Issue Seven - March 2004

Splitting Shakes

By John Sangster

Each day I pass the barn we built,
twenty-five years back,
my friend and I ­ he the craftsman,
the one who knew, who taught the city boy
to work with axe and adze.
I remember a hot summer afternoon
when we'd nailed the last cap shake,
how we scrambled down the ladder,
tore off our clothes and ran for the pond ­
a baptism, a celebration.

But it is fall as I write and remember,
the season I worked alone,
splitting shakes in the slanting sunlight,
the island silent except for the thok
of the wooden maul
against the froe's steel blade,
a flicker's call, kle-yeer,
at the edge of the woods.
I remember the rhythm of the work,
the cedar's perfume as the steel cleaved
the soft grain, the wood complaining
as I tilted the blade away from me,
the shake springing from the bolt ­ Pling! ­
my hands, arms, body doing the work,
my mind free to go where it would:
Could we live this country life?
Leave that other life behind?

It is fall as I write and remember,
the days compressing, last vestiges
of summer warmth giving way.
Each day I pass the barn, its roof
dark with age and lichens.

©2004 by John Sangster