Chlora’s family has just arrived at the family farm the day before Thanksgiving…
The buzz of a chainsaw cut through the country quiet,
its why-why-why ripping sound accompanied
by gusts of sawdust. It sounded like a chain saw massacre,
like some city slicker out playing farmer,
cutting down everything in his way,
cutting off his nose to spite his face.
Maybe it was Adam taking a chainsaw to that
Tree of Knowledge
after it got him and Eve in such trouble.
Turned out it was just Chlora’s teenaged cousin Arnie,
stepping out of a flurry of sawdust
where the yard gave way to the woods.
He took off his green gimme cap,
put down his puttering saw, welcomed the family
and said he was clearing out some grapevines
and invasive species that were as thick
as the hair under a whore’s arms.
They all wanted to see that
but were told no,
God’s grapes of wrath would descend upon them
if they did not go into the house first,
as Aunt Helen was waiting with pie.
Arnie was not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Sometimes he was also mean. But not really mean,
simply ornery, which is just short of mean.
He was proud to be a redneck.
He once jury-rigged his pick-up
so it’d explode in the face of any thief who tinkered with it.
Then Arnie forgot he’d wired the darned thing
and half blew himself up.
And there was the time Arnie drove up to visit them and
as anybody knows, after three days fish and company
smell bad, so Chlora’s dad
offered him $25 just to leave.
Chlora always took a wide berth around Arnie.
So when he asked if they wanted any venison
that he had shot himself with a bow and arrow,
she was wary that the dead deer would explode.
Chainsaws should not be entrusted to people like Arnie
who had an ax to grind.
Now, his brother Todd was a pretty nice character
except he got girl crazy at junior college
and left it because they had no dorms there
which meant there could be no panty raids.
He didn’t cotton to the idea of college anyway.
He preferred the real animal farm.
Later that day, Chlora sneaks off for some solitude in the woods…
Chlora was curious about Arnie’s clearing in the woods.
An immersion in nature would shore up
her extroverted reserves,
which would be quickly depleted at this family gathering.
She ran into the deep thicket to rub off the residue of the city,
recharging her nature deficit
like Henry David Thoreau recommended.
Like him, she had never
found a companion who was so companionable as solitude.
Arnie had cleared out a small area
where the grapevines had been strangling a fig tree.
Chlora had imagined this would be like
Brer Rabbit’s briar patch,
the laughing place, a hiding place, but it felt
more like an abiding place.
It had the sharp, sweet scent of freshly sawn wood.
Despite Arnie’s noisy efforts, the world around her
was as tangled up as a drip painting by Jackson Pollock,
the wild grapevines like loopy, cockamamie cursive writing,
clinging to bark and connecting earth to sky.
Some of them had abrupt endings,
but most endings were unresolved,
as were their beginnings. One could easily get lost here
in the impenetrable mass of motives
where you can’t tell the vines from the branches,
the forest for the trees, all of it one big jumble
of interlocking masses and voids.
Arnie wasn’t smart enough to know he
could not truly make a dent in this,
and he might as well just bless the tangles.
She would lend him her copy of Walden
as a hint, bookmarked to the page where it said
There are a thousand hacking
at the branches of evil
to one who is striking at the root…
Chlora sat on the ground and focused her vision.
It was time to just abide.
Maybe the true vine Jesus talked about
is a wild grapevine, like these, rather than the vineyard variety.
These vines wound around branches, leaned on them,
supported thin trees, and finally disappeared in the tree tops
in a wrestling match of knots and leaves.
One vine made a steep Baroque diagonal to another tree,
another resembled the intricate XP in that Celtic illustration
from the Lindesfarne gospels.
What was the XP for, some college sorority?
There were alphas and omegas in there too,
out of this one long, interconnected rope.
She now regretted that Arnie had taken a saw to it,
for it seemed the vines and branches
were abiding well together in a joyful dance,
sort of like playing Twister
with a bunch of friends.
