled holes for the framing pegs that didn’t survive.
Still others bear adz marks so old you won’t catch a splinter running hand over them.
In these piles rest remnants of wall and joist, beam and truss, siding before siding became shit.
Scott made a name for himself repurposing this lumber into new log cabins,
adding antique elements to new construction. In an industry of vinyl siding and plywood,
he scored his line in the old-growth world. He knows new don’t mean better—just cheaper.
An old sign of his, routed out from heart pine, hangs from an eye bolt above our heads.
The tag line for his company reads The Way a Log Home Is Supposed to Look.
He gestures at a nearby gray plank. Dark whorls line the grain, and the ribs of old dirt dauber
nests scallop one end. Their organ pipes have long ago crumbled back into dust.
He says I can sand the gray out of these if you want, but that’s not what you’re paying for. His calloused
fingers tenderly sweep dirt out of a knot like a father brushing bangs from his child’s eyes.
But if I hit this lightly with a pressure washer, it won’t take off the patina. Just clean it up a bit.
James Swansbrough runs a restaurant repair company in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Free State Review, Cagibi, Pittsburgh Poetry Journal, Freshwater Review, and others. He was named Honorable Mention for the 2019 Yeats Poetry Award by the WB Yeats Society of New York. He resides in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, with his wife and daughters, where they raise unicorns.