SJM ( / )

In The Piney Woods (Or The Education Of John)

In the heat of the summer,
When the grass crinckled under foot,
The blue haze rose from the pines
And dust devils played across the roads.
Guest; Young John, Alice and Wayne,
Slept late,
And had no plans for the day.

So it was, with the windows open,
And not a breath of air moving,
That they moved to the porch,
And sat looking out at the pines
Where in the wood
An old man in long sleeve shirt
Heavy overalls, worn hat and
High topped shoes
Climbed off the battered Ford truck
With the makeshift bed.
Poles standing upright to
Hold the pulp wood.

The old man really didn't really care
How hot it was,
Or for that matter what time it was
The day was just like every other
And this was another a job to be done.

The day before
he'd spent his time
Cutting the loblolly pine
Laying the fallen trunks
In a straight line
Along side the space between the rows
Where the truck would drive.
The branches had been trimmed and
Were piled in the neighboring space.

Every third tree, he'd left
So the others could
Grow tall and strong
Those for pulp
Had been felled
with his Homelite chainsaw.

There the pulp wood lay ready for loading
After the trees were topped and trimmed
And the trunks sliced in perfect sections
Sized, to fit on the truck's rack and
The train cars that would take them to the mill..

The negro
Hitched up his pants
And prepared
To stack wood on the truck
As the driver headed it down
The open row.

Out of the cool house
The boy; no hat, no gloves,
New store bought clothes,
Thought to play a game
with the old black.

He'd help load the truck,
A triffle he though
As he was a weight lifter,
strong as an ox.

On one side, the old man
Began to load the truck,
And when the sections from the
First tree were loaded,
He walked over to the other
Side and began to load those.

So John began on the near side,
Picked up one of the logs in the middle,
And hoisted it shoulder high,
(It must have weighed a hundred pounds.)
He tossed it on the truck's growing stack

Not exactly straight as an arrow.
The wood fell across the others there
Which required him moving it
To make it rightly lie.

He grabbed another
As the truck coughed
And moved down the line,
This one he hoisted high
And just in time
As the old man added his to
The growing pile.

The black moved along
In an easy way
Singing a wordless song.
As if enjoying the day.
Sweat out of every pore
Oozed and soaked his shirt and pants.

John's back ached
But he didn't dare
Look to the old one
Whose work
He'd decided to share.
His hands and shirt were
Soon covered with sap.
Resin that flowed so free
From these sections of pine
That yesterday was a tree.
In a mixture of dirt, bark and sweat,
His jeans were soon black,
As black as the man
Who seemed not to notice or care.

Somehow John kept up on his side
And near the end of the line
The truck jerked and stalled as
The radiator hissed,
Then started again with a roar
As the driver put his foot to the floor.
Gingerly the truck moved ahead
And the pile of wood on the bed
Continued to grow
Higher and higher.

Matching pace by pace
And piece by piece
John and the old one
With genetic dark skin
Just kept on histing,
Ag'in and ag'in.

At the end of the row
While the truck
Turn'd about and stopped to cool
They shared from a jug
With wet burlap wrapped about it.

Not a word
Passed between them
As each had his own thoughts
In this lot of piney wood trees.

John, arching his back
Looked to the truck
With wood piled high on the rack
And wondered how it
Was it to be
That one could pile it even higher
When the top he couldn't see.

So he waited for the old man
To take the lead
And watched how
He wrastled this
Fruit of the sand.

A bit of balance and
A shift of the load
And sure enough, he
Put another aboard.

Poetry in motion
Is how it's described
As the old man found the
Midpoint of the wood still undried
Raised up one end while
The other remained
On the ground.
For a moment he rested the up-end
On the hitch of his belt
Then he leaned back
And lifted the wood like a pole.

Swinging the outstretched
End away from the ground
While turning slowly around
In a continuing motion,
The oft end was lifted high
Then with a grunt he raised the
Chunk up to the sky.

Shifting his hand
On the end oozing sap,
He placed it there,
And sent the pine piece
To its proper place.

For the rest of time,
As they moved
Down the row,
John struggled with
The lengths of pine wood
Which he lifted and throwed.

From time to time
The old one picked up his pace
Then helped John put
His pulp wood in place.

At the end of the row of trees
The overheated truck
Again sputtered to a halt
And the old man climbed aboard.

John stood to the side as
The truck belching white smoke
Started, then with
Gears grinding, the
Truck strained to carry the wood
Down the field path to the
lime-rock packed road.

Through the open window,
The old man tipped his hat,
And said, 'much a-bliged'

And that ended John's education for the day.

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