However, pruning the dead wood would
encourage new growth, and it gave more swinging space
for Tarzan and Jane.
Plus if Arnie cut out those pesky cedars
it would allow more water to spring from the rock,
like in the days of Moses.
The clearing would allow
the lone fig tree to get more sun
so it’d bear more fruit.
It was nice of Arnie to save that fig tree
when Jesus got mad at a fig tree and cussed it out.
Was that in the Bible
or had she heard it thru the grapevine?
Whatever, Chlora was not about to eat a fig
after having those awful, gritty
Fig Newtons every day at Vacation Bible School.
Chlora needed to pee and the house was far away.
She chose a secluded slope and squatted down,
away from any green plant that could be poison ivy.
This was the only time she ever had penis envy.
She was nothing but a babe in the woods,
with a cold bottom. But her pee was warm.
A distant whooping and hollering warned Chlora
that the other kids were
coming her way and she tried
to squirt faster and it splashed on her pants.
Why couldn’t they slow down?
a visit to the woods is for Presence
and that needs all the time it takes.
If she had toilet paper she’d run away,
leaving a paper trail thru the woods
since a trail of crumbs would get eaten.
She quickly sacrificed a glove to the cause, then laid low,
like a bump on a log, trying to hide.
She wished she had worn camouflage,
but she didn’t own any camo clothing.
The closets at the farm were stuffed full of it.
The only camo at Chlora’s house was a
toy army tank that belonged to her little brother.
She would have to blend into the woods
by learning how to be a root, which does its job
by receiving and supporting.
She would ask so she would receive.
Her joy could be made full
now that her bladder wasn’t.
Lots of fairytales happened in the woods, why was that?
This was not a frightening place, but then
Chlora did not have to put on a red cloak and walk there
all alone amidst the wolves.
Chlora nestled into the moist, dark leaves and rooted around.
She watched her frosty breath dissipate
and got nose to nose
with emerald green moss on the rocks.
It was anything but quiet in the woods,
as the forest had its own percussion.
Signs of busyness were all around.
A believer beaver had made a dam
in the creek, stopping up the flow of living water.
There was an ant highway flowing both ways
with workers dipping in and out of a hole.
In their miniature world it probably
sounded like an urban mixmaster at rush hour.
Out here, the mockingbirds mimicked other birds,
back in the city they mimicked jack hammers
and dump trucks.
Numerous animal tracks were around
and Chlora made a mental note
to return with plaster to make casts of the footprints,
sort of like they did
with those writhing bodies from Pompeii.
She figured the Pompeii people had been mating wilding,
like wild turkeys do, and Vesuvius blew up over it.
In the muffled distance, the other kids
were hollering for Chlora
to go into town with them.
She hated to leave this spot
where she had marked her territory,
but it was cold and time to disentangle.
She collected a few acorns just in case some
new oaks were needed back home
and put them in her pocket.
She knew better than to eat them;
they were even more bitter
than a bad pecan.
Sunken low in her pocket was
a hard, big coin Uncle Ernest
had given her earlier. It was a precious silver dollar,
an early Christmas present for each kid
to spend in town.
The big, cold coin was burning
a hole in her pocket, so she brushed herself off
and dashed toward the house.
Her mom met her in the yard
and said you’re not out of the woods yet, young lady.
You better go check yourself for ticks,
and you know where, down south.
What were you doing out there anyhow?
Chlora quickly quoted Thoreau:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.
Mom raised one eyebrow and said,
While you’re at it, Miss Walden,
go change those damp pants.
Late on Thanksgiving afternoon, Chlora visits the barn to help feed sheep and goats…
As Chlora and her cousins neared the barnyard,
three cows were striding in from the margins.
They were happy cows, not mad cows,
you could tell by how they waddled
as if they had all the time in the world.
Cousin Arnie told her if she ever got lost to just follow a cow
because all cows had swallowed a compass.
