Monday, February 2, 2009

Ann Chandonnet, September 25, 2008

Unlike last week’s featured poet, Ann Fox Chandonnet is a newcomer to the Hickory area. Specifically, she lives now with her husband in Vale. But if you’re thinking Vale might seem somewhat remote to her, then you should know that her last home was in Alaska, although other recent events might make Alaska not seem as remote to the rest of us as it once did.

Chandonnet was born and raised in Massachusetts, and earned her master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, but then lived for 34 years in Alaska. She has worked as an English teacher, an editor, a publicist, and a cops and courts reporter. She has also written cookbooks, children’s books and a travel guide to the Inside Passage. Her seven poetry collections include Canoeing in the Rain, At the Fruit Tree's Mossy Root, and Auras, Tendrils.

The poem that follows is reprinted with Chandonnet’s permission from her collection Ptarmigan Valley: Poems of Alaska. Anyone who has ever split wood can attest to the cathartic nature of the experience and will be able to easily identify with this poem.

Splitting Wood

Anger’s impossible
after splitting wood.
Bile flows out along the human trunk,
the arms, and axe handle
into the cleavages of birch and spruce,
into the neatly stacked cords
and the pleasing litter of chips
upon the snow.

The more lengths split,
the more I become whole:
joints cease their clatter;
rifts slide shut.

Lacking shoulders,
I turn scientific,
teasing the lengths
atop the block
until they become level.
Then my little force
runs straight down the grain.

The bore holes of twigs
are clean as laser burns.
Swelling branches spawn massive roils,
marbled end papers.
Force is balked by these conjunctions.
Wood splits just to them
and no further . . .
like roads deadending
at skewed headlands.

On the pile reclines a straight young arm;
beneath, a knotty fist of aged wood,
liver spots of decay staining its pale grain.
Some knotfree layers separate
clean as onion rings.

Few things concentrate and empty the body so,
both engage and free.
Blows echo from the trees around;
a scrap of inner bark
glows pink as a conch.

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