Splitting the Heartwood

LIZ AHL

“A tree can thrive with its heart completely decayed.” — Wikipedia

Who showed you which trees to cut down or to keep?
The father who sang you down into your sleep.

Who taught you to fell them with just a few tools?
The father who drove you each morning to school.

Who gave you the axes, the chainsaws and mauls?
The father, who, through them, still mournfully calls.

Who told you the secret of heartwood’s clean burning?
The father, whose moods, like the seasons, kept turning.

Who taught you to split logs so perfectly even?
The father who taught you which god to believe in.

Who taught you to dry it in long ramrod rows?
The father who earned every afternoon doze.

Who modeled the measure of one perfect cord?
The father, for whom work was its own reward.

Who taught you to kindle, to damper, to blaze?
The father who held back a portion of praise.

Who roots in your memory? Who splits your heart’s grain?
The father, a splinter, awake in your brain.


Liz Ahl’s poems have appeared in Iron Horse, Prairie Schooner, and North American Review, among others. Her first chapbook, A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, won the 2008 Slapering Hol chapbook contest; a second chapbook, Luck, was published in 2010 by Pecan Grove Press.

First published in Measure, Volume 6, Issue 2 (2011)