Todd said forget it, them cows will be hamburger soon
and they argued over how much money
they would get from it.
Chlora was shocked to learn that
that trio would be butchered,
but they told her the cows didn’t mind,
nor did they give a shit over the price of beef.
The life of the farm revolved around
mating and birthing and eating and defecating
and growing and killing. It was all about bodies.
On their previous trip here
Chlora had observed On Top of Old Smokey,
which was what they called it when the mules mated.
That was a sight to behold, except that mules
just shoot blanks.
How do chickens do it? Or worms? Or turtles?
Worse yet was the time she saw a calf being born in the barn.
An enormous beige cow was groaning and moaning
and rolling her eyes.
Then a big blue balloon came out
and everything gushed bloody and slime
and the cow licked life into a blob
that turned out to be a spindly calf.
It had its four legs all ready to go
and at that point became cute.
Chlora hoped to heaven that it would not be born again
After watching that birth process,
it was astonishing that anybody
ever had a second baby.
Who would choose to do that again?
Especially after going through all that trouble
of loving your offspring when they were destined
to be shot, ground up and sold off to burger joints.
Generally, Chlora liked barns,
admired their form and function from afar.
Most barns were lonely things;
making the country look as abandoned
as the urbanscapes painted by Edward Hopper.
Even more desolate was that far off barn painted by
Andrew Wyeth, so seductive it tempted
that poor crippled girl to crawl all the way up a hill
in a dress.
Secretly, Chlora liked Wyeth, and wanted
to emulate his technique of painting
even though it was uncool to like such realism.
However there were just too many paintings of barns
and the world did not need any more.
They got to the barnyard gate and
Chlora wondered aloud:
Who is the architect of barns?
He should win the Pritzer Prize.
Like most, this barn stood stalwart and dependable,
broad in its mercy and dark in its mystery.
It used to be painted red, but that’d almost all peeled off.
And the wood had turned gray just like hair does.
This barn did not have a silo like the toy ones;
what was a silo for anyhow?
How do farmers ever keep up with all of this?
The green tractor’s huge tires protruded out the door
like buttocks mooning the pasture.
Those tires were almost as tall as Chlora.
They had made muddy tracks through the barnyard
that looked like swastikas repeated over and over.
Arnie got the engine sputtering and pulled the tractor
all the way inside to protect it from the weather forecast.
Todd lugged out two burlap bags marked
SHEEP AND LAMB FEED
and set to feeding pellets to the small flock outside.
Chlora liked the goats and the sheep but she was skittish of
a feeding frenzy or any other sort of herd behavior.
She stood by the gate, in case a
quick getaway might become necessary.
The sheep and goats gobbled up the same food.
Chlora asked Todd about separating sheep and goats,
which was one of those scriptures
that should be filed under the category of bothersome.
Todd replied it was like separating the men from the boys;
you need a good border collie for one
and a good hooker for the other.
But it is gonna get cold tonight,
so we better bring ’em all in the barn.
The goats looked particularly chilled
since they didn’t have thick wood coats on.
Their eyes were flat out odd, with just little
slits for pupils. How do they see through those slits?
Their pupils looked like that speck
you see in somebody else’s eye when
you’ve got logs in your own.
Some of the goats had small horns,
and one had longer stubs like Michelangelo’s Moses.
Chlora named that goat Moses.
His horns looked more normal than the statue’s did.
He must’ve been on the horns of a dilemma
with those devilish little things poking
up out of his hair for no good reason.
Everything around here on the farm was horny,
the horn of plenty centerpiece at Thanksgiving dinner,
cousin Todd, horny toads (which were getting rare),
and now Moses.
While the sheep and goats communed,
Chlora went inside the barn.
Three cows congregated in there, pigging out
on the hay bales.
The barn was a cavern, its bales piled up to the rafters.
In the dim light the wind made the walls
creak enough to sound creepy.
Slats of orange sky pierced the high arched roof.
