False Notions, Fears, And Other Things Of Wood

Repeatedly, that sturdy stump in me
bears up like stone,
beneath some ritual I see:
the blinding axe
swings up,     holds,
that moment of its weightlessness
till I confirm the arm is mine;
I will it, grip,
feel moist the swelling handle,
the shudder rude,
the difference fallen.

Toward that chopping block
I carry in me woodthings—
infectious undergrowth
pretending upwards
through each stem and branch of me—
all so certain of themselves
they practice, like pains,
the craft of being.

They try to wrench away
before we reach that stump,
my woodthings and I,
they      weakening
in its brightness,
in my luminous saying
"I must go, must go
to the chopping block."

They know the brutal business
of my thinking;
I know they have no charity nor memory
to return the way they came—
came not from wilderness,
nor forest,
nor living trees.

Their craft and strength I test—
           and mine—
at the chopping block.

by James Emanuel

Comments (1)

This one bears rereading. I don't know why he titled it False Notions, Fears, and Other Things of Wood instead of The Chopping Block, which the poem seems to be about. I had to read twice before I realized that the sturdy stump was his mental chopping block, not a metaphor for some emotion. I think the axe is blinding both because it reflects the sun and because it blinds him to the sight of the false notions and fears that he destroys. The most interesting line is till I confirm the arm is mine. He doesn't want to destroy a fear or notion just because somebody else told him it was wrong. He has to be sure that it's his own judgment that condemns the thought, that his reason for destroying it is his alone and that he fully understands it, that he's not just blindly following the herd or letting someone else do his thought-pruning for him. Much of the rest is still a mystery to me. Why does he call the false notions and fears by the awkward neologism woodthings, instead of wooden things or things of wood, as in the title? Why do they seem to be alive, even trying to wrench away, but he still says they come from no wilderness or living tree?