Barn cats silently leaped from bale to rafter,
doing their mice duty.
These were not fat cats from some corporate bailout,
but sleazy and hard to catch.
One black cat chasing her own tail reminded Chlora of her
poor begotten kitten, Geneva,
who got murdered at Halloween,
may her soul rest in peace.
Another cat darted nimble and quick,
hiding and peeking out from behind bales.
Chlora was scared of climbing up that stack
and falling through.
There are many ways to fall through the cracks, but
a person could get lost forever in those bales of hay,
down in those scratchy crevices between rows,
black as night.
The fear of this was somewhat offset
by the sweet scent of summer, collected
back when someone made hay while the sun shined.
Chlora sneezed and thought of those poor peasants
who worked their tails off in days past,
bringing in the sheaves
or the hay or whatever.
She wasn’t sure what was the difference
between hay and wheat and straw.
Hay was nothing but dried grass, alfalfa mostly;
how could it possibly feed something big as a cow?
The uneven stacks trembled as they hovered,
the direct opposite of the stolid, sharp tractor parked below.
She was thankful those hard-working tractors are
big, green, and obvious, so when the Little Red Hens
of the world claim to have done it all by themselves
and exclude others from the bread,
you could point to the nearest tractor and say, really?
Chlora had a repetitive nightmare
of being chased up into the hayloft
by a big bull that’d barged into the barn.
The ladder to the loft was built flat against the wall
and hard to climb. She wasn’t sure if that event had actually
happened or not, but she chose to use her noggin
and just not go there.
She already had enough memories without recovering
ones that may not have happened.
Were memories ever new?
Seems they were supposed to be old.
Bad dreams had a way of festering
even though she knew she had
to take that bull by the horns
and shake him off. An image replacement exercise
might help: maybe she would politely escort
the bull to a china shop
and let him wreak havoc among the Havilland.
He would drizzle snot on the snobby ladies of the DAR
who sipped tea with their pinkies in the air,
and quickly put their precious teacups
out of commission.
She told Arnie and Todd about the bull
they saw on the drive to the farm yesterday.
She hoped to be assured of his absence here.
They said we’ve never had a bull out here
and she was safe as could be in the barn.
Just then, a hay bale tumbled down
like a booming prophet from on high,
scattering the cats
and dusting up the air.
The whole stack shivered in response,
threatening a landslide
and Chlora jumped back to the door.
The cousins thought this was funny,
that one hundred pounds of grass out of nowhere
could like a rolling boulder squish a cat,
or a kid, for that matter.
That prompted jokes about
getting a roll in the hay
which had to be no fun at all.
Chlora was not about to get bolted into a barn
with a boy. Going on a hayride was itchy enough.
Wind whistled through the wall planks,
rattling rolls of barbed wire
hanging there like readymade crowns of thorns.
This made a bulging tool belt look like torture equipment.
If a crazy horse or a roaring bull came in there,
Chlora would grab one of those sharp tools
to defend herself.
Better yet, she’d fire up the chainsaw.
Near the tools huddled an old saddle and some tack,
evidence that horses had once lived here.
It was a small saddle, used long ago on a pony,
and it sat on the sawhorse rather lonely
with its pigeon-toed wooden stirrups straight out.
Chlora was timid about horseback riding
as nobody ever taught her the rules of the road
but just expected it to all come naturally.
She did ride a pony out here once
and that saddle slid right off of him
once Chlora had gotten settled in it.
She hit the ground in a slow slide,
her feet still in the stirrups. They all laughed
and said the pony had held his breath
while being saddled up.
She knew she was supposed to
get back on the horse and try again.
So she did and it happened again.
So much for giddy up and go.
Besides the horses, there
used to be more cows out here too.
Chlora overheard that they had lost their cash cow,
and had to give up on the chickens too after the dog got
the best laying hens and made a chicken feather blizzard
like you wouldn’t believe.
But there were plenty of sheep of his pastures
coming inside now and Chlora started to count them.
Jesus said if you love me, feed my sheep.
He did not count the sheep,
because you’ll get sleepy.
Down the way, an old sidesaddle rested on a sawhorse
and above it hung a black velvet helmet and whip,
plus one big colorful, saggy blue ribbon
that had seen better days.
She asked Todd if it was his, and aghast at her ignorance,
he retorted that side saddles are for women;
a man can’t wield a weapon when astride.
Chlora tried on the helmet, pinned on the ribbon,
and cracked the whip to prove him wrong.
That was Jesus’ weapon of choice
when he had his temple tantrum.
It’d be fun to saddle up the big old propane tank outside.
That rusty old thing was an eyesore in the sunset.
Chlora suggested they paint it like a pinto pony.
Or it could be turned into a watermelon, or a hot dog weenie,
or a yellow submarine.
She headed over to climb on.
No, you’ll freeze your butt to it.
It was high time they went back to the house.
That night, an ice storm fells the huge oak tree in front of the farmhouse. The next morning, Chlora is told to go fetch the chainsaw.
Uncle Ernest scratched his head
as he surveyed the devastation out front.
Ice this early in the season was unusual,
proof that global warming was a bunch of hooey.
Ice-covered branches hid the family’s white
station wagon almost completely,
which meant their stay might be overextended.
Arnie bragged that he had put up the chainsaw
in the barn so it didn’t get ice-stuck in the yard.
Chlora volunteered to go get it in the barn.
Uncle told her to bring his tool belt
and while you’re at it, get the gas can.
Now why had she opened her big mouth?
After that slippage of the hay bales,
Chlora was a bit hesitant
to go in the barn alone.
She stuffed an old dinner roll in her pocket
in case she needed
to bribe or distract one of the animals.
The air itself was frozen, and Chlora worried about her
eyeballs, which the only part of her left exposed.
She crunched along the dirt path
and glanced at the creek way down below.
Slabs of icicles scissored the bluff
like a rack of organ pipes
extruding from the rock, overhanging the creek,
coldly dipping into the water.
She balanced herself over the cattle guard,
looking down for every step she took.
When she lifted her head, she found
the morning barn was much different from the evening barn.
Whereas it had been a weathered gray,
now it was monochromatic white, ice covering all surfaces.
It was a fearsome beauty
meant to be seen from a slight distance.
The barn loomed on the horizon like a Gothic cathedral.
She had seen one in a book that had bulls for gargoyles,
big bulls that peered around the corners
at the sculpted tympanum over the big door.
The barn’s façade resembled a giant ice carving
of a Last Judgment imposed within an arch,
its perimeter lined with threatening icicles
that could be pelted down
onto anyone who violated its space.
Walking under that arch was dangerous.
She did not wish to entertain the Last Judgment,
which offered a sure case of
damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
It wasn’t even all that Biblical.
However, it was satisfying to know that bad people
like the mean boys who killed her kitten on Halloween
would get what they deserved in the end.
A big icicle right in the rear end.
If Job was right, that the breath of God produces ice,
then God had done some heavy breathing last night.
Water in the animals’ trough had turned as hard as stone.
The rooster weathervane could not creak in the wind
for being frozen solid.
The barn door stuck shut and sharp icicles
dripped from above.
Chlora kicked the door and jumped back
as the ice shattered like a windowpane,
followed by the fall of an overhead row of fangs.
She had to push against the frozen handle to get inside.
The barny contents announced themselves with
the dusty fragrance of hay and the sour smell of goats.
She had the barn all to herself and tiptoed inside.
Streaks of sunshine shot through slats in the walls.
It was a dazzling light, with illuminated dancing dust
that had to be a halo pulverized into bits.
Baby Jesus was born in a barn; his first glimpse of
daylight probably looked like this.
The frightening dreams of barns,
of falling through cracks in the haystacks,
of bulls chasing her up the ladder,
of boys and girls rolling in the hay —
all melted away.
The barn had become a sacred space,
like Jackson Pollock’s studio barn
where he played his soft jazz
while he slung paint toward a new era.
In the sparkling air, the sheep and goats
cuddled up together,
like clouds from heaven that had settled on the earth.
Chlora loosened her plaid scarf and felt steam rise
along with the distinct odor of damp wool.
She smiled, realizing the smell wasn’t coming
from her muffler but from the sheep.
She stomped her feet to rid them of ice
and the sheep stirred.
The three cows couldn’t care less
as they had rediscovered the hay bales.
The chainsaw butted up to the sacks of sheep food
and the whole ensemble was tangled up
with curly pieces of grapevine
that Arnie had saved. One of the branches curved up
into a question mark matching the faces of the
little goats that were now perking up.
She wondered if animals asked the big questions, like
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Who-what-when-where-how? Which is most important?
Maybe it is better to live the questions
than to ask the questions.
Chlora sat down in the hay, grasping at straws.
Some of these questions really get your goat.
Somebody always had to take the blame
for all the unanswerable questions.
That’s why the ancient Israelites sent scapegoats
off into the wilderness,
and they were not sheepish about it at all.
Is that why Jesus divided up the sheep and goats?
Maybe the separation of sheep and goats is
about how we blame the least of these,
diminishing somebody with slitty eyes into the Other.
Such realizations really put Chlora to the question,
a self-imposed inquisition.
For some people the questions alone were spiritual food.
Socrates had only six questions.
Whatever those were, Chlora had more than six.
She asked the thin air if spiritual food
was the same as physical food.
The goats made a snorting, whinnying sound.
Their big question was what’s for breakfast?
Their hunger was as real as rain.
Do you like dill rolls? She tore off bits of the roll
and tossed them to the goats.
Jesus said he’s the bread of life,
and told us to give bread to the hungry.
Therefore he wants to get fed to the hungry.
So his bread body was broken so it could be
more easily distributed, sort of like feed pellets,
but somebody has to get them there.
Moses seemed non-plussed by the stale Thanksgiving rolls.
Maybe that was why Jesus talked about giving them
their daily bread; it is always better than bread from
the day before.
The goats’ little green eyes asked for more than leftovers.
Goats would eat just about anything,
as Bill Grogan’s Goat had proved, but hunger is hunger.
Chlora scooped up some feed pellets from the sackcloth
and tossed them to the goats.
They gobbled it up and wanted more.
Her cousin had told her that if you feed it, you own it.
Chlora would not mind taking these cute goats
to her suburban back yard.
Their grazing would be much more efficient
than lawn mowers and with all the weeds back there,
they would be well fed,
unlike millions of hungry children in the world
or even just here in America.
Why was that?
Why, when farms worldwide were overproducing?
Chlora had never been hungry,
not really, as food was never scarce in her world.
One time she saw a picture in a book of German lessons
that showed hungry kids during a war.
It was titled “Brot!” which meant Bread!
No question, that was an exclamation point.
Chlora couldn’t imagine a war,
but she could imagine peace.
In this old barn, swords had been beaten into plowshares
right there on the steely anvil.
Old corrugated tin, covered with rusty spots,
made a flimsy roof in here, yet
the barn had a distinct feel of shelter.
The light from the barn door landed on the
brick-layer stacks of hay bales, all of them secure,
waiting, and no longer frightening.
They were just lying in wait for when they were needed.
The old barn was a stout vessel
and had survived many storms;
all the hay was dry and ready.
Chlora walked around, looking up at the
impenetrable wonder of it all,
and had a pet goat moment or two.
A good barn is a good place to know.
She paused by the chainsaw, which sat there powerless
and ontological, like Jesus just standing
there in front of Pontius Pilate, as a whole self,
reflecting Pilate’s one good question back onto him:
What is truth?
The distance between question and answer
wasn’t just broad, it was unsearchable.
That is a riddle to respect; leave it be.
Chlora untangled the chainsaw from the
mess of thick vines and leaves.
The saw was heavy, awkward, and gassy.
She sat it down outside the barn door.
It had a coping mechanism and a panic button
and a power surge, enough to chop up bodies
into dozens of denominations.
Why are power tools used to divide us,
like the Eucharist sometimes is
with all its different meanings,
ex-communication, and all that?
Eucharist just means thanksgiving, after all.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day,
the day we celebrate the Pilgrim’s Progress.
But what was their progress?
Chlora’s eye rested upon a red gasoline can.
Was that the answer?
This wasn’t in any catechism, but
gas was needed to fire up the chainsaw
to cut up the fallen oak
so they could get the car out of the yard and go home.
Like a lot of good things/bad things,
oil and gas really weren’t understandable,
and it is such things that cause fights.
Communion wasn’t understandable either.
It sounded like just a batch of buzzwords,
but what it really is
is God gently making love to his people,
penetrating their pain with his own,
permeating their desires with his love.
He even gave that love commandment
at the Last Supper.
Why such love got turned ass-backwards was a mystery.
Chlora said goodbye to the animals
and opened the barn door.
She squinted at the bright sunshine.
The ice was beginning to melt.
She slung the tool belt
over her shoulder. It clanked down to her ankles.
All sorts of stuff hung off that tool belt.
Chlora wondered if the guys who nailed up Jesus
used the same sort of tools.
As she lugged the chainsaw back to the house,
she made an oil executive’s decision
to temper her load
and come back later for the gas can.
She passed under melting icicles
and slushed through the barnyard.
Looking back, the front of the barn
had transformed from the icy Last Judgment tympanum
to a concave mandorla shape,
more like a vessel that receives in order to pour out.
Chlora blinked as the barn’s façade had become
a shimmering mosaic of blinding colors.
She walked backwards
to see the barn take on more and more sparkly bits of color.
Under the eaves, glittery tesserae
spread up to the roof and spilled over
into the wintry gray barnyard.
The iced-over dirt took on the vivid green of spring,
as if Vivaldi was there playing up the most
verdant of the four seasons.
Spriggy white flowers, small evergreens, and birds
crammed into the space, a clear blue orb arose above it all,
and two rows of white animals strolled in from the sides.
They looked like an odd crossbreed of sheep and goats.
In the middle appeared some saint
who looked like the Good Shepherd with outstretched arms.
The chainsaw was suddenly much lighter.
Approaching the house, Chlora smelled smoke
before she could see the small fire of cleared brush.
Fire and ice, one and the same they were.
She wagged the chainsaw up to the house
and set it down in front of Uncle Clarence.
Clarence was wielding an ax and
stopped chopping to scratch his groin.
He was really digging potatoes
until he noted the embarrassed look
on Chlora’s face.
He chuckled and whispered
that them’s just small potatoes, and
we sure are glad to see that saw.
Chlora was perplexed about potatoes and saws
but decided not to inquire.
Clarence changed the subject and showed her
the stump he was using to split logs.
See these growth rings, can you count ’em?
Tells you how old this tree was and how long
the droughts were. Once we even out
the splintered trunk of that big oak
you’ll see a century.
You wouldn’t know its history
if it hadn’t falled over.
The old live oak would provide firewood
for years to come
if they could ever get it all cut and stacked.
Todd said it’d jam pack the woodshed in no time flat,
which was wonderful since that rusty old woodshed would
no longer be available for spankings.
Clarence tossed some evergreen branches onto the fire.
Gotta burn off some of this pesky cedar.
It burns too fast for the fireplace, makes smoke.
But it sure smells good.
He said it split well because it was half frozen.
This here old hickory wood is best.
It was kinda like the dead wood on the rolls at church;
when a little ice gets them, they fall
under their own weight.
Chlora asked if they could make a chainsaw sculpture
out of the big tree trunk, something like a bear
or an Indian, or maybe a Good Shepherd?
The uncles said there was no time for such art,
but she could design a split rail fence for them.
Better yet, go back to the barn and fetch that gas can.
Chlora gladly trekked back to her sacred place.
The ice-encased holly berries were dripping
and even the trees were melting.
There was an intermittent popping sound,
like gunshot from all around.
It was tree limbs giving way.
Back at the house, the women exchanged early
Christmas gifts. Those ladies planned joy ahead of time.
One said here, plant these paper white bulbs now
so you’ll have something pretty to smell
in about six weeks when it gets boring after the holidays.
Don’t leave em in the dark too long or they’ll sort of die.
The radio squawked that the roads
were being cleared in nearby towns,
but out here you’d be well advised to get out the tire chains
if you intend to attempt a heroic journey.
Their station wagon was scratched and dented
but it had survived the fallen tree.
It was being outfitted with chains
and its heater was puffing up for the drive home.
Exhaust made clouds in the clear air.
Aunt Helen walked out the kitchen door
bringing the sweet smell of heaven with her.
She was warm as a bakery and told all the kids
to hold out their hands.
Receiving never felt so good — the paper bags
of fresh cookies were still warm.
Here, I was so happy to get the oven back,
I made all kinds.
Just a little sustenance for your trip back home
in case you haven’t had enough to eat.
Then Uncle Ernest and the cousins hauled over
several armloads of freshly cut firewood.
They stacked it in the back of the station wagon
and the rear end of the car sagged.
That weight will help you drive on the ice.
But you better let that oak sit a spell before burning it.
That wood’s so green it’ll clog up your chimney
and smoke you out of your house.
But it’ll make mighty fine burning and
keep you toasty this time next year.
While we’re at it, here’s you some of my seasoned hickory.
Need to clear out the woodshed anyhoo.
Now see here’s the difference. Uncle Ernest
whacked two old gray hickory logs together.
They made a hollow sound, whereas the sticky new wood
clomped. And remember to bring it inside to room temperature
afore you burn it, cause that damp wood’ll hiss like a snake.
Here, do you have room for some of these?
Aunt Helen had returned with her old apron
wrapped around a bunch of pomegranates,
smiled and set them on Chlora’s lap.
The bundle loosened and pure, unbounded love
rolled all over the car floor.
Aunt Helen then handed her a grocery bag full of pecans
and two nutcrackers.
You can shell these in the car on your way home.
There was a long goodbye accompanied
by a stout cooler of leftovers, and admonitions about safety.
Wait, called Clarence with a toothy grin.
He suddenly applied the noisy chainsaw to
a blue spruce tree near the road.
Clarence, why did you chop down
the one perfectly good tree we have left?
He shrugged, drug it over to the car
and hoisted it onto the roof.
Ice crystals fell off like jingle bells.
Now help me tie this on and you got yourself
a real, live Christmas tree
so you won’t have to buy a fake one that looks like
a whole roll of aluminum foil hit a shredder.
Or like Hilda Marie when she gets her hair colored.
Never had that car smelled so fine, with the scents
of gifts — tree sap, pomegranates, and warm cookies,
backed up with cedar smoke and sawdust.
Chlora peeked in her very own steamy paper bag
of traveling mercies.
They were sugar cookies, cut out like gingerbread men,
in various states of brokenness.
One cookie looked like an imposing Jesus
enthroned at the Last Judgment,
like in the center of a medieval church tympanum
that had frozen onto the barn earlier.
Stiff and stern was certainly an awkward position to be in
for somebody so loving.
The cookie cutter Christ had lost his fingers,
had broken ankles,
and was about to lose his head.
It spoke to Chlora:
“Here Is My Body
Broken For You”
In the distance, the why-why-why
of the chainsaw revved up again.
Chlora said, We can go